Don’t Stop Here

The Approachable Leader: Adapting Your Style To Work For Your Employees

The higher you move up in your career, the more direct and indirect reports you are likely to have. But as you grow, how can you develop a style of leadership that works for everyone?

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Leadership And Management Go Hand In Hand

There are two sides to your role when you have direct reports: leadership and management. Some may even use the two terms interchangeably, and the two concepts do overlap.

Leadership is about developing potential, whether it be in people, projects or processes. It’s also about setting a direction and helping others see the vision. It’s strategic thinking and finding ways to improve. It’s helping people develop, whether it’s in their individual career paths, or helping them see their work in the context of the company vision. 

Management, on the other hand, is about getting tasks done and managing the business day to day. It’s the daily firefighting, delegating tasks and asking for accountability from your employees. Management ensures execution to create short-term results; leadership creates long-term impact. In business, we need both. Bringing the two practices together gets us where we need to be.

There may be pressure on senior leaders and executives to lead and not manage because we make it seem like leading is better. But in reality, leading and managing is a spectrum that you need to be able to move through. If you are too focused on the long-term vision, you may miss out on managing the day-to-day execution that follows through on that vision. Focusing solely on the day-to-day is like running a race looking down at your feet so you don’t trip, but losing the race to another runner who was focused on the finish line.

Leadership And Management Styles: Not One-Size-Fits-All

What is the best way to lead and manage everyone? The answer to that starts first and foremost with finding a leadership style that works for you. Understand your personality preferences and leadership development strengths. From there, you can adjust your style to meet the individual needs of your employees. 

Becoming a leader of people also requires a mindset shift: You need to see your team members as people first and employees second. This may seem overly simplistic, but knowing the context of their experiences and their lives helps you understand what they need and how you can work together in a way that will help you meet in the middle. Maybe one employee is an active community volunteer with years of board experience. Another might have had a previous career in another industry. Partner with each person to understand what they need to be most effective and successful.

Hold each employee as creative, resourceful and whole. This is a concept that we use in leadership coaching but also applies to employee coaching. This means that they are accountable for themselves, their learning and their outcomes as well as the help and support they require to achieve their goals. Let them fail, but show them that you are there to support them if they need it. 

You cannot be a chameleon and change your management style completely for each person. Rather, you begin with a framework and adapt it to meet the unique developmental needs of each team member. For example, a leader I coach is starting to have one-to-one development conversations with her team members, and although she has a general framework that applies to everyone, the frequency for early-career employees is different than seasoned employees. The weight and context of each conversation will vary according to the needs and development of each team member. Additionally, this leader takes a direct approach with some of her staff while deploying a softer approach for others.

We all need three things to succeed and be happy: autonomy, meaningful relationships and meaningful work. This is a three-legged stool, but each employee will need a different mix to feel satisfied at work.

How To Show Approachability

There are things you can do to show your employees that you are approachable. Whenever you have the opportunity, tell stories of how you have handled challenging situations in the past. Show employees how you come to your decisions, not just what decisions you made. This helps them understand you and how you think. They may not always agree with the decisions you make, but at least they know what to expect from you. An approachable leader is one who is reliable and consistent.

You must also stay open and listen. Embrace compassion and step into empathy. Approachable leaders ask lots of questions before giving out answers or making any conclusions and jumping to assumptions about what their team members need. Sometimes it’s hard not to get paternalistic or maternalistic, especially when dealing with an employee with less career experience. Leaders often feel that they need to step in and rescue the employee or the task at hand. When employees tell them about a problem, effective leaders provide support through it rather than take it over. They have more hard conversations, not fewer. They approach conversations from a place where they show that the other person is not broken, not someone whose gaps they need to fill. The team member will feel that they can ask for the support they need from their leader.

Ultimately, you must find a balance: You manage the task, and you lead the person. Know your strengths because they will be your go-to easy place. Find ways to lean on them in a leadership capacity. You can be a task-focused leader who can build good relationships to get tasks done. Or you can be a relationship-focused leader that still sees projects over the finish line and achieves results. Being aware of where you are starting will help you adapt your own style to the needs of your employees.

Source: Forbes

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