We all become increasingly more comfortable with our own leadership styles as we get older. The most effective leaders I met over the years are extremely comfortable in their own skins, have a passion for people and deeply care about what they do every day. They have connected their inner values to how they lead and approach everything they do. I have previously written about the importance of being comfortable in ambiguity and comfortably uncomfortable, these "comfortable" leaders also don't shy away from risks or major challenges and they are able to foster inclusion, build strong teams and unleash passion and a sense of purpose. While these leaders are consistently "comfortable" their leadership styles and approaches vary greatly. However, leaders sometimes underestimate that some of their greatest leadership strengths may also be a weakness or can create unintended consequences. I have looked at some of my own characteristics and here is what I have observed:
• Comfortably, I favor optimism, positivity and a "It can be done" mindset. There are certainly many positive aspects of this leadership characteristic, including looking at challenges as opportunities and creating an inherent believe that we all excel in problem solving. However, as the great book by Liz Wiseman, Multipliers, correctly identifies, a team may feel that the leader does not understand the severity of the challenge ahead and may underestimate the difficulty in execution. Therefore, knowing that my comfort is anchored in optimism, I try to seek out realists, experts and different opinions to understand the risk and uncertainties ahead.
• Comfortably, I empower teams to make their own decisions and learn from set-backs. I always have favored empowerment over top-down direction, micro-management and being involved in every decision. Also, learning from mistakes or from situations which didn't go as well as planned, without looking for whom to blame, created a more inclusive environment and a more transparent dialogue on how to move forward. However, I have also encountered situations when a team needed the opposite, clear top down direction and clear articulation about what to do, as well as, a focus on rigorous performance and consequence management when things did not go as planned. Especially in times of crisis or when any kind of failure is really not an option, I have learned to balance my comfort bias by instituting clear response management and measurement frameworks and protocols.
• Comfortably, I encourage an open mind and listen to different points of views. The older I get, quite frankly, the more I must remind myself about this comfort bias. It is certainly a core value of mine, but I have found the older and more experienced I get, the more opinionated and anchored in my beliefs I become. The most effective leaders are able to balance their expertise and experiences with new ideas, different approaches and new ways of thinking. They constantly remind themselves that everything is constantly changing and evolving. However, I have also learned that sometimes lengthy discussions to get every opinion heard may stifle progress and decision-making. Therefore, setting expectations is really important. Sometimes, simply differentiating between a brainstorming session and a report-out meeting helps in this regard.
• Comfortably, I favor structure and a disciplined approach. I strongly believe that planning, control and organization are fundamentally important in organizational behavior. Many however feel that structure and discipline are on the opposite spectrum of flexibility and creativity. Many times I have heard how hierarchies, structures and traditional ways of doing things prevent innovation, out of the box thinking or kill-off imagination. I think about it differently, to me as a leader, our role should be to create management frameworks, structures and discipline in servitude to flexibility and creativity. Agile, for example, is a highly structured and disciplined approach to new ways of working, problem solving and achieving results.
• Comfortably, I encourage embracing change and aiming for continuous improvement. Self-creating change and always challenging the status quo are fundamental leadership qualities for me. As we are continuously dealing with complexities, competitive pressures and new risks or challenges, the most effective leaders are able to propel an organization and teams to embrace change and take accountability to find ways to improve. Most importantly, those leaders don't wait for the external threat to manifest itself or a burning platform giving you really no alternatives, they do it by imagining what is possible and by strongly believing that there is always a better way to do things. However, teams my not understand the "why" right away and leaders have to spend more time on communications and dialogue.
It is important to recognize for any leader that we all operate with certain value-driven biases which are shaping our leadership comfort zones. We always have to think about the sometimes hidden – but correlated – weaknesses and potential unintended consequences and be empathetic to their implications. Quoting John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”