A senior executive I met recently was passed over for a promotion. The feedback? She wasn’t aggressive enough, though she had successfully contributed to the business for years, cultivated talent through strong team relationships, had low turnover and produced consistently high results. Sadly her ability to motivate people to do great work was not valued by her company. Cultures that emphasize results often have an implicit model for what that looks like (ie, being tough or directive, rather than nice and consultative),. Collaborative work styles may be considered too passive and judged critically or considered “ineffective”. Environments like this are bad news for introverts and worse news for those organizations undervaluing camaraderie and teamwork is not conducive to innovation.
I had a similar experience early in my career, when a manager considered my relationships with the technology department to be too collegial and not demanding enough. My boss expected other departments to deliver products to us, whereas I thought we all worked on the same team at the same company together. Clearly different values. Many cultures reward individual performers at the expense of teams, pit departments against each other and focus on results without thoughtful processes, and many are profitable successful businesses. Yet they are also toxic, unhealthy places to work high turnover, low morale, nasty politics and lots of managing up, often at the expense of actual progress. Not to mention the stress and human fallout from layoffs and reorganizations. This way of operating can and often does produce outcomes, but at what cost?
We all need to work, but the most talented people will choose where and how they work. High performers select companies that value their contributions, enabling them to do great work. A startup founder who attended a recent workshop told me they had revisited a potential co-founder relationship upon discovering their leadership values were not in alignment and could potentially create conflict down the line. Better to know that information sooner, rather than later, and uncover how different leadership styles can impact your business operations. Often we don’t consciously realize or acknowledge how disruptive this can be because we are not looking at the impact.
This points to another important question, what does your organization value? Do you choose short-term profits at the expense of long-term growth? Are power and control more important than innovation and collaboration? Can your organization tolerate, or better yet, encourage and embrace differences of opinion and style?
WHAT STYLE OF LEADERSHIP ARE YOU PRIORITIZING? WHY?
Have you explored the impact your organization’s preferred style has on efficiency, effectiveness and morale? Are you creating explicit or implicit biases towards particular operating approaches? Does every situation need a hammer when a screwdriver, pliers or paint and spackle might get the job done better? Â Are managers allowed and encouraged to use their strengths? Are leaders trained to adjust their styles to the circumstances at hand? High growth organizations and leaders are resilient and adaptable, thriving because they are willing to learn and support multiple approaches to achieve desired outcomes.
Consider how one primary operating style might impact those with different styles. Different job functions often demand distinct skill sets, for instance salespeople have different expertise from those in operations or technology. Demanding everyone to replicate a particular work style is shortsighted and ineffective. Are we recognizing our audience and their unique needs?