There's an old theory that life partners start to take on resemblances of each other over time, that even pets and owners start mimicking each other to show a resemblance. Is this also true in business? Will your people become a mirror image of your leadership style over time?
Over my career, it has always fascinated me how organizations from the very large to the medium and the small take on the shape of their leadership. This applies as much to entire organizations as it does to individual teams, and through self-reflection and conscious leadership, we can all understand how our traits, behaviors, and our actions can impact the shape and personalities of our teams, and how they behave themselves.
This isn’t an article about which is right and wrong because, at the end of the day, different circumstances may need different styles to get the job done. In some cases, the urgency to achieve is far greater than in others, and for example, the leadership actions on the field of battle may be very different from those needed to make long-term cultural changes in a long-standing institution such as a university by means of drawing a contrast.
For several years in my career, I worked with schools and colleges, and it always fascinated me that over time I could get a sense of the quality of the school, its organization, and its educational standards from the moment I walked in the front door. Then, upon meeting the headmaster, usually, in their office, it seemed that this was like a window into the organizational soul of the school.
My observations around the grounds, the approach, the signage, the greeting from the receptionist all helped me form a point of view. Whilst waiting, I would look around the varying degrees of displays in the reception area – It was like a snapshot of what was going on in the school, how curated it was (or otherwise), focus on the students, the teachers, or the parents, also gave me an indication of who really was in charge.
Then in the headmaster’s office itself, the level of formality, or otherwise. The tidiness organized or disheveled, (and yes, I encountered plenty of the latter), all clues to the leadership style and influence of the leader before me. I also observed over time how with the interchange of leadership, also the personality of the entire school would change.
Working with all sizes of businesses, I have encountered a similar experience.
I recall working with a large, international iconic organization whose CEO was allocated their own table in the restaurant each day, set out with cutlery and his favorite daily newspaper, and how this multi-billion-dollar organization seemed somewhat reluctant to make sometimes even the smallest decision without their say so, his presence was felt if he was in the business or not. Similarly, a huge, high-tech manufacturer slowed down with one person making all the decisions.
I have worked with family businesses and witnessed how very personal relationships can get in the way of important and sometimes critical decisions. With owner-managed businesses with 'bottleneck decision making' that actually can paralyze the organization.
In the corporate world, I have seen all sorts of examples of leadership styles and the impacts that these can have on the people below and around them, and more importantly how those leadership styles not only impact culture but critically what behaviors they drive.
Here are my musings on some of those styles I have witnessed told in the context of the animal world, which ones do you recognize?
We link the owl with wisdom and that may well be true, however, the Owl is also very purposeful, and that can often get in the way of progress. The Owl tends to be a more reclusive character, hierarchically conscious, and not the most sociable, or sometimes likable of leaders.
The Owl's level of knowledge and wisdom wins confidence in the people around them and gets things done, right, but often more slowly than sometimes hoped for.
The Goat looks at the world differently - they have goals to achieve, and they don’t care too much about what obstacles get in their way. Instead of working around them, they will often charge right through them, not too concerned about what impact it may have on others.
Like many leadership styles, goats tend to stick with their own, in smaller groups, less about choice but the willingness of others to join them.
Penguins are highly sociable animals, they like to be a part of the Colony, the Rookery, or the Waddle. The Penguin thrives from the social interaction but also the safety of being in the team as opposed to being in front of it.
Consensus is the keyword for this leadership style, being brave, courageous, and decisive are not the traits to be expected of this team player who yearns for acceptance.
The Elephant has been around for a very long time and has a long memory. They’re part of the furnishings of the organization and carry weight and respect that is enduring – they’re in it for the long term.
Steady and reliable and often highly influential, but they don’t encourage or accept change readily preferring old traditions over new-fangled ideas and ways of doing things.
As in the animal kingdom, the Lion is King, at least during his reign. In the Pride, there is always a group of younger lions competing and challenging to one day become King, and that is what can drive the Lion to take decisive action to survive. He (or she) is a brave and courageous leader but often puts themselves first when it comes to survival. Whilst the Lion is head of the Pride, he is King but quickly declines when he is no longer.
THE ANGRY BIRD
Every organization or team has one. The Angry Bird has a sense of utmost urgency to get things done and an equal sense of frustration with others that don’t see the same level of urgency.
Frustration can turn into anger, and in the short term may achieve the desired results often at a cost. Over time, they lose their audience, 'followship', and loyalty and create bottlenecks of decision making where no one wants to make decisions in the fear that it’s the wrong thing and facing the wrath of the Angry Bird.
Similar to the Elephant in many ways, and to the Goat too, however, the Rhino is more purposeful than the former and more powerful than the latter - the Rhino can get through the most impassable obstacles, sometimes even on their own, clearing the way for the rest of the team to follow, which they often do.
Although appreciated by the team, the Rhino is also a loner as a combination of their singular focus, and the team’s standoffish respect.
Nothing happens in the Spider's web of influence and control without them knowing about it. They make it their business to know everything that’s in their world, every tiny movement, the slightest change in air pressure. When they see something they don’t like, or which threatens them or appeals to their appetite, they take decisive and deliberate action. The Spider is the ultimate micro-manager, their team fears them and is afraid to put even a toenail out of place.
I am sure there are many other analogies that can be drawn between leadership styles including the political and sly Cunning Fox, the busy body Beaver with their hand in everything, and of course the perfect but elusive Unicorn.
Whichever singular characterization, how can you create the right balance of leadership that drives the desired reaction, culture, and behaviors that’s right for the aims and objectives for your business?
Each one can drive loyalty, as “birds of a feather flock together” and over time create a herd effect but with negative traits that can magnetize and become destructive, but with positive traits can build the momentum that can create movements, seismic change, and big impact for you, your team, your customers, and stakeholders.
Tony Johnson, Chief Customer Experience Officer at 4xi teaches some of these principles in his Ignite Your Service workshops and how specifically a CX culture both internally and externally can really impact overall cultural performance in a business.
Georgina Miranda, 4xi’s Explorer in Residence coaches Conscious Leadership and helps leaders and organizations through cultural transformation aligned to businesses' long-term strategies and aspirations.
4xi’s proprietary methodology, TRUE NORTH© talks to the importance of deep self-reflection in all aspects of the business – strengths, weaknesses, comparison to the competition, and how to retain and win better business. The starting point should be self-reflection and how your leadership style shapes the culture and behaviors of the team around you, and therefore how your organization is perceived internally and by others.
Would love to get your perspective on these musings and feedback on what leader you are today and what you want your people to be tomorrow.
Simon Elliot is Managing Partner of 4xi Global Consulting & Solutions, is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors (IoD). He is also passionate about the world of work experience and is Chair of the WORKTECH Academy for North America.
Inspiring the future, together.
4xi Global Workplace Consulting & Solutions provides a range of services to support Corporations, Service Providers, Innovators, and Accelerators to navigate the world of work. Inspiring the future of work, together.
4xi is proud to be Chair of WORKTECH Academy for North America and a member of its Leadership Advisory Board. 4xi is a Global Ambassador for WORKTECH Academy.
San Francisco | New York | Orlando | North Carolina | Santiago | London | Porto | Tokyo