As a leader, you’ve probably seen a plethora of leadership models being talked about in management literature. You’ve developed your own leadership style, maybe subconsciously, or have had the opportunity to undergo leadership development programs at a highly prestigious institute. Either way, you have your own unique style of leading your team.
Leadership models and styles are a way to make sense of these wide variety of approaches by clubbing them into separate groups of similar characteristics. By doing this, it becomes easier to study the impact of such approaches and also understand the motivation drivers underlying them. From this perspective it becomes an interesting tool to understand our own leadership styles and assess whether we are having the impact we desire or just the opposite.
Leadership approaches range from Lewin’s Leadership Styles framework of the 1930s to the more recent ideas about transformational leadership. There are also many general styles, including servant and transactional leadership. Become aware of such frameworks and styles can help you to refine your approach and to be a more deliberate and effective leader.
So let’s delve deeper into some of the key leadership styles to understand how they affect your team’s performance.
This is a framework developed by psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1930s, and it became the foundation of many of the approaches that followed afterwards. He argued that there are three major styles of leadership:
Autocratic leaders make decisions on their own without consulting or taking inputs from their team, even when they might be able to come up with good ideas. An autocratic leader believes that they are the most qualified to take decisions and do not value the ideas that come from others. Working with a leader like this can make even the most creative and enthusiastic team member, hesitant about sharing their ideas. This style can be quite demoralizing for the team, and it can lead to high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover.
Democratic leaders include team members in the decision-making process by seeking out their ideas but eventually they make the final decisions themselves. This approach of a democratic leader encourages creativity, and people are often highly engaged in projects and decisions. As a result, team members tend to have higher job satisfaction and higher productivity.
Laissez-faire leaders give their team members a lot of freedom in how they do their work, and how they set their deadlines. They tend to provide support in terms of advice or resources if required, but otherwise they let the team function on its own. This autonomy that team members sense under such a leader can lead to high job satisfaction, but only if the team members have the required skills and resources to accomplish the task. If the team lacks motivation or has to deliver under tight deadlines, this approach could lead to a lot of frustration within the team. At it’s extreme, it would even appear that the leader is not interested in the team or the task.
This framework clearly indicates that a less autocratic approach would get better results. However, in times of crisis or when decisions need to be taken quickly, the autocratic approach may appear to be the best route.
The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid which emerged in 1964 uses a simple two-by-two grid to describe five leadership styles on the basis of the leader’s concern for people and concern for tasks.
Authoritarian Leader (high task, low relationship): Leaders who have very high focus on tasks and not so much on their people tend to be hard on their teams. There is little or no allowance for cooperation or collaboration. Such leaders are very strong on schedules; they expect people to do what they are told without question or debate and when something goes wrong, they tend to focus on who is to blame rather than concentrate on exactly what is wrong and how to prevent it. They tend to be intolerant of what they see as dissent, which might just be someone's creativity, so it is difficult for their subordinates to contribute or develop.
Country Club Leader (low task, high relationship): A leader who focuses on relationship with his team rather than tasks uses predominantly reward power to maintain discipline and to encourage the team to accomplish its goals. This makes them almost incapable of being directive and giving difficult feedback to their team, or exercising their legitimate power in any manner. At the core, they fear that using such powers could jeopardize their relationships with their team members.
Impoverished Leader (low task, low relationship): This type of leader uses a "delegate and disappear" management style. Since they are not committed to either task accomplishment or maintenance of relationships, they essentially allow their team to do whatever it wishes and prefer to detach themselves from the team process. This could lead to the team suffering from a series of power struggles.
Team Leader (high task, high relationship): A leader who has a high focus on relationships and tasks leads by positive example and is able to foster a team environment in which all team members can reach higher potential, both as team members and as people. Such leaders encourage the team to reach team goals as effectively as possible, while also working tirelessly to strengthen the bonds among the various members. They normally form and lead some of the most productive teams.
As you can conclude from the above description, the ideal leader would be a team leader who not only has a high focus on the tasks and outcomes but also builds the capabilities of and relationship with their team members.
The leadership frameworks discussed so far are all useful in different situations, however, "transformational leadership " is often considered to be the most effective style to use in business. This leadership model was first published in 1978, and was then further developed in 1985.
