Puzzle PicExceptional leaders lead to their teams, not their own needs

We often think of leaders as the boss, the person the team is there to serve.  In this old-fashioned model, the team is there for the leader, and everything revolves around the leader’s desires.  But in reality, it’s just the opposite.  The thing that separates great leaders from the rest is that great leaders get the most out of their teams – usually by adjusting their leadership style to the needs of the team.  One of the most important characteristics of leaders, in fact, is openness and flexibility – the ability to switch up their leadership based on what’s going to work with the team today.

Not everyone needs what you need – We have a natural tendency to project what we want and need onto those around us.  We assume that the leadership approach that we like is what our team members like, too.  Or worse, we assume what we like and what works with us is right and any other form of leadership is wrong or worse.

The reality is that people are different in what brings out the best in them.  For example, people differ greatly in how they deal with conflict.  Some people are comfortable with conflict and view it as a great way to work through differences.  Other people hate conflict and think it’s painful and destructive to relationships.  Using the wrong approach with team members can demotivate them or worse.  How you approach conflict with your team members depends on how they react and what gets the most out of them.  Similarly, people fall into 6 different types for the way they like to receive feedback.  Providing the style of feedback that matches each team member will help thm understand, appreciate and gain value from your feedback.Build skills you need 2

Everyone’s at a different place – Different people are at different places in their work and growth.  For example, some team members will be confident and established and will be upset with a great deal of direction and control, which they’ll see as micromanaging.  But newer team members will crave the structure and support from more active management. 

Individual focus builds trust – Trust is one of the most important characteristics of leaders.  High trust leaders have teams that perform better, have lower attrition and show more extra, voluntary effort.  And not surprisingly, research shows that providing individual, personalized attention to team members builds the trust that helps leaders succeed.  Read all about leadership trust here and see why it’s so critical.

All teams are different – As if leading an individual weren’t hard enough, you probably have to lead a team.  That means not just multiple different approaches for different team members, but also a style that’s right for your team.  The dynamics of teams are very different, and what makes them succeed will be different, too.  For example, a team where everyone is similar will likely fall into groupthink and confirmation of their ideas.  The leader needs to find a way to challenge the team to move outside their comfort zone.  A team with very different members, on the other hand, will have lots of different ideas but also will be prone to conflict and disagreement.  The leader must be sensitive to the friction from the diversity and help ensure that the team works together smoothly. 


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It depends on context – What is best for a team always depends on the situation.  Research shows that the most successful leadership approach – called transformational leadership – works in some situations and not in others.  What’s the best leadership approach?  It depends.  Teams that are stuck need different leadership than teams that are humming along, and they both need different leadership than a team that’s underperforming.  Different leadership styles will bring out the best in different teams.  By adjusting your leadership style to your team’s situations, you’ll increase the chance of success.

Needs change – People aren’t set in stone, we all change over time. And that goes for your team, too.  The newbie becomes the experienced expert.  The expert becomes bored and jaded.  What they will need, or what will help them succeed, changes.  You’ll need to monitor their progress to see whether your prior approach is still the best.

What’s Next?

Ok, so we need to be flexible and adjust our leadership to our team.  How do we do that?  Our article on 7 tips to becoming a strategic leader addresses exactly that topic.

Great leaders have teams that perform better than other leaders, and research shows they’re critical for companies to maintain growth.  But leadership can’t be one-size-fits-all.  Leaders must understand their team members and their teams to adjust their style and develop the most effective team.


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