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What do the leadership styles of Richard Branson and Steve Jobs have in common? If you said ‘absolutely nothing’ you’d be on the right track.

According to most accounts, Jobs’ and Branson’s respective styles couldn’t be more different. While Branson is a delegator who mostly leaves his team alone while he concentrates on the big picture, Jobs was a micromanager who was brusque and overbearing with his employees. Yet, both of them achieved results in a big way and will be remembered among the greatest leaders of their time.

This contrast creates an interesting question for me around just how important it really is to know what type of leader you are, when it comes to achieving great things with your company or your team. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think leadership style is important—I’m just not sure it takes the top spot for most important.

Those with good (or even great) leadership styles may wonder why they still have a revolving door of employees, or why they struggle with building new businesses or partnerships. They’ve got the ‘right’ style, right? Why isn’t everything falling in line?

 

If what type of leader you are isn’t as important, what is?

In my experience, those leaders who are missing the mark lack one incredibly important factor: self-awareness. 

Self-awareness is a two-parter. It includes:

  1. The ability to know yourself and effectively tap into internal and external feedback to make positive changes
  2. The ability to have a clear understanding of the impact you have on those around you

According to research done by Jack Zenger, CEO of strengths-based leadership development firm, Zenger/Folkman, there are three big things to look for as indicators that a leader’s self awareness has room for improvement:

  1. A lack of clarity among employees about the organization’s plans for the future—especially if the leader believes it’s perfectly clear and has been frequently communicated.
  2. An apparent conflict between what the leader says and how employees perceive their actions. For example, it may be a red flag if employees say things like, “We say we want to be a customer centric company, but you want to nickel and dime the customer for any little request they make.”
  3. The apparent contrast between stated values and day-to-day policies, such as, “We want to build a trusting climate where people are empowered,” yet a manager needs to get multiple signatures to make something right for a customer.

Why self-awareness matters for leaders

When you practice self-awareness, you not only catch when something isn’t working much earlier in a process, but you also become more willing to accept that you might be a big part of the reason. 

With better developed self-awareness, leaders can:

  • Recognize and influence how feelings and emotions impact their performance, their team’s performance, and ultimately their company’s performance.
  • Tune into their guiding values which will make things like decision-making, problem solving, and conflict resolution a much faster and less stressful process.
  • Step outside their own perspective and see the big picture in complex situations and relationships to generate solutions.
  • Recognize and act on opportunities quickly and take very little, including setbacks, failures, and even successes, personally.
  • Quickly establish trust and maintain strong and long-lived relationships both personally and in their business.

Self-aware leaders are able to see the big picture and what role they play in it on an everyday basis. When that role is a positive one, they can amplify it. When it’s a negative one, they can be honest with themselves and start finding ways to change how they interact with the situation.

Self-aware leaders not only see potential in others, they're able to spot opportunity and act quickly and decisively.


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