Transformational leaders have integrity and high emotional intelligence. They motivate people with a shared vision of the future, and they communicate well. They're also typically self-aware, authentic, empathetic, and humble.
Transformational leaders inspire their team members because they expect the best from everyone, and they hold themselves accountable for their actions. They set clear goals, and they have good conflict-resolution skills. This leads to high levels of productivity and engagement.
So, what is your predominant style of leadership?
These are some questions for you to ponder.
To summarize, leadership is not a "one size fits all" thing. Often, as a leader you need to adapt or flex your style to fit the situation. A good understanding of what impact each of these styles have on your team members and their performance is a way to be more intentional in your approach and flexible as required by the situation.
To understand more about your leadership style, you could explore some leadership assessments along with a coaching session. Assessments around emotional intelligence can provide you with a lot of insights about your self-awareness and relationship management. If you want to explore this further, feel free to schedule a consultation with me.
What is credibility? Credibility is simply the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest. Personal credibility is about trust, respect, and being believable. A leader’s credibility is typically defined in terms of the degree of employee confidence, belief, and acceptance towards the leader.
While personal credibility applies to everyone in the workplace, it is especially important for leaders. Why is that? Because, if your employees do not believe in you as their leader, you just cannot be effective as a leader. Under these circumstances, employees will simply comply with rules but will not work towards the common goal and will not put in their best efforts. Their morale will be low and customer service will be poor.
Lack of leadership credibility creates employee distrust and disengagement thus impacting the reputation of the organisation and also its profitability. Studies have shown that the credibility of the leader influences employee engagement which in turn impacts the organization's productivity and performance.
While credibility has many facets, in most cases it is judged simply by comparing what you say with what you do in your day-to-day behaviour. Leaders that say one thing but do another won’t have the authenticity and credibility that’s essential to be an effective leader in today’s VUCA environment.
But being trustworthy is not the only contributor to your credibility as a leader. The other very important component of credibility is the perceived competence of the leader – i.e., people’s faith in your knowledge, skills, and ability to do your job and get the job done as a leader.
Employees form such opinions or perceptions not just through direct interaction with you but also through indirect observation of your actions and performance. And these perceptions are extremely important in this hyperconnected age, when vast amounts of information about you is easily accessible in the public domain.
So basically, your credibility as a leader is important because employees want to have the assurance that when you are managing them and assessing their performance, you are yourself competent and trustworthy.
To assess the level of your leadership credibility in your organization, you need to ask yourself these questions and honestly reflect on your answers:
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you have a leadership credibility gap that you need to work on.
While there are many factors, let’s talk about the six key behaviours that undermine your credibility as a leader.
Research shows that employees seriously question the competency of leaders who fail to take action or ignore problems. This is especially true when it comes to problems that impact the sustainability of the organization.
One of the key roles of a leader is to make sense of the operating environment and take strategic decisions about the future of the organization. When you are seen as not fully clued in to the operating environment and lack vision and clarity about the future direction of the organization, you quickly lose the respect of your employees.
Leaders who make promises without making any effort to fulfil them, really erode their credibility. For example, if you keep saying “I’ll get back to you,” but never do so, it impacts your credibility. Many leaders tend to over-promise even if it is with good intentions, but when it comes to the crunch they can’t deliver what they promise. Your employees will believe your promise and expect you to fulfil them. If you can’t offer what you promise then you will quickly lose credibility as a leader. Another behaviour that undermines your competence is giving contradictory information. The contradictions might come from different people on the leadership team or even from the same person- but it confuses employees and makes them suspicious.
When leaders create confusion among employees and other stakeholders by distributing incorrect or misleading information or they misrepresent the facts, it can really undermine their credibility. Sometimes leaders do this without even realizing and sometimes they may do it intentionally to paint a rosier picture, in the hope that it will motivate employees – either way, it results in people getting totally confused at best — and suspicious at worst.
Research shows that self-serving behaviours can undermine employees’ trust in their leaders. These include bending the rules to privilege yourself or your close associates, making decisions based on your self-interest rather than what’s best for the organization, urging employees to make sacrifices while wasting the organization’s resources on perks for yourself, and taking credit for the achievements of others. Even if you don’t act unethically yourself, you can suffer a serious loss of trust if you permit colleagues to act unethically. You must uphold high ethical values to protect your organization and your people, or your followers and key stakeholders will lose faith in you.
