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A One-dimensional Leader?

Post by Peter Agnew

· Behavioural Style,Leadership,People Development

Are you a one-dimensional leader? Do you focus solely on your natural strengths and delegate anything you either dislike, or that is outside your comfort zone?

Everyone has a psychological comfort zone to which they gravitate, particularly in challenging situations. Some are more self-aware of this than others, but some are quite blind to their ‘default setting’. Strengths based leadership might encourage leaders to ‘play to their strengths’, but it discourages them from developing their leadership skills further. Without the diverse skills needed to deal with complex challenges, the one-dimensional leader often chooses an inadequate response based on their ‘default setting’. 

There’s currently a fashionable focus on strengths based leadership in some workplaces, and it’s known as ‘strengths-based leadership’. Born in part from Donald O. Clifton’s ideas, first published 20 years ago in Play to your Strengths, and more recently promoted by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in their book Strengths Based Leadership, the theory goes that it creates higher productivity, better contributions from group members and increased group morale.

Strengths based leadership means a leader only focuses on competencies that align with their natural talents. The leaders themselves do not need to be ‘well-rounded’, but their teams do.

I believe that just creates what I call a ‘one-dimensional leader’.

We are often aware of the benefits that a personality trait provides us, but less frequently do we recognise the limitations that very same trait might produce.

Life has taught each of us what it means to be a leader – we are a combination of our own psychological make-up, intelligence, training and experience. These change naturally with more experience and can be proactively changed with further training, yet strengths based leadership would have it that we stick to one set of strengths and let our teams make up for our limitations.

I’ve heard people say ‘I don’t do detail’ or ‘I’ll leave that inspirational stuff to the HR team’. It’s true that asking an introverted leader to become animated and energising is sometimes like asking someone to grow taller. I would argue that in such a circumstance platform shoes can help!

An introverted leader’s platform shoes might start with simple things like acknowledge contributions more readily or learning how to give praise or to express emotions more often.

I work with leaders from many different fields who have a vast array of leadership styles. I spend a lot of time exploring how to change and stretch leader behaviour into new areas so that they can be their best within their workplace and with their teams.

My experience has shown me time and again that workplaces these days expect leaders to be multidimensional, and that only multidimensional leaders are truly effective. Truly effective leaders need a broad perspective on the range of behaviours that are available to them in any given situation, and are not just reliant on the one dimension they’re comfortable with.

How you find and explore legitimate alternatives to your ‘default settings’ as a leader is an important leadership challenge. The challenge is to not only expand your perspective, but also to develop additional dimensions to your leadership style to meet the many complex situations that you are faced with on a day-to-day basis.

Trying to ‘outsource’ the dimensions that you find less ‘natural’ will ultimately fail.

Change is inevitable. What works for you as a leader today may not work next year, or in a new company, with a new team. Understanding your natural strengths is the only the first step. By building your own repertoire of leadership behaviour, you can learn to shift your style to meet the needs of your organisation and the people you work with in today’s ever changing business environment.

What is your view? Share with us.

Ask yourself:

  1. Are you a one-dimensional leader?
  2. Do you know where to stretch your leadership behaviour to become more effective?
  3. Are you aware of your leadership style and its impact on others?
  4. What would others like you to do more often in your leadership style?

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