Lessons in Leadership Driving Company Culture
As the post-Covid return to work builds momentum, leaders are faced with a myriad of workplace challenges both familiar and new, including managing supply chain shortages, talent turnover, recruitment and maintaining consistent communication through sometimes fully remote workplaces. Aligning multiple teams and people around a unified corporate culture is always difficult work, and conflicting leadership styles can create added confusion among employees, all of which can adversely impact organizational culture. Dealing with fully remote and hybrid remote/office workers doesn’t make the job any easier.
What are the most effective ways to leverage the strengths of your leaders to encourage alignment around one unified mission and reinforce workplace culture? Strong, affirmative leadership can make all the difference between a company that shines a light through the darkness, and one that loses its way. After all, regardless of what any business does, it is comprised of people (at least until the robots take over, but that’s the subject of another post). The only way companies can sustain long-term growth is by building a strong, motivated, self-reinforcing community of employees.
Embracing the Strengths of Your Leaders and Their Leadership Styles
Good leadership is critical to success, but that doesn’t mean that there’s only one way to successfully lead. Ken Brousseau, founder of Decision Dynamics and co-author of The Dynamic Decision Maker, focuses on helping executives better understand their individual thought processes, both when working independently and collaboratively.
A leader’s thought process informs the way they behave, and the leadership style(s) they are most likely to employ. It is important to note that according to Brousseau’s groundbreaking research published in Harvard Business Review, it’s possible for an individual to have more than one style, depending on the workplace environment and the nature of the task.
It may also be important to note that where organizations are led by executive teams, different leadership styles could play out in numerous outcomes. One leader may expect a decision to follow his specific idea, while another may prefer to encourage collaboration across the group to arrive at a more united outcome. You can imagine the complexities at play across different styles, even in the board room. By understanding how your leadership style impacts the organization, as well as how your business leaders choose to engage will empower teams to be more empathetic and more effective.
In addition to Dr. Brousseau’s work on decision making, many other organizational development professionals have categorized leadership styles into categories familiar to anyone who has showed up at work long enough. Here’s a look at five common leadership styles we’ve observed in the most successful companies and how to best optimize the strengths of each leadership model in order to nurture the growth of a thriving corporate culture.
For an autocratic leader, it’s their way or the highway. They are typically highly motivated self starters who are used to doing everything on their own and who sometimes have trouble relinquishing control.
Autocrats typically listen to their gut, making decisions based on their own judgment without consulting their teams, either due to a lack of confidence in others or their belief that it’s simply easier to handle issues themselves as they arise. This reactive style makes the Autocrat a cool head in a crisis, where they’re able to act decisively and with confidence.
Still, however brilliant the Autocrat may be, this interior attitude leads to distrust in the long run. Employees grow accustomed to having their contributions dismissed or overlooked, and will typically simply stop offering input.
To balance their move-things-along energy, Autocrats should create space for their teams to offer feedback and share their insights, making an effort to consider these contributions as opportunities rather than challenges to their authority. Examples of autocratic leadership include charismatic leaders like Tesla’s Elon Musk, or Martha Stewart’s eponymous brand. In these cases, much of the public perception of brand value is wrapped up in the reputation and profile of the leader, rather than any concrete notion of the value of the whole brand itself.
The Team Player
Unlike the authoritarian Autocrat, the Team Player leader has a decidedly more democratic style. They pride themselves on the value they place on their colleagues’ and employees’ opinions, and don’t like to make a decision without soliciting substantial input from the teams with whom they collaborate.
While the Autocrat acts on instinct, the Team Player believes in making sure all their ducks are in a row. Before making a decision, they will almost always create an opportunity for discussion and debate, where their colleagues have the opportunity to make their voices heard. This can make team members feel valued and appreciated, increasing their buy-in and boosting group cohesion.
However, all this participation can be something of a double-edged sword. While debate is important, Team Players can occasionally come off as indecisive, and subject to “analysis paralysis” if they take the conversation too far. Colleagues may be left with the impression that their leader is struggling to make a decision, rather than creating a space for alternate viewpoints.
Team Players should combat the perception of indecision by creating limits and structure on all discussion, and making it clear that they have the final say. Acting decisively once the moment of decision comes helps colleagues trust in the leadership structure while still feeling that their contributions are valued. Examples of notable leaders considered Team Players are Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi and Apple’s Tim Cook, who are both known for creating corporate atmospheres that encourage collaboration and communication among all levels of the company structure.
The Laid Back Leader
If the Team Player believes in collaboration, for the Laid Back Leader delegation is key. They believe strongly in the ability of their coworkers and employees and are comfortable taking a step back from the day-to-day minutiae of running a business, keeping their eye on the big picture.
