Leaders take many forms, ranging from task-oriented tacticians to big picture-oriented strategists. The better leaders demonstrate flexibility among approaches, adjusting to the needs of their company, which can change as their company advances through the stages of its life cycle. Inflexibility, or failure to delegate leadership responsibilities to those better suited to a specific task, could cause setbacks — losing top talent to frustration, or draining value from a company because it’s unable to adapt.
Smart Business spoke with Chris Meshginpoosh, Managing Director of Kreischer Miller, to discuss the pros and cons of different leadership styles, and the importance of recognizing when to adjust.
What are the attributes that make for a good leader?
Aside from the obvious traits of integrity and good communication skills, leaders must make sure that their leadership style matches both the task in front of them and the talent of their other team members. For example, when leading a group of inexperienced team members engaged in a time-sensitive task, an autocratic leadership style may be highly effective. However, if a team is addressing a problem that requires creativity, an autocratic style can stifle the team’s efforts. Similarly, when leading a team of experts, an autocratic management style can result in lower levels of employee engagement and higher turnover rates in top talent.
There are stories about Bill Gates’ authoritarian management style in the early days of Microsoft. However, as the company grew, he was able to keep that style in check, understanding that exercising too heavy a hand could stifle innovation.
In the early stages of a business, an autocratic style is often necessary. The founder may be the only subject-matter expert at the company and, as a result, cannot delegate critical tasks to others without remaining heavily involved. Unfortunately, leaders who do not evolve with the business or devote the time necessary to recruiting and developing others and then trusting them to make important decisions, risk causing their companies to hit a wall. Great leaders evolve along with the needs of their organizations.
How can leaders tell if their style is not working?
Sometimes the symptoms, such as the loss of key members of the management team or deteriorating company performance, do not surface until the style is so deeply embedded in the culture that it is difficult to remedy. Employees — even those most trusted by the CEO — may not feel comfortable providing constructive feedback regarding the CEO’s leadership style. In these cases, creating a board of directors or a board of advisers can often help, because they can bring some level of objectivity to the table and can provide proactive feedback to make sure leaders adjust as the business grows.
What are some other potential long-term problems and what can leaders do to prevent them?
The reality is that, whether owners want to think about it or not, they are all going to exit their business at some point. There’s nothing worse than getting to that point only to find out that their successors — whether they be inside managers or outside buyers — value the business at only a fraction of what the owner expected.
Leaders can ensure they do not find themselves in that situation by devoting the time that’s necessary to develop the next generation of leaders. It also means having the courage to step back and give them the room they need to try, fail and learn. By doing that, and by providing support and feedback along the way, the business will have a strong foundation for future growth that will be much more highly valued by either internal or external buyers.
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