Although communication is always a two-way street, whether people will respect you and be inspired to follow your lead or feel afraid and unsafe to speak up is influenced by how psychologically safe of a working environment you create with your team.
Research by both Google and Amy Edmonston, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, has shown that psychological safety is the most important factor in creating a successful team.
This is because whether your team members respect or fear you will affect their behaviours in the office every single day.
Where do we learn how to lead?
Many middle managers find their way into management with only minimal training to support them in this role. This can make it a confusing journey as you work to figure out how to get your team members all moving in the same direction.
People management skills are often developed and refined through observation and modeling of what others are doing successfully.
We often try to emulate what we ourselves respond to and try to not reproduce what we don’t like in the models we see around us. The challenge in this is that what works for us may not be terribly effective with someone else.
Those who become the leader everyone wants to follow continue to develop and refine their leadership skills beyond what works for their own personality style. They have a deep thirst to learn and grow as individuals, beyond even just the professional realm. They’re willing to explore new information and ideas that aren’t necessarily familiar or comfortable to them. They understand that when they experience challenges leading certain team members, the only way through is for them to learn new skills to manage the situation differently.
How have you learned to lead?
Leading through authority
Some leaders use their positional power to influence the outcomes they desire.
With this type of leadership, there tend to be high expectations, little room for negotiation and a top-down approach. Team members who fail to meet expectations are met with negative consequences designed to convince them to do better. This may include tactics such as shaming the person in front of others, publicly praising others for doing better or putting someone on performance management before adequate attempts have been made to support this person in their role.
When people resist being led through positional power, it often leads to increased attempts to ensure compliance through use of authority and consequence.
When people lead through authority, what we see on the surface may well appear to be a high-performing team. However, when you dig a little deeper, you start to discover that there is often rampant underground fear and dissatisfaction within the team or organization.
People end up walking on eggshells all day long, afraid that any mistake will lead to them being called out in front of their team members or clients. They’re afraid that any imperfections could lead them to lose their job. They carry a chronic stress that starts to heavily weigh on the entire team.
What looks on the surface to be a high-performing team is actually a dysfunctional mess underneath the façade.
Leading through harmony
People who use this type of leadership style tend to lead with their hearts and are truly invested in the well-being of their team members. They put great focus on ensuring that people are always in agreement with decisions made. They want people to feel fulfilled and satisfied and will go to great lengths to ensure that others are happy. They tend to be flexible and understanding when barriers present themselves.
Because there is such a heavy emphasis on harmony, leaders who favour this style may have a difficult time dealing with conflict and confrontation effectively. They may send contradictory messages to different people on the team, as they can have a difficult time setting limits and staying firm in their own position. They are often overly accommodating to others’ needs, while sacrificing their own. They can also end up sacrificing their team members’ needs when faced with someone who uses positional power with them.
When people resist being led through harmony, it can lead to increased conflict as certain team members try to jockey for positional power, leaving you feeling frustrated and defeated.
When you dig a little deeper into teams that are led primarily through harmony, there is often a lot of frustration and resentment brewing underneath. A lack of clarity in expectations and ever-changing priorities based on who the leader was trying to please last leaves people feeling unmotivated and disengaged. The lack of accountability that stems from avoiding difficult conversations makes it incredibly easy for individuals to under-perform, simply because there are no consequences for not doing so.
Although many people dream of a leader who prioritizes team cohesion, the reality is that when people lead through harmony without setting appropriate boundaries, the team becomes just as dysfunctional as with someone who leads with authority. The dynamics and symptoms are simply different.
Leading through trust and respect
Managers and leaders who lead through trust and respect have often done a great deal of work to develop their leadership skills. They know that establishing an environment of psychological safety is the foundation to leading a successful team.
Those who use this type of leadership style also truly care about the well-being of their team members. They view team members and everyone else within the organization as a peer, regardless of where each may find themselves within the organizational structure.
They do not abuse their positional power to get others to do what they want. They’re able to deal with confrontation and conflict effectively and can set boundaries as needed. They aren’t afraid to address inappropriate behaviours or performance issues directly with the person concerned and they don’t avoid doing so simply because it’s awkward.
They communicate with both transparency and empathy. They understand the importance of taking time to listen openly to the perspective of others, even when they disagree. By treating others with trust and respect, they model and encourage others to do same. This inevitably leads to a situation where everyone has the skills needed to navigate changing and challenging situations respectfully and transparently. This prevents the underground lobbying and resentment that otherwise tends to slowly chip away at team motivation and productivity.
Where do you sit?
Where do you most recognize yourself in the descriptions above?
If you’re anything like me, you may find that certain situations or dynamics have a tendency to bring out one leadership style over another.
The goal here isn’t to judge yourself for not using the “right” leadership style. It’s to build awareness. It’s to start noticing patterns.
Our leadership style has been conditioned through years and years of watching others in leadership positions – our parents, our teachers, our sports coaches, our first boss, political leaders, highly successful CEOs, etc.
You’ve been conditioned to lead a certain way.
But if what you’re doing today isn’t fully working for you… have you even realized that there may be a different way that serves you better?
Once you’ve noticed the gap (and realize that it’s not your fault), it becomes easier to take the next step to get where you want to go as a leader.
I’ve been on a journey of unlearning my socially conditioned ways of using authority and harmony to lead for over 15 years now. And I’ve been supporting other leaders to do the same. If you’re interested in starting or moving deeper into your own journey, book a complimentary 30-minute discovery call and let’s talk.
What I can promise you is that no matter where you are on your leadership journey, whichever style you tend to use most, there will be no judgment. Only compassion and growth.
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