Founder at http://epek.app - passionate about products, their users, and the makers
Leadership comes in many shapes and forms, sizes, titles or lack thereof, and has a profound impact on whoever and whatever follows. Google defines leadership as "the action of leading a group of people or an organization", and to lead as "organize and direct", "be the principal player of a group", or "set (a process) in motion" among many similar definitions.
In other words, to lead is to "provide direction for action, whether by directly participating in the action, or organizing the actors, or initiating the process."
As a startup founder, I'm most interested in leadership on a day to day basis, with a definite over-arching aim, that the startup thrives.
Within this context, leadership isn't just the domain of the designated leader e.g. the CEO, the head of product, and co, but of anyone who isn't just executing someone else's orders. And in a startup, that's every single person involved.
In this article though, I'll look at leadership styles for designated leaders, the C-level, the heads of departments, product and engineering managers. So let's dive right in.
I'll divide the styles in Good and Bad, and provide some food for thought, so you can see where you yourself fit, and where you might want to start optimizing.
Good: Friction remover
This type of leader is a true facilitator in the sense that they observe the barriers to performance of other people and help remove them. They don't necessarily do the work themselves, nor are they big on revolutionizing the ways of working, but by removing small issues everyday, they enable the best work of others. Removing frictions actually takes quite a bit of work to observe the reality, figure out where the bottle necks are, and actually work to remove those. Incidentally, this is also the least celebrated form of leadership; luckily true leaders aren't after self-celebrations all the time.
Bad: "Figure it out" challenger
While "figure it out" is a good challenge to throw to people from time to time, quite often it leads to frustration because you don't get the support that you might need. As leaders, our job is to enable initiative taking and problem solving, but not just by challenging people who look up to us. Often enough people come to you because they have already tried to figure it out, and would be better off with a few helpful pointers.
Good: Communication Facilitator:
In the modern workplace, communication is king (or the CEO you wish you had). Miscommunication, misunderstandings, lack of communication are the leading causes of wasted time, effort, and lead to unhappy rework. Leaders who facilitate communication serve their organizations on two fronts simultaneously. Good communication doesn't just get things done better, but helps create the environment where people will be willing to speak up when the stakes are high and things are unclear. Leaders who facilitate communication makes their own lives way easier by creating this environment that fosters critical thinking and expression.
Bad: "Just do it" task master
The taskmaster leader has one big thing going against her/him i.e. by never explaining the reason behind their orders, they rob the subordinates off their creativity. Even if the order are correct, the modern workplace benefits when everyone brings their whole self to the game. Giving orders and walking away reduces people's effectiveness as well as a sense of purpose, achievement, and agency. Many leaders fall into this trap due to their busy-ness i.e. they just don't have the time to explain. Unfortunately, they end up having to take time for dealing with de-motivated employees, and exit-interviews.
Good: Hands on collaborator:
Hands on collaborators can be a quite a godsend. Life is much better when you're working through some tough assignment and your leader is right there with you, working the long hours, and solving problems together with you, as a collaborator. The benefit isn't just in having an extra pair of hands on the job, but their experience, and willingness to work with you is a worthy lesson in professional relationships. Good hands on collaborators also know when to let you take the lead, while working next to you.
Bad: "Threaten and Condescend" Bully
We all know bullies are bad, but for quite some time we were promoting people because they could force others into keeping their head down and working away. A bullying leader doesn't just threaten. When faced with a star worker, you'll see them condescending as well. The underlying worldview that you can make people do stuff if you twist them the right away, is at fault here. The result is never good performance, and countless cases of burnout are a proof of bad managerial behavior. If you see one of these types at work, please call them out, and keep a safe distance. You don't need this toxicity in your professional life.
Good: Teamwork and joy facilitator:
Leaders who view work as a collaborative effort, can do their teams a huge favor by facilitating joy and teamwork. These are people who know that aside from anything else they can do, the best long term results will only come from a team that is happy. These folks have figured out that happy teamwork leads to the best work, and not the other way around. If this is your type, then all the power to you! Keep going, and don't stop!
Bad: "You can do this" absentee
Absentee leaders drive me nuts. Somewhere along our organizational evolution, someone came up with the laziest form of leadership: no-leadership. This usually involves the erroneous belief that, by staying out of active leadership, you are helping your sub-ordinates develop their own leadership and problem-solving skills. The reality in majority of the cases is very different, where people either give up for lack of leadership, or lose all respect for their designated superiors.
Good: Inspiring visionary
Visionaries by definition are always looking to the future. What makes a visionary leader is when they can relate this aspiration in a way that gets people motivated to move towards this yet unrealized ideal. They make you believe in what could be, if you put your mind to it. If only we had a few more of those!
Bad: "It is what it is" Status Quo representative
Ever worked with someone who's just doing their job? Who doesn't intervene, nor take initiative to change something because that's someone else's job? I've seen managers cut career development discussions because that's the way things are and there's nothing they can do. The truth is, there's always something you can do, and it's often just a matter of deciding to do it and getting on with it. We are talking about modern companies after all.
Having listed the good and bad versions of leadership, it is important to say that we usually fluctuate between the different types, depending on the problem and the people at hand e.g. a hands on engineering leader might become a communication facilitator when cross-domain problems are concerned. The same person might be facilitating teamwork for the engineering team, but go Absent when it comes to career development of the same people.
That to me is the biggest task of a leader: to identify their own patterns of behavior and change in order to lead effectively in all situations where leadership is expected of them.
Are you a leader? Have you had good or bad leaders? Share your experience in the comments below or find me on twitter ;)
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