Understanding your leadership maturity level, persona and communication style

We have talked a lot about leadership over the course of this show but this episode will focus more on concrete ways of measuring your leadership maturity, figuring out your leadership persona and look at 4 different leadership communication styles.

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We’ve talked a lot about leadership on this show and it remains the number one topic I coach people on. This show is a but of a different take on the topic than what I have done before. I have been thinking about leadership more coming out of the episode about confidence because I think a number of different things can be what erode your confidence. In this episode, I want to look at different levels and styles of leadership. I’ve seen that the lack of a fit between a leader’s archetype and the archetype of the company or your boss has is the main cause of organizational dysfunction and executive failure.

Leadership is like pepper

I always try to think about complicate things in ways that everyone can relate to. This one has been difficult but I landed on something that may sound funny but I think sums up how people treat creative leaders – pepper. Think about it – you go to a nice restaurant and order a soup or salad to start because you are feeling a little more hungry than usual. You make small talk and before long the soup or salad appear on the table. Before you can even pick up the fork or spoon a waiter or waitress appears with a pepper grinder asking ‘Would you like pepper?”

Let’s pause here and think about this. You have gone to a restaurant to eat food prepared by a professional chef and their staff. This would assume that they know what they are doing and have seasoned the food correctly. So the very question of ‘do you want pepper’ undermines all of that. It assumes the chef didn’t season the food correctly, doesn’t know what they are doing AND you are being asked to make a judgement call with no reference point.

That to me sounds like an average day in the life of creative leader. You cook the best dish you can only to have your audience judge it with no reference or understanding of the decision you made, undermined by the team you work with and you are no where to be seen when your work is consumed. I don’t say this to be bitter or overly dramatic but I talk with creative leaders every week who are at the end of their rope because everyone is trying to put pepper on their work. We can’t control everyone else but we can acknowledge that these problems exist, talk about them and try to work on improving our leadership.

5 levels of leadership

Let’s start by making sure we all understand that there are different maturity levels of leadership. Over the past year and a half I’ve become increasingly interested in ways of measuring the maturity of people and organizations. This is never about judgement but rather it is necessity if you are going to be able to coaching and teach someone effectively. As we through the details of each level I want you to think about which one of these apply to you as assign a level to yourself at the end of the descriptions. If you are really serious this process then you will also ask people on your team to give you a number as well as we all remain our own biggest blindspots.

Level 1: TITLE
People follow you because they have to

• This is the starting point of leadership. Anyone can be appointed to this position so it tells you nothing about the person’s leadership qualities.
• At this level, the leader is barely able to influence others and uses their job title to get things done.

People follow you because they want to

• This leadership level is about the human relationships that the leader has built up around them.
• Part of their motivation comes from themselves, but it is also a result of their leader believing in them. Vice versa, the employees believe in their leader and the goals they strives for.

Level 3: RESULTS
People follow you because of what you have done for the organization

• It is about the measurable results that have been achieved under the leader’s leadership.
• The fact that this level comes after building good interpersonal relationships, has to do with the fact that colleagues and employees are vital to achieving positive results.
• Only when a team can take steps together, believe in one another and trust each other, will it be possible to achieve proper production.

People follow you because of what you have done for them

• Is about the development of employees.
• It is essential for a growing organization to have leaders at this fourth level.
• They delegate work to their team and by delegating, gives them confidence and empowers them to develop themselves.
• This confidence has to be genuine and communicated clearly to the employee.

Level 5: RESPECT
People follow you because of who you are and what you represent

• Based on a foundation of respect.
• Employees and colleagues appreciate the leader and see them as an example.
• This is about leaders who remain in the employees’ thoughts even after they leave, making them live on as legends.

Leadership personas

As you work with people you start to see recurring styles that influence an individual’s effectiveness within an organization. These styles reflect the various roles you can play in organizations. Just like with building your brand, you go through a similar exercise to choose your leadership archetype. Or write them down and so a card sorting exercise like we did for the for branding work.

Order: Change-catalyst
Leadership as a turnaround activity

• You love messy situations.
• You are a master at re-engineering and creating new organizational ”blueprints.”
• You are best at “turnaround activity.”

Order: Processor
Leadership is an exercise in efficiency

• You like organizations to be smoothly running, well-oiled machines.
• They are very effective at setting up the structures and systems needed to support an organization’s objectives.

