Why Some People Will Never Be a (Great) Leader

Last week, I watched a leader do the tango, cha-cha, two-step, waltz and breakdance in front of his people.

No, he wasn’t literally dancing, but seeing how he inspired, motivated and got buy-in from his team, I was struck by how his flexibility and performance were no less extraordinary than an artist’s at peak form. And as for his business results? They speak for themselves—he leads one of the highest performing businesses in one of the largest banks in the world.

At this conference for his team in Florida, his leadership influence was on full display. Here are some of the “dance moves” I noticed, appealing to different influencing styles.

  • He made a case for a bold new vision and challenged his leadership team: “Who’s in!?”
  • He reinforced his presentation with carefully researched evidence, including references to theories of physics and mathematics.
  • He talked about how he would help facilitate connections and collaboration with other leaders across the bank to advance his vision. And he encouraged his team to “spend time at the pool connecting with each other,” adding: “Email can wait until we get home.”
  • He facilitated robust dialogue by continually asking, “What are your ideas?”
  • During dinner, he moved easily from table to table, making sure everyone was engaged and having fun—so much so that his assistant had to remind him to eat his food.

Last week, I wrote about five leadership influence styles that have surfaced in my research. This leader is a perfect example of what great leaders do: They nimbly take advantage of all of the different styles to get the best results.

To improve your own leadership influence, take a cue from great dancers, musicians or athletes: Build your flexibility to perform different styles.

Most people have a primary tendency followed by a secondary style. When I go with my natural style—80% Facilitator and 20% Disruptor—some of my clients and colleagues are moved to action (influenced), some appreciate the experience (interested) and another bunch walk away unchanged (informed).

The reason? Not everyone connects with my style.

Here are a few ways we can flex our approach to move people from informed to interested and interested to influenced:

1. Appreciate different styles. Know your default styles and see them in others. Celebrate the strengths in your own style while acknowledging the benefits of other approaches. Ask clients and colleagues about their natural style and talk about ways to maximize teamwork.

2. Act intentionally. Neuroscientists tell us that trying to change any hardwired behavior requires a lot of effort, in the form of attention. Being self-aware and operating in other styles requires focus and energy, so it comes down to the choice you make: Be comfortable and influence a few, or be intentional and influence many.

3. Train with a coach. A 1997 study of 31 public sector managers by Baruch College researchers found that a training program alone increased productivity 28%, but the addition of follow-up coaching increased productivity 88%.

If dancing’s not your thing, consider this: Most good baseball players excel in parts of the game. They’re strong fielders who run fast and hit for average, or they have strong throwing strength and hit for power.

Great baseball players, on the other hand, are the ones scouts call “5-Tool Players.” They can do it all well.

With practice and effort, we can become 5-Tool Influencers.

Please comment with an example of a 5-Tool Influencer you know.



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