The subject of effective leadership styles is often debated by the press, academia and scores of management as well as leadership blogs & books. Most of these articles or essay focus on the following:
(1) Leadership styles adopted by successful businessmen and women in the past.
(2) Leadership styles required for the future in a business environment of accelerating organisational change.
(3) A slightly new leadership style based on the author’s experiences.
I believe that all these angles on leadership styles have their place in your ‘library’ of leadership knowledge. But if you’re a new or aspiring leader, you may not have developed many of talent exhibited by these ‘already honed’ leadership celebrities.
I’m talking about skills such as Charisma, Time Management, Initiative, Courage and other important leadership characteristics. These improve over time with focus and commitment toward personal development. In other words, you don’t jump out of a box as a pre-made leader!
The truth is that leadership is often thrust upon us for the first time when we do not expect it. Be it through sports, local communities, or trusting bosses giving us a hand up.
Therefore for your first leadership experiences, you won’t have many of the memories and lessons learnt from previous events and situations, and such, you may feel vulnerable and nervous.
Common Behavioural Mistakes
Let us take a look at the different options for leadership styles you could choose to take when taking the reigns for the first time. Naturally, the issue of Autocratic versus Democratic versus Bureaucratic versus Laissez Faire will rage on. However this topic has been sufficiently covered online already, so rather than run through what these styles are, I will only detail the behavioural elements that apply to new leaders:
A New Autocratic Leader
Autocratic leaders make executive decisions and pass orders down to their subordinates to be executed. The issue with being autocratic as a junior leader is concerned with your credibility.
An autocratic leader typically has detailed, technical experience in the business area, and as such, can be trusted by their followers to make effective decisions. Following these decisions is therefore a simple matter of course.
A classic risk for new autocratic leaders is to fail to gain such credibility in the eyes of followers. Without credibility, a leader will not see loyal, passionate action taken beneath them. How is one to fix this situation?
Some attempt to make up for this shortfall by making cosmetic changes to their behaviour. Examples include making decisions quickly to assert decisiveness, and even talking louder to appear more confident in their ability. Naturally one thing can lead to another, and the new starter can quickly find themselves constantly playing catchup with regards to their knowledge:
“I must look up that term used by the banker as soon as possible, I don’t quite know what I’ve agreed to, but I couldn’t risk coming across as ‘thin’ on my finance knowledge.”
It’s clear that an autocratic leader has three possible scenarios. One is that they successfully ‘fake it until they make it’, and sufficiently bluff their way through the first couple of years without making any tell-tale blunders. The second is that their cosmetic changes wear thin, and the leader faces an even greater credibility crisis than when they began. The third is that they’re frank about shortcomings in their experience, and use their experts to catch up as quickly as possible. Only one of these options is good for the business, but I’ll leave you to decide which route you want to take!
A New Democratic Leader
Democratic or participative leadership involves seeking and respecting feedback received from ‘below’. A common mistake of new democratic leaders is to interpret the leadership style too literally. A new democratic leader is at risk of appearing ‘weak’ involving those beneath them too much in the decision making process. While the title suggests it, a democratic leader does not simply use a vote from a sample of their workforce every time they wish to make a decision.
As a subordinate, when a manager comes to you and asks “What do you think I should do in this situation?”, this could have two effects. If this is the first time the occasion has happened, you will undoubtedly feel valued and empowered to get involved in ‘higher’ decisions. However if this was the 10th time this month a new leader had called to ask your advise – you may start wondering whether it should be you who collects the manager’s pay cheque! Keep in mind that empowerment and employee involvement has it’s limits.
A New Bureaucratic Leader
Bureaucratic leaders ‘lead through a system’. They setup processes and procedures in place that typically centralise decision making, maintain accountability and quality of work. Bureaucratic systems are good for negating risks to the business and also ensuring consistency across a large organisation. Employees that rise through the bureaucrat hierarchy will almost certainly experience the many pitfalls of such a system, be it slow processing times, wasteful activities and an inability to deal with extraordinary situations. A common mistake of newly empowered bureaucratic leaders is to then ‘revolutionise’ the way things work in an attempt to solve all their personal gripes.
