For new leaders, inconsistent behaviour is one of the most common complaints from direct reports. How do you build consistency when everything is new?
Rob* had successfully completed an internal development program for high performers and was assigned to a leadership role overseeing a team of technical operators.
Rob had been in this new role for about a month when we started working together. He was feeling increasingly confident about the technical aspects of the job but was, in his words, “all over the place” when it came to dealing with the people side of leadership. As we dove into some of the situations Rob was facing, it became clear that his biggest challenge was inconsistency. In some situations, Rob was responding in what could only be called an authoritarian fashion and in others he was clearly being too indecisive. Not surprisingly, the outcome was unreliable performance from his team.
I suggested, and Rob agreed, that we start by looking at two considerations:
1. Leadership style(s) and behaviour(s) most appropriate to the environment.
2. Leadership style(s) and behaviour(s) authentic to Rob, the person.
It was important to recognize that Rob worked in a high-risk, high-compliance environment. Things moved quickly and process ruled. It was equally important to acknowledge that Rob had a great sense of humour and was well liked by his colleagues. Many of the people he now managed used to be his peers. They knew him well, which had its pros and cons.
With these considerations in mind, Rob and I explored some of the people challenges he faced his first month on the job. We carefully examined responses that he felt were both appropriate and authentic and also took apart situations that had not, in Rob’s estimation, gone well.
When faced with uncertainty, Rob tended to either mimic the behaviours of more autocratic leaders or he dithered and took the “wait and see” approach. Neither was getting the response he wanted. On the other hand, when a situation was more familiar or comfortable Rob used a cooperative approach, one that downplayed his leader status and emphasized his similarities with his team. When he did this he experienced better outcomes and faster resolutions.
It became clear that Rob wasn’t missing a leadership style – he had one that worked quite well – he just wasn’t using it consistently, or with confidence. If Rob wanted his team for perform well it was critical that he started behaving in a more consistent manner. To this end, Rob made a commitment to consciously use his cooperative approach, even when the situation was unfamiliar or he felt overwhelmed. We practiced role-playing, we worked on some flexible scripts and we explored how Rob could “re-do” a response when he didn’t get it right the first time.
Rob had some set backs but the more he practiced his cooperative leadership style, the more natural it became. The strongest indicator that Rob was making progress was in the more reliable performance of his team. When it comes to leadership styles, reliable team performance is one of the strongest barometers of getting it right.
Call me on 519 831 1536 to find out how coaching can help you become a more effective leader.
*Names and some organization details have been changed to protect the privacy of my clients.