There is no magical one-size-fits-all leadership approach that works for any team. It’s tempting to believe there is.
Why? Because it’s easier.
It would be nice to pick up a leadership book or article and apply it straight to your team. Unfortunately, this will rarely work, because your situation is different.
Sure, your team is probably similar to some other team on the planet, but it’s not the same.
That’s why leaders need to be able to pick and choose the leadership approach that works for their situation, from a variety of options.
In this article, I’ll introduce some key factors that I use to shape my leadership approach. Hopefully some of them can help you to tailor your approach for your team, too.
What’s the Big Deal About Tailoring Your Leadership Approach?
Being able to shift your leadership approach for different teams and situations is important if you want to get the best out of your people.
Using the same leadership approach for every team may not work so well. Without tailoring our leadership approach, we may (even unintentionally) do the following:
- Isolate people: Some team members may feel left out if your approach doesn’t suit their style or personality.
- Ruin motivation: Motivation comes from creating the right environment for your people. Motivation will thrive when people are led in the way that suits them.
- Receive unbalanced input: It’s beneficial for leaders to draw out the best qualities and ideas of their team. Depending on your leadership approach, you might get great input from some, and no input from others who could really make a difference.
A caution I would add here is that it’s important not to start overthinking our approach too much. After all, trying to cater for everyone is likely to result in problems too.
However, there are some simple factors to keep in mind that may help you to find the right leadership approach and balance in your team.
Learn More: What Leadership Style Should You Use and When?
Factor 1: Experience
Our people will come with varied levels of experience. Often we assume that people in senior roles or who are older have the most experience, but it isn’t always the case.
The experience of your people will impact your leadership approach, because you’ll be able to tap into that experience and use it as a valuable resource.
Failing to respect experience in the team may see your people become frustrated, demotivated and passive. On the other hand, your less experienced people may feel vulnerable and exposed without the right support.
Choosing a Leadership Approach for Your Experienced People
For your more experienced people, it’s important that you value and respect their input and knowledge. It may also be wise to involve them in decision-making that impacts the team. After all, their experience may be vital in identifying key risks or potential issues in your environment.
Autonomy also matters, and your experienced people will likely need more “room to move” to be able to make decisions about how they perform their work.
Without this, you’ll likely see a drop in motivation as these people feel like you’re just telling them what to do, despite their capabilities.
… and For Those With Less Experience
However, with less experienced people, it’s important to provide greater support, mentoring and guidance, and ensure that you have sufficient oversight to be able to course-correct if something is off track.
It’s also important to remember that with your less experienced people, it’s not about just telling them what to do and ignoring what they say.
Even people fresh into the workforce have opinions and ideas that count.
Factor 2: Skill
The skill of your team members in their field of expertise is another factor which may influence your leadership approach.
While skill and experience often go hand in hand, it isn’t always the case. You’ll always have team members who are more skilled than others, even if they perform the same role.
Similar to experienced team members, highly skilled people need to be respected and allowed autonomy to work the way they need to. Without this, they are likely to feel stifled and may lose motivation.
However, one of the differences I see with skilled team members is their need to be challenged. Highly skilled people can become bored and complacent if they aren’t pushing themselves.
One way to provide this challenge is to let them embark on initiatives where they learn new skills, or stretch the boundaries of their existing ones.
People with less developed skills may need formal training or assistance from others in the team, to push them up to a required standard. However, it’s also important to stretch these team members too.
It’s just that the level of stretch might be a little less, and you may need to provide greater guidance during the process.
Learn More: How to Create a Skills Matrix and Improve Your Team.
Factor 3: Motivation
Leaders have an important role to play in motivating their people. Leaders are the ones who create the environment in which everyone works.
However, motivation also differs depending on the individual. One of the important aspects to consider is the level of investment your team member has in their career development.
Many people go to work not because they love their job, but to be able to live. This doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable, but it does mean they have a different focus.
We want all our people to show up and do their best work. But what this looks like for each person will be very different.
Leadership Approaches For Those Invested In Their Career
For your people who are invested in their career progression, it can be beneficial to provide development opportunities which are directly related to their role or career.
This may include leadership opportunities, or roles that push them further along their career path. You’ll most likely find that these people come across as “go-getters”, appearing more invested in their work.
