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Leading Across Work Styles

Tips on applying our understanding of different personalities to our leadership practice
8 April 2016
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This blog post is part of our series on leadership and governance.

We’ve all done it – Meyers Briggs, True Colors, DiSC or some other workplace personality test designed to help us gain personal insight and build team cohesion.

But, as education leaders, how do we apply our understanding of different personalities and workstyles to our leadership personas and practice? How do we not only manage, but also successfully lead, across an array of workstyles?

1. Being clever isn’t enough – leaders are people-smart and self-smart 

As leaders, we need to be on top of industry trends, organizational bottom line and our boss’ priorities – before breakfast. But the difference between managers and leaders is being people-smart. It starts with knowing yourself and being good at “people reading.” When you’re meeting with someone, think: is this person fast-paced and outspoken or thoughtful and reflective? Questioning and analytical or warm and intuitive? This immediate analysis will start to give you a quick read on the person’s preferred style.

At the same time that we’re reading others, we need to turn that people-reading radar onto ourselves too. As leaders, we can tend to get caught up in action – but we need time for self-reflection, too. We need to make sure we’re actively self-aware of our leadership strengths and of the areas in which we need to let others shine.

 2. Create a “leadership council” of diverse workstyles

It’s natural to gravitate to those who share workstyle traits similar to yours. But, as a leader, you’ll benefit from a “council” that represents a cross-section of diverse workstyles. This might be a formal group you meet with regularly or an informal group you check in with as you walk around. They might not all be inside the organization.

These trusted voices can help fill in gaps and remove your blinders. Use this group to brainstorm, gather feedback on new policies and initiatives and test ideas. When you’re particularly excited about a pet project, ask this group to see how “problem proof” the project is by asking them questions such as the following: 

  • What’s the downside?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What have I missed?
  • What are the gaps?
  • How might it fail?
  • Who might hate it?
  • What are the risks of doing it? What are the benefits of not doing it?
  • How could it be made better?

 3. Give people time to process your message and prepare to give you feedback

Regardless of your style as a leader, you’ll deal with people who have a variety of different styles. As a leader, you can’t go wrong with all workstyle types by communicating regularly, giving people time to think about your message, and offering many opportunities and venues to give you feedback.

 4. Understand our workstyle “power pose”

As leaders, our teams flourish when we understand how our personal style gels with the styles of those around us. Unless we understand how our leadership style meshes with others around us, we might overpower others. So we need to temper our workstyle power and let others step forward into the spotlight, so they can shine and be authentically themselves – rather than merely adapting to our way of working, simply because we’re the leader.

Of course, as leaders, we have high expectations and standards for those who work with us. It’s essential to clearly communicate those expectations and standards. Evidence also shows that a compelling vision is vital to effective leadership. So, leaders communicate the vision and expectations – but allow our people the freedom to use the approach that best suits them in fulfilling the expectations. 

 5. Show that you value and reward all work styles

Though we would all agree that we value diversity and all work styles, it’s essential to be aware of our own implicit biases and micro behaviours that speak louder than words about what – and who – we value as leaders.

  • When we walk around the office greeting team members, do we make sure to greet everyone with equitable time and attention?
  • In meetings, do we create an environment that makes it comfortable for introverts and those who are more reserved to participate, or do we allow more extroverted team members to dominate?
  • Ensure that informal and formal recognition and rewards honour those from across all work style profiles.

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