While it has many enemies, the bureaucratic system has a neat purpose and achieves many of its objectives, even with all the infuriating problems and waste. If it is employed in local government, central government or extremely large organisations – a bureaucratic system has evolved for a reason. It’s now large, it’s complex. and guess what – many previous leaders have been in the exact same position you have. Has it been solved to date? No.
The fact is that bureacratic systems are a necessary framework for several types of important processes. If you turn the whole system upside down, and shake out all your niggles, then after several years of firefighting and implementation, you will likely find that your new system is almost as complex as the last, and cost £’000s, if not £’000’000s to implement. The habit of attempting to revolutionise bureacratic systems comes more from a desire to change things, than a rational evaluation of the business case for such a change. I would suggest that you weigh up all your options first, including incremental changes to existing systems, before sprinting towards the drawing board.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. It of course contains only a small selection of the types of mistakes new leaders can make, but hey! Mistakes are of course, all part of the process. But do try and make sure you take most of your lessons from others’ mistakes!
If you would like a free downloadable copy of my report on ‘The Eight Biggest Mistakes Leaders Make, Costing Them a Fortune in Lost Time, Income and Opportunity‘ – just click here and you will see it in the left hand site of The Ultimate Guide website.
February 11th was a historic day for Egyptians and indeed the continent of Africa. As the numerous news agencies look back over the regime under Mubarak, I am particularly interested in 3 key leadership mistakes Mubarak made, that you may be making also!
President Mubarak’s right hand man, VP Omar Suleiman, was the head of Egypt’s fearsome secret police. Mubarak could effectively ‘quell’ dissidents silently using the secret forces’ violent tactics. While these were feared by the public, they did as he commanded, but not willingly.
As a leader, we all wish that certain problems could go away, including dissenting views if we firmly believe that they are holding an organisation back from achieving its potential. But an idea’s strongest dissident could also become its strongest and more effective proponent if you manage to convert their view. Using sly, underhanded or back-room tactics to ‘eliminate’ their resistance will never achieve this. Example of such strategies include changing employee job roles to ‘rotate’ them out of the conflict zone, dropping people from committees and suggesting that their career may be harmed by pursuing such views.
Stubborness in the face of popular ideology
Egypt’s leader of 30 years has been credited with some achievements, and cited for some terrible breaches of human rights, but when the end came and the people spoke, one man simply said ‘no’ to the thousands waiting in Tahrir Square. Being denied the opportunity to participate in the running of their country, through proper elections, consultations and the sort, drove the Egyptian people into a fury that didn’t diminish until he eventually slipped out of the back door.
As a leader, we may often be faced with difficult, even unpopular decisions. However to stand in the way of an almost unanimously supported idea from your employees is worst practise, and should be a red flag. Are these employees all wrong… or have you actually made a tragic misjudgement? An employee rebellion isn’t just a riot for riots sake, see it as a giant check and balance in the process to ensure management don’t make mistakes on a grand scale.
In his first speech as president, Mubarak pledged “‘not to commit myself to what I cannot implement, hide the truth from the people, or be lenient with corruption and disorder.” A welcome promise, but by the end of Mubarak’s reign, his family fortune was estimated at around $5bn. The fact that the Egyptian president and his sons profited from his power during the past 20 years is clear.
In modern business, employees hate corruption. It destroys trust and an employee’s pride and loyalty to a company. People want to think of their workplace as a set of values, a valuable service, a ‘thriving business’. They don’t want to see it as a cash generation tool for senior management and ownership. When you consider the real shape of an employee pyramid, with shop floor workers at the bottom, and senior management at the top – you are reminded that the sheer volume of subordinates that will be in opposition to corruption vastly outnumbers the minority at the top facilitating such activities.