Jennie Marshall | 21 July 2015
One size fits all?
I purchased some new clothes at the weekend and, as many women will tell you, was frustrated that the same size across three different pairs of trousers from the same retailer, were hugely different. Surely they would all be the same size? It’s like when you buy something that says ‘one size fits all’. It rarely does.
You can also consider this ‘one size fits all’ approach when you look at your style of leadership. Does using the same style that works for one person really work for everyone?
People often ask me, ‘why are some leaders successful, while others fail?’
The truth is, there is no one size fits all. There’s also no magic combination of characteristics that makes a leader successful and different characteristics matter in different circumstances.
One of Steve Jobs’ quirks was that he rejected using focus groups because he believed ‘people don’t know what they want until you show it to them’. It’s a quotation that sums up the trust-your-instincts approach of one of the greatest CEOs of our time. But is it a brilliant leadership innovation that we should teach to everyone, or foolhardy arrogance Jobs was lucky didn’t come back to bite him?
On the surface, given the success of the iPad, iPod and iPhone, it looks like genius insight from which all leaders can learn. But probe a little deeper and you realise the true answer is both more banal and more revolutionary and has massive connotations for every leader in the world.
It depends on who you are leading
Some leaders are wired to give direction, so that they can direct their teams to build a picture of the leader’s vision. As a leader, they mull it over, tweak it, adjust it and refine it without ever consulting anybody. Others, however, have a different creative process. They need input from their teams to help their creative thinking.
A technique or style that works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Not all managers or even sales people work the same way as their peers. In every position we see diversity of method and technique.
The most cutting-edge companies are embracing this diversity in the way they interact with their customers. Facebook targets ads based on the information users provide in their profiles. The first thing Netflix asks users to do when they sign up is rate movies so it can recommend what they might like.
What if we took the same ingenuity and effort that we use to tailor services for our customers and put it into customising our leadership? Is there a way to filter all knowledge about management and leadership to cater for the unique strengths and style of the individual?
The obvious next step would be to personalise your leadership to build a focused relationship with every team member. The challenge, however, is that personalisation requires more than a ‘submit’ button.
As a leader you need to have a clear understanding of every individual in your team – what makes them tick or how to motivate them for example. At first glance, this process can feel like a major undertaking - like many things in life, or in business, the hardest step is often the first.
There are some straightforward ways to help you to get to know your people. Here are three steps to get you started:
Know what’s important to your team and people
The best way to get started is to begin talking to your people face-to-face and observing what happens in the team environment. Get a feel for what it means to be the person on the team. The more that you can associate a face to the persona, the better positioned you’ll be to build stronger human connections. In addition to helping you forge stronger relationships, this research process will help you uncover trends that are likely to be useful in the future.
Thanks to Step 1, you’ll have a list of patterns and preferences worth investigating. Based on your observations, you should start to develop a sense of your team. For instance, what types of challenges are more prevalent than others? What really gets the team engaged? Based on this knowledge, you can start preparing which style may work best in what situation.
Get started. Put your message out there. The goal at this stage shouldn’t be picture-perfect results. Rather, you should begin a process of continuous learning.
Your personalisation strategy shouldn’t feel like pulling teeth. Perfection doesn’t need to happen overnight; rather, you can aim to develop your learnings gradually. The first step will be the hardest. But remember - you’ll be a step ahead of the rest.
If you're looking to improve your leadership capabilities, take a look at our excellent Leadership and Management training courses.