Leaders who treat their employees as expendable or tend to openly ignore the opinions of employees and key stakeholders are perceived as untrustworthy and hence not credible. Leaders can damage their credibility when they ask for information and reports that don’t seem worthwhile or that they don’t review and act on. Such requests can cause confusion as to what the organization’s priorities are, and the employees may feel resentful about what they see as a waste of their time.
So, these are some specific behaviours that erode your credibility as a leader. What is interesting is that even though leaders lose credibility when they display incompetence or untrustworthiness, employees are much more tolerant and forgiving of an incompetent leader than they are of an untrustworthy leader. They believe that incompetent leaders can at least try to become more competent, whereas untrustworthy leaders can’t easily become more trustworthy.
What positive actions can you take to strengthen your credibility over time?
Credibility isn’t something that you just gain as you step into a leadership role. There is a process to gaining trust and dedication from your employees, which then leads to credibility.
Here are five specific things that you can do to build your credibility over time:
This is very different from simply stating a strategic vision or setting performance targets and then just going about business as usual. It involves mapping out, in detail, how the organization will achieve its goals in the medium to long term.
Having a sophisticated knowledge of industry trends and clear ideas about how the organization should respond to them can really build your credibility as a leader. You can also actively predict and prepare for upcoming changes. For example, by making strategic investments in new technologies or markets. These will really enhance your perceived competence.
When you work consistently to improve organizational structures and processes and maintain financially sound operations, your credibility as a leader soars. Eliminating unnecessary reporting structures and careless spending, establishing new strategic roles, or investing in technology that improves operational efficiency or business effectiveness are some actions you can take to build your credibility as an action-oriented and competent leader. Don’t shy away from taking tough decisions.
Leaders are perceived as trustworthy and credible when they communicate and behave in a consistent manner. To begin with, this means making decisions that aren’t contradictory. But it also means behaving in a way that aligns with the promises (both explicit and unspoken) that the company makes to employees and other stakeholders. By pre-emptively looking out for stakeholders’ needs, you can prevent stakeholder conflicts and organizational crises, as well as gain the trust of your employees and other key stakeholders.
Be clear about your values and the organization’s values so that employees and other stakeholders can see why you do what you do. The culture of the organization flows from the top. If you want your employees to trust you, you need to start by showing that you trust them. If you want your employees to be open to change, be change-ready yourself. Basically, know that your employees are observing you minutely all the time and if you want them to behave in a certain way, they need to see you doing the same. Demonstrate your values in how you talk and act to establish credibility and authenticity as a leader.
So, there you have it. Why credibility is important for leaders – because your success as a leader and the success of your organisation depends on it. Credibility stems from your perceived competence and your trustworthiness.
Credibility takes time to build, but it can be torn down in seconds. You don’t need a big scandal or mess up to destroy your credibility – it’s often the little things that you do over time that can add up to destroy your credibility. So, keep your promises, do what you say you will, give credit where it is due, acknowledge mistakes, don’t talk about others behind their back, don’t withhold information, don’t belittle others, be consistent and be accountable.
As a business leader in the 21st century, you face persistent changes in the business environments in which you operate. The diversity, intensity, and rapidity of these changes create volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, which challenge you on ways to lead effectively as what methods worked in the past seem inadequate to deal with this environment. VUCA refers to this operating environment that is constantly changing in conflicting, dramatic, and relentless ways to produce leadership and organizational challenges.
Each letter of the acronym VUCA represents a type of change that we need to identify to cope fully with the environmental unpredictability.
Our world is volatile — things change, change quickly, and for reasons beyond our control and cause instability.
It is uncertain — we lack full and confirmed information and hence gaining conviction about future outcomes becomes ever more challenging.
It is complex — we can never know the interaction of the multiple variables we must consider, let alone how to integrate them effectively.
It is ambiguous — the same data can yield multiple and often competing interpretations and lacks precedence making it difficult to move ahead.
Globalization and technology have and continue to fuel the VUCA dynamics through increased innovation, interconnectivity, and digital revolutions, which, in turn, give rise to new and nimble competitors, who operate globally to transform customer expectations radically and thus produce organizational turmoil. The current turbulence has baffled leaders due to its novelty and because the proven approaches of the past have been inadequate in the VUCA-world.
