What kind of leader are you?

By Stew Darling

Businessman looking out of window

What kind of leader are you? If you can answer that question with one or two words then I would argue you’re no kind of leader at all. 

That doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable of being a great leader. It probably reflects the fact that you haven’t had the opportunity to experience a range of leaders or been able to ‘catch’ the art and science of true leadership.

The Financial Times ran a insightful piece on leadership this week entitled “Don’t Fall For The Fashion Of The Hardcore Executive”. It argues that effective leaders flex through the styles of leadership as needed. I couldn’t agree more. But in order to flex you have to have seen those styles in action and know what works and what doesn’t.

Leadership is caught not taught

Unfortunately many of those who currently occupy leadership roles are really managers desperately underprepared for what is required of them. When grasping at straws in situations that feel overwhelming, rather than leading consciously and effectively they will default to thier own personal high-pressure response – fight, flight, or freeze.

In my experience as a leader of people in high pressure, life and death situations, the leadership style required in any given situation is rarely the one you are most comfortable with. It’s almost never the default response. It needs to be the correct response for the situation at hand.

Leadership requires stretch. It asks us to be uncomfortable and unreasonable. While leadership style is important, the way that style is deployed with each person is the art of leadership. It can only be effectively deployed when leaders have an individual relationship with every person in their team.

Leadership is not a static state. As our team members change and grow our leadership of them must also evolve and develop. This means that we have to continually raise our standards as leaders, and if necessary, give our ultimate sacrifice. Do you know what your ultimate sacrifice as a leader is? 

We have all seen the stories about toxic workplace culture, bullying and harassment. We all know that many workplaces are not functioning as they should. The problem starts with the leadership vacuum that governance bodies allow and enable within organisations. 

Let’s hope that the trend towards an autocratic leadership style that the Financial Times identifies is not allowed to proliferate here in New Zealand. It has its place and time but its not a silver bullet. 

Instead, let’s work to create leadership culture within organisations. We can do this with the right direction and framework in place and by helping people to ‘catch’ leadership from those who really know how to lead.

About Stew Darling

Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Stew Darling had an extremely successful and decorated 20+ year career in the British Army during which he commanded Special Operations (covert espionage) across the globe. Stew uses his experiences to deliver a range of bespoke coaching offerings for individuals and businesses, including Mastermind – an accelerator programme for senior executives and business owners. Limited spaces are available for the next Mastermind intake in June 2023.

Stew’s book, Lead through Life, is based on the Mastermind programme and has been used across New Zealand, the US, and the UK to create leadership cultures within businesses and organisations and to improve team retention and productivity.

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