For a Laid Back Leader, the everyday operations of a workplace are largely a matter of trust. They believe a company functions at its best when individuals are able to work in the manner that feels the most natural to them, determining their own creative pace and working methods with a high degree of autonomy. They let employees make their own decisions, and encourage them to respond intuitively and flexibly to challenges as they arise.
“Warren Buffett is known for letting people make mistakes so they can learn from them, a huge benefit for many.” As a Laid Back Leader, Buffett surrounds himself with people he trusts so he only has to intervene when necessary.
This expression of trust can be refreshing, but it can also lead to a disorganized atmosphere, where leaders experience a lack of control over their teams and cohesion with them. While some workers respond well to this autonomous structure, others find a lack of direction frustrating and confusing.
Naturally Laid Back Leaders should work to balance freedom with structure, ensuring that systems of accountability are in place so workers remain accountable, no matter their style. An eye for the consistency of results means you’ll have more freedom to let workers determine how they arrive there on their own — and are able to create structure for less self-motivated employees.
The complete opposite of a Laid Back Leader, the Manager values order and systems above all else. For the Manager, individual worker freedom and creativity is much less important than the successful functioning of the organization as a whole.
The Manager’s leadership style is rigid rather than responsive, setting specific targets and goals and rarely deviating from a predetermined position. This style encourages worker compliance, and helps the Manager retain a high degree of control over their coworkers’ activities, keeping processes consistent and results predictable.
An example of this type of leader was Walt Disney. Disney was sometimes called “difficult” to work with because of his extraordinary work ethic. But this enthusiastic and passionate attitude for his vision resulted in amazing projects and the creative conglomerate that is The Walt Disney Company.
The results these leaders produce will be consistent. But committing to structure rather than individual strengths means that workers may feel their creativity suppressed. This may lead to feelings of stagnation, with more motivated and creative workers leaving to seek out more responsive work environments.
The Manager can encourage creativity without losing control by introducing opportunities for worker input into their established systems. By creating a space for give and take, they’re able to balance their desire for order with a more flexible framework for creativity.
Last but not least, there’s the Visionary, the leader who is profoundly in touch with a company’s vision and goals.
The Visionary is typically a founder or early adopter of a company’s purpose, and energizes teams through their own sincere belief in their shared goals.
A great example of a visionary leader was Steve Jobs. Jobs revolutionized the world of technology but not without sticking to his foundation. Through his passion and innovative mind, Steve Jobs was able to rally not only his employees but the world around his ideas. As Jobs noted, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” This foundational emphasis allows Visionary leaders to be flexible in their approach to their fellow employees, blending enthusiasm with empathy, praise and understanding for the unique challenges their fellow workers face.
Their vision helps them balance a big picture understanding of shared goals with the everyday understanding of individual strengths. This helps them guide others through the process of exploring new ideas to achieve their objectives, creating an atmosphere that prioritizes growth.
To avoid eclipsing the successes of their company as a whole, the Visionary should be vocal in their advocacy and support of team members. Make sure to share the glory of your successes to give everyone a chance to shine.
Life Changing Leadership
As leaders in today’s work environment, there is pressure to constantly evolve systems, tools, the workplace environment and other factors to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The ability to mobilize teams around a common vision for success is a skill that cannot be underestimated in importance or difficulty. Transforming individual connections into bigger picture systemic changes will help your company thrive.
Recently, the term “transformational leadership” has been gaining traction in corporate circles. While it sounds complicated, transformational leadership simply describes leadership with the potential to cause change within social or economic systems by motivating individuals to work at their highest capacity. As a leader, your goal should be to foster an environment of transformational leadership, incentivizing members of your team to reach their highest potential.
A perfect example of transformational leadership in the real world is Texas Instruments’ “Make an Impact” program. This one year program is specifically targeted towards new employees, designed to help build their education and help them impact Texas Instruments during their first year on the job. Throughout the year, new hires experience engineering and professional classroom courses supported by quarterly hands-on sessions that give them a chance to learn from internal experts. They’re also given opportunities to network and connect with their cohort, including other new graduates as well as senior leadership that can provide them with mentorship and inspiration. The result? Increased buy-in for new hires who develop an awareness of themselves as critical members of the TI ecosystem.
Fostering leadership doesn’t mean destabilizing the chain of command. Instead, it means creating a space where employees are incentivized to discover their own leadership potential, whether that means facilitating transformational conversations within their teams, or simply owning a project and investing emotional energy in its success.
By changing our mindset around the way we lead, we leave workers feeling enlivened and inspired. Learn more about helping your leadership reach new heights by discovering how BrandCulture’s Shared Purpose framework can establish leadership priorities to help employees and their organizations reach their highest potential.