The VUCA world obstructs a leader’s ability to understand, to decide, to communicate, and ultimately to act decisively — which is actually a precondition for effective action in business.
It’s natural for leaders to react differently to this environment. Some have become so distracted by the volatility and constant change that they have stopped planning and are just trying to react to events.
Others have become so intimidated by the uncertainty and ambiguity that they don’t act for the fear of making a mistake. Still, others try to do everything they possibly can in this complex environment and don’t end up focusing their efforts in any one direction.
Only a few leaders have been able to fight through all the complexity and uncertainty and chart a way forward for their organizations. They have managed to impose their will on such complex environments and succeeded where others haven’t been able to do so.
In fact, a study by DDI in 2015 had shown that only 18% of leaders were capable of leading in a VUCA world! I haven’t come across any update on this study in recent times but I believe that the percentage may have moved only marginally. If you ask me why I don’t think leadership development in the last few years has really focused on developing the specific competencies to deal with this VUCA world.
So, what are the leadership traits or competencies that would prepare them to be successful in a VUCA world? What would help them to thrive where others flounder?
Based on my inter-disciplinary work in leadership development, social and cognitive psychology, coaching, and my own experience as a leader and a coach, I have come up with a model for leadership development that can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner. I call it the CARES Model of Leadership.
CARES is an acronym for
C – Credible
A – Adaptive
R – Resolute
E – Emotionally Intelligent
S – Sense-making
Let’s look at each of these aspects as to why it is important for a leader in the VUCA world.
Why does a leader need to be credible to be effective in the VUCA world, or actually under any circumstance? As a leader, credibility lets your employees see you as a dependable source of reliable information and for fair, effective decision-making. This information could be on a day-to-day basis or on those occasions when it's most critical. If you have credibility with your team, you will earn their mutual trust and respect. This would enable you to align them with the goals of the organization. Without credibility, there cannot be a culture of trust and shared goals. So the creditability of the leader is of prime importance, especially in a VUCA world where you need the team to trust you to lead them in the direction that you want them to go.
To welcome change is to be adaptive. Adaptive describes people who are flexible — they don't lose their cool when plans change quickly and they are always willing to learn new ways to do things. Being adaptive helps you cope with the volatility and uncertainty and sail along in today's ever-changing world. Clearly being adaptive, flexible, agile, and adaptable is paramount in a VUCA world.
Developing and articulating a clear view of the future in today’s increasingly complex environments demands that leaders make judgments about the future — something that entails risk and could be wrong, and there could be significant consequences. Successful leaders are those who can overcome those doubts and act to prepare the organization for success in the future.
I am calling this trait Resolute because it refers to someone who is purposeful, determined, and unwavering. A resolute person has the courage to act with conviction in the face of uncertainty and risk. Be able to manage their emotions and be decisive even with limited information.
As we discussed earlier, dealing with uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity can be emotionally challenging for any leader. Unless you are able to manage your emotions on this roller-coaster, you might end up burning out really fast. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of their own emotions and intuitively aware of the emotions of others. This self-awareness also helps them to manage their emotions when dealing with stressful situations. Their social intelligence enables them to lead with empathy and factor in emotions when presenting information, or otherwise engaging with their people. Leaders set the tone of their organization. If you lack emotional intelligence, it could have more far-reaching consequences, resulting in lower employee engagement and a higher turnover rate.
The primary function of any leader is to point the way ahead. This requires vision — the ability to see something significant about the future that isn’t readily apparent to others. Today’s VUCA environments are tough on leaders. The more volatile and the more ambiguous the environment, the harder it is for leaders themselves to come to grips with the situation, let alone articulate a clear way ahead.
Sense-making is the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences. Sense-making is how we make sense of the world so we can act in it. A person with highly developed sense-making can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. They have the ability to be able to know enough, even from limited information, to be able to make a measured and appropriate decision. The ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most if not the most critical skill in decision-making. Hence, it is self-evident that sense-making is a key competency for leaders to succeed in a VUCA world.
