How Much Are Style Points Worth?

Style 1Before you spit your morning beverage of choice out, have confidence that the answer to the title of this blog will be to your liking. I was struck by a recent post in Leadership Freak that discussed more than a few ways to be IR-relevant.  It also recalled for me an item in Forbes from a few years ago that asked whether leadership was even relevant anymore.

There is a natural tension between serving others and serving yourself.  Since improvements in your own abilities will lead to improved service to others (in theory) every day presents choices as to where you should focus.  This could be frustrating, especially when you are overwhelmed by people (above and below) who want your talents, and want them right now.

Your potential frustration with trying to decide which way to hop are a potential trap for the aspiring or veteran leader.  The trap part is that most leaders have been investing in their education and development and have been bombarded with all kinds of information that boils leadership down to styles.  This in turn makes one get out the comparison ruler and start trying to measure one’s style and trying to align it to fit the current fad or your self-administered test score.

Style is as relevant to leadership as a phillips head screwdriver is relevant to a flat tipped one when the screw is a single blade.  Wrong tool for the job, but the right tool for the next job (or the last one). Flexibility and having many tools is the mark of a leader.  Let your style define itself, not the other way around.Style 2

The last 25 years of research on leadership style has produced exactly zero consensus on one “style” trumping another for effectiveness.  On the other hand, the research is quite clear on what makes an effective leader:

  • Have integrity. People want to trust you above all else.
  • Look forward. People want to follow someone who knows where they are going.
  • Produce inspiration. If you have passion, people will be willing to give you theirs.
  • Know your business. People will judge you on your successes, so have some.

The bottom line is that performing your job in sync with the boundaries of an accepted “style” is no guarantee that you will be effective.  Be genuine, inspire trust and confidence in where you are going, and know your job.  That works.

The great Bruce Lee referred to his abilities as the “Style with No Style.  Of way more importance to Lee was the need to be true to one’s own self rather than a slave to a particular style. This three minutes of video is a priceless description of how the desire for self-honesty defined and drove one of the most iconic men of all time:

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