Leadership style - WHY you lead determines HOW you lead (video)

Simon Thiessen

Simon Thiessen About The Author

14-Oct-2014 09:03:51


what_is_your_leadership_style_and_motivationWhat motivates you to lead?

People lead for many - and often complex - reasons. However, all motivations to lead are not equal - some will help you be a great leader, others are likely to make you far less effective. Whatever your motivation to lead, it is reflected in your leadership style



leadership_motivationsWhat is your motivation to be a leader (transcription)

Why do you manage? Why do you choose to lead? I believe the answer to that question has a fundamental impact on the attitudes, values and leadership style that you bring to the position. 

My name is Simon Thiessen, I’m the CEO of the Real Learning Experience and in this short video I plan to share with you some insights into the different motivations that people have for leading and the impact that it has on their leadership style and their overall leadership performance.

Leadership isn't a choice

Now, before we get into it I need to make clear that our perspective is that if you are a manager, then you need to be a leader. It’s not a choice. If you have responsibility for at least one other person, you should be leading them as well as managing them. That doesn’t mean that all managers are leaders, but it does mean that all managers should be leaders.

In more than 20 years of developing leadership capability for organisations throughout Australia and around the world, I’ve seen four broad categories of motivations for people to be managers and leaders.

The accidental leader

The first category is the accidental leader. This person just seemed to end up in the role by default. They didn’t seek it out, they didn’t set goals to end up in a leadership position, they didn’t plan for it. Circumstances just seem to deliver this situation to them.

In my view, that masks the real and underlying motivation because those people still had a choice to either accept the opportunity when it came their way or to move on.

If you’re in the accidental leader category, go beyond that superficial, that immediate thought that “I didn’t really seek this out.” Ask yourself the question: “when the opportunity came, why did I accept it?

controlling_leadership_styleThe leader motivated by personal gain

The second category of leadership motivations we see are those leaders who are motivated by some material or other personal gain. This could be esteem or prestige. It could be money, it could be power, it could be a simple enjoyment in the feeling of being in control.

The leader with a vision

The third category of leadership motivation are those who seem to have some sort of vision, some sort of idea they want to achieve. Typically, when we ask those people why they lead, the answer is something like: “well, I could see where we needed to go and no one else seemed to be prepared to take us there, so it was down to me.” or “I knew what needed to be done and no one else was prepared to do it, so I decided to do it myself.

The altruistic leader

The final, the fourth category of leadership motivation tends to be that much more altruistic type. These people often, when we ask “why are you a leader?” say things like “I just love seeing people grow. I love having a hand in developing the people around me.”

Motivation creates leadership style

What I want to share with you are some insights on the style of leadership each of these motivations creates and also a couple of the pitfalls that comes with each style. We are going to overlook the accidental leader. I strongly believe that one of the other three motivations lead to that person saying “yes” to an opportunity or not.

The limits of leaders motivated by personal gain

Want a weekly update with free  resources and our best articles?  Subscribe here So let’s look at the leader who’s driven by some sort of material or other personal gain, people who are motivated by power, position, self-esteem, money, control etc.

These leaders are going to be limited. In fact, I believe these people are going to have trouble adding a genuine leadership capability to their managerial ability. Think about what’s driving these people... why they get out of bed each morning and go and manage a team, go and lead a team.

Those drivers, those motivators are going to lead them to have a very directive, a very controlling  style of leadership and that’s not going to allow their people to grow, to develop, to become engaged.

While this is not a bad motivation for leadership, on its own it will not create good outcomes. I should add, if you are driven by prestige, if you are driven by money or if you’d like to be in control, and I’d have to put my hand up for that one, that’s not a problem. That will not preclude you from being a good leader. However, if it’s the only thing that motivates you to lead, then I do believe it will preclude you.

If that motivation sits alongside some motivations from the following two categories, I believe it can be a really powerful combination.

The leadership style of the visionary leader

So let’s look at those leaders who are motivated by a picture of where things could be and realised that they were the one that needed to take the team there.

These people have a much less controlling style but maybe more of a pace-setting style, a style where they know where they’re going and they’re determined to take everyone else there. If these people have a fault, it’s really their failure to slow down and engage their people in the process.

In the hurry to get to the vision that these people conceive, they can start to lose some of the enthusiasm from the people around them. Once again, this is a really strong leadership style if it’s matched with some of the more altruistic styles.

coaching_leadership_styleThe strength of the altruistic leader 

And of course, that brings us to the final category: those people who are motivated by developing other people around them, by seeing other people grow and achieve their potential.

These people can make great leaders because they genuinely work on developing the people around them. If they have a fault, it’s that they may be too democratic, too consultative or too participative and they may not do the hard things when they need to.

Complex motivations

Of course, motivation, like anything human, isn’t black and white. Most people have really complex combinations of motivations for doing many things, including being a leader.

I’ve seen many, many successful leaders who have that basis of the altruistic motivation, that desire to see people grow that is matched or complemented by the vision they have or, very often, by some of those more personal motives like control, like prestige, like enjoying some element of power.

When those two come together effectively, it can create a really strong, a really visionary and a really nurturing leader.

Your own leadership motivations

So have a think about your own leadership motivations and specifically think about how those motivations play out in your leadership style.

Is it possible that some of the reasons that you lead in certain ways are directly related to the reasons that bring you to the workplace as a leader in the first place?

If you want to develop your leadership capability, try to identify a range of things that motivate you to be a leader and let all those play out in a diversity of leadership styles.

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photo credit: Louish Pixel via photopin cc