As a business leader in the 21st century, you face persistent changes in the business environments in which you operate. VUCA refers to this operating environment that is constantly changing in conflicting, dramatic, and relentless ways to produce leadership and organizational challenges. The VUCA world obstructs a leader’s ability to understand, to decide, to communicate, and ultimately to act decisively — which is actually a precondition for effective action in business. The CARES model for leadership development can prepare leaders to handle this VUCA world in a more deliberate, self-assured, and successful manner.
- Sonali Sinha
I’m a very driven entrepreneur. Always raring to go and full of ideas that have to be actioned. Constantly learning and trying out new things. But even I have days when I just don’t seem to have the energy to get stuff done. I’m sure you’ve also experienced such days. Whether it's a lack of inspiration, a feeling of burnout, or feeling paralyzed when facing too many options, sometimes it's hard to be anywhere near as productive as you normally are.
If this happens to you once in a while, it’s nothing to worry about. Maybe you just need a break or change of scene. But if this inertia goes on for days, weeks, and months at a stretch and business starts dwindling and there is nothing in the pipeline, it can be alarming!
Sometimes a hard knock, like losing a big client or not winning an important deal or a change in the business environment that puts us in a disadvantageous position can really impact our confidence and self-esteem – and we may not even be aware of it. It could linger at the back of our minds and slowly make us disengage from the work that we love doing. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being judged negatively, all these can paralyze us.
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey because we don’t feel comfortable talking about such situations with anyone – whether it’s our team or even our family members. We don’t want to spook our employees and we don’t want our families to worry about us. Somewhere deep down we also feel that if we talk about our inertia and lack of motivation, we will be judged negatively.
Inertia can show up in many ways. Sometimes you want to or must take some action steps, but you don’t take it? Sometimes you want to start a new business vertical or launch a new product, but something pulls you back to the current status quo situation. Sometimes you need to take an important decision, but you don’t decide? Sometimes you make your plan, and never implement it, in reality. Sometimes you need to reach out to an important customer but you keep avoiding it. All these are signs of entrepreneurial inertia.
So, what can you do when you find yourself stuck in entrepreneurial inertia?
Here are 5 simple actions you can take to bounce back from inertia and save your business.
When things are not going as you would want them to go and you find yourself lacking the motivation to forge ahead, the most important thing is to re-focus your attention on your long-term goal. Ask yourself these three questions:
If you take time to reflect on these three questions, it will help you align your thoughts and actions with your goals and get you back on the track of getting things done. Seeing your ambitions in black and white will refocus your mind effectively.
Often, the best way to give yourself a kickstart is to simply take action. It almost doesn't matter what this action is - it could be a piece of administrative work, some light research for a new project or even something completely unrelated to your business.
Once you start moving, your energy will usually begin to flow back and you can switch to something a little more intensive. However, don't begin anything that could turn toward displacement activity - avoid social media at all costs, for example, unless it is a necessary part of your work schedule.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the size of your to-do list, then it can be helpful to bring it back down to size by scrapping the less important and urgent items. Take a close look at which jobs really need to be done first. This will help give you a little more clarity and generate a burst of motivation.
There are many tools that can help you prioritize and stay focused. Try and keep your list of activities to just 2-3 important activities in a day and make them happen. Once you start seeing that you are able to tackle the 2-3 important tasks for the day, you will feel energized and motivated. You can even reward yourself to keep the motivation going.
When you know you've got things to do but you're not in the right frame of mind, it's easy to become frustrated and angry with yourself. This is unlikely to improve matters. If you’re not the type who can step back and reflect on your own, try talking to a coach or mentor.
A coach will ask you questions that will help you reflect and come up with answers that a really very personal to you. The coach will also help you with planning out your action steps and will help you with holding yourself accountable.
If you speak to a mentor, they may be able to share their own experience of snapping out of inaction and low energy situations. Some of those ideas might resonate with you.
Finally, sometimes it's really better to just step away for a while rather than allow yourself to become frustrated with your lack of motivation and results. Take some time off to recharge. Physical activity can be really rejuvenating – walking, running, playing a sport, etc can help revive your energy levels and make you feel better about yourself. Meditation, digital detox, short staycations, are some other options to explore.
Hope these ideas help you snap out of inertia if you’re experiencing one. While it is not humanly possible to be driven and energetic all the time, but as an entrepreneur, you can't afford to let your low-productivity days come around too often or stay too long . By using one or more of these tips, you can get back in the groove and start pushing your business forward once again.
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