Action: Transactor
Leadership as deal making

• You are a great dealmaker.
• Skilled at identifying and tackling new opportunities, and thrive on negotiations.

Action: Builder
Leadership as an entrepreneurial activity

• You are an entrepreneur at heart
• You dream of creating something and have the talent and determination to make their dream come true.
• You have the talent, creative power, and determination to bring ideas to reality

Relationship: Coach
Leadership as a form of people development

• You know how to get the best out of people, and create high performance teams and cultures.
• You know how to nurture people’s skills

Change: Strategist
Leadership as a game of chess

• You are good at deal with surprise developments and issues with vision and direction.
• You provide vision, strategic direction and outside-the-box thinking to create new organizational forms and generate future growth.

Change: Communicator
Leadership as stage management

• You are a great influencer, and have a real impact on your surroundings.
• People find you magnetic and articulate so you have a big positive impact on the company.

Creativity: Innovator
Leadership as creative idea generation

• You focus on the new.
• You can solve extremely difficult problems and generate new ideas

4 styles of communication

Your leadership style is about how you lead and how effective you are with your team. But the other part of this equation is how you communicate that style to your team and company. I think this part is overlooked too often. The framework I like the best comes from Atlassian who I think is one of the very best at understanding how to build great teams and cultures.

Dominant’s love action and are focused on results.
They prefer to think about the big picture, and leave implementation details to others.
Patience and sensitivity are within their grasp, but require some effort.

Try to…
• Get right down to business, and stay on topic.
• Be prepared to field follow-up questions on the spot so you can answer with confidence.
• Expect them to be decisive and fairly blunt.

• Taking their bluntness, follow-up questions, and/or impatience personally.
• Making promises you can’t deliver on.
• Expecting them to open up about their weekend plans.

The classic “people” people.
They are friendly, upbeat, and always on the pulse of the latest trends.
They thrive on interpersonal relationships, which makes them great collaborators.
Long-term focus and follow-through aren’t their strong suits, so engage them in shorter collaborative bursts.

Try to…
• Approach them in a casual manner, and let your sense of humor show.
• Put details and facts in writing for them to refer back to after a verbal conversation.
• Expect them to be a little too optimistic about ideas, as well as their own abilities and the abilities of those around them.

• Talking down to them or being curt.
• Trying to confine the conversation or stifle their freedom to express ideas and emotions.
• Expecting them to dive deep into the details with you.

They emphasize cooperation and don’t want to upset the apple cart.
They value consistency, stability, and loyalty.
You’ll often find them in customer support.
They can adapt quickly when they have to, but may need some extra encouragement along the way.

Try to…
• Practice active listening, and confirm that you’ve heard them by summarizing what they’ve just said to you.
• Approach them with a relaxed vibe, and break the ice by acknowledging a recent contribution they’ve made.
• Expect them to ask for details.

• Rushing them into a decision.
• Assuming they support an idea 100% just because they don’t voice opposition.
• Expecting them to intuit priorities and deadlines – it’s helpful if you spell those out.

They prioritize precision and place a high value on competency.
They jump at the chance to demonstrate their expertise and build new skills – just the sort of person you’re likely to find in an engineering, data science, or analyst role.
They aren’t unfriendly, but probably won’t ask you about your weekend plans.

Try to…
• Provide as many details as possible up front, organized as systematically as you can.
• Give them clear expectations and space to work independently (they’re really good at it!).
• Expect them to double- and triple-check all the relevant info before making a decision.

• Framing feedback on their work as “criticism.”
• Responding to them emotionally – use words like “know” or “think” instead of “feel.”
• Expecting them to ease into a conversation with chit-chat.

Find your squad

The single omnipresent ruler is a thing of the past, Kets de Vries writes. Successful companies are led by a team of self-aware executives who band together with “distributive, collective, and complementary leadership.”
The starting point in effective leadership is to identify yourself as one of the archetypes and find where you need support.

Best teams are deliberate

Understand leadership styles

Understand communication styles

Final thought

Change happens in people and organizations through conversation and education not accusation or judgement.

Recommended reading

The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness
Buy the book

The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential
Buy the book

4 communication styles and how to navigate them in the workplace
Read the article

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