Helping these people find suitable mentors or coaches can be important too. This provides them a direct line to discuss and work on their career development and progression, whatever that involves.
Another approach that can be useful is to let them see “behind the scenes” of your leadership role. You might demonstrate how you made a key decision or how you dealt with a challenge.
This can open their eyes to some of the tricky parts of leadership and prepare them for the future.
… and For Those That Have Other Plans
There are people who will work for you that aren’t career-driven. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t add value.
Sometimes these team members can actually feel easier to lead, because they are less demanding of development opportunities and chances for promotion.
But it is a mistake to simply ignore the motivation of these team members. They still need to come to work like anyone else, and they should bring a good game when they do!
An approach that can work well is to provide different opportunities to work on improvement projects or initiatives that improve team culture. This might include organising team building or social events, or working on a project that provides different work from their day job.
Find out if they have skills or interests outside of work they can bring. Some people are amazing planners, event coordinators or artists, but never have the chance to use these skills at work!
Find a way that they can, and you might be surprised at how they show up.
Autonomy and Oversight Based On Motivation and Skill Level
The combination of motivation and skill level in your team can influence your leadership approach. This simple matrix can give you an idea of how this might happen.
As you can see, you would tend to provide greater autonomy to your highly motivated people, as they are more likely to be committed to their work.
Conversely, you might maintain greater oversight for people who aren’t energised by the work they are doing.
Highly skilled people can often be provided with less oversight, because they are less likely to make mistakes.
However, as you can see in the matrix, it’s beneficial to consider the combination of these factors when adopting a leadership approach, rather than looking at each in isolation.
Factor 4: Personality and Background
Last but certainly not least, the personalities and backgrounds of your people is a huge factor influencing how to lead your team. Aspects to consider in this category include:
- Personality traits: Shy, outgoing, introverted, extroverted, confident, hesitant, quiet, loud, funny, witty, intelligent, skeptical, curious, boring, sad, calm, anxious, excitable. This list is endless!
- Cultural background and upbringing: Sometimes people from different cultural backgrounds and upbringings respond differently to leadership. This may influence their independence, how they speak up (or not) and whether they defer to leaders, or whether they are more likely to challenge them. Hofstede’s work is helpful to learn more about cultural differences and how it impacts workplaces.
- Previous experiences: Sometimes a person’s previous leaders and organisations have a big impact on how they behave in your team. For example, if they are used to being micromanaged, they might expect it from you too!
There are a wide variety of factors that can influence the way your people behave and respond to you.
The way I find these factors influencing my leadership approach is usually all about inclusion.
Team Inclusion and Your Leadership Approach
Feeling included in a team is important. You might think that a shy person is happy to sit in the corner and listen, but they probably want to be heard too. It might just be in a different way.
When it comes to inclusion, here are some aspects to consider:
- Ideas: People express ideas in different ways. You might need to vary your approach to help them come out. Some people will shout them out in a meeting, and others will feel more comfortable talking to you in private.
- Workplace News: Some people like to hear what’s going on in the workplace, and others don’t really care. It’s helpful to understand who wants to hear what.
- Issues: Some people are comfortable discussing issues in a broader forum. Maybe it’s an upcoming restructure or a team performance problem. Others may be less comfortable, needing more one on one time for discussion.
- Events: You might have a few party animals in your team who like a drink. This doesn’t suit everyone, so you could benefit from varying your approach to team building events.
As you can see, it can seem like a minefield. How can you cater to every need?
Well, you can’t.
You will never please everyone. But at the very least, you want to be able to cater for different personal styles in some way, so that people aren’t left out, feeling isolated.
Guide Your Leadership Approach With the Platinum Rule
You’ve probably heard about the “Golden Rule”, which is to:
Treat others how you would like to be treated.
The “Platinum Rule” is better:
Treat others how they would like to be treated.
This doesn’t mean that you need to bend over backwards to please everyone. If your people want you to give them a million dollars, that’s probably not going to fly.
It’s just good to remember that your preferences aren’t the same as everyone else’s.
Use that to tailor your leadership approach to your team.
What do you consider when tailoring your leadership approach to your team? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!