The introspective leader's advantage

Jan 30 2007 by Robert Galford & Regina Maruca Print This Article

Your leadership style is influenced, in part, by the natural role you tend to play. Perhaps you're a mentor-type, a great talent-spotter, or a serial entrepreneur. Whatever your style, throughout your career you've probably heard that you have a reputation for demonstrating certain qualities.

If someone pointed your style out to you, there'd likely be a flash of recognition. Chances are, however, unless you've asked, no one is spelling it out for you. This means that it's up to you to stop and think about what your natural leadership style actually is. Leaders who take the time to truly understand their natural roles and how those roles affect those around them have an advantage over those who don't take this inward-looking journey.

Finding your Role

Once you've identified the role or roles that you believe you most naturally fill, it's useful to test them by looking for objective supporting evidence. Start by listing a few of the ways your chosen role might manifest itself at work. Are these actions that you come by naturally? If so, great. If not, ask yourself why not. What is limiting your ability to fill the kinds of roles you would like to fill?

It's possible that your selections are slightly off course. If there is no marketplace demand, it is possible that the role you'd like to play isn't aligned with your abilities. In that case, you need to reexamine the range of roles you identify with and assess whether your aspirations are clouding your perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses.

Is it the Right Role for You?

At the extreme, an increased understanding of your role can help you determine whether your position offers the alignment you need if you are to be satisfied over the long term. Consider the executive - we'll call him Paul - who in 2004 accepted the job as president of a national brokerage firm.

Paul was flattered to be offered the job and rightfully pleased to accept the position. But many of his colleagues feel that he would be happier as a superbroker (his longtime position prior to his current job). He has not been Peter - Principled; by all accounts he is doing a good job as president. But there exists a clear perception by many of his peers and direct reports that Paul is fighting an internal battle over whether he should remain in the job.

At leadership levels, the opportunities to let natural roles emerge often are limited by the regular demands of the position or by situational circumstance, such as the holiday selling cycle, an intense period of work resulting from a merger, or a significant new product launch. All these things factor in to the mix of required and voluntary things you do each day. It's true that the day-to-day demands of leadership can easily obscure the kinds of avenues a top manager might prefer to pursue. It is also possible to free up time to do more of the kinds of things that make your job ultimately rewarding.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of your Role

We work with a CEO - we'll call him Matthew - whose travel schedule is so intense that it crowds out most of the chances he has to step back and reflect or to counsel younger members of the organization, as he would like. The daily demands of Matthew's job play to his strengths as a builder in the sense of organizational and market growth. But they don't allow him to be the people mover he also would like to be.

Matthew knows that he is good at envisioning and articulating a long - term strategic view. He knows he is good at motivating and mentoring younger executives. He knows that his time is invaluable in their eyes. In rare free moments, he meets with these people, answering their requests for general guidance and pep talks. Yet Matthew finds it difficult to incorporate that mentoring into what is already an overloaded schedule. His typical six-day workweek might include a trip to California, a trip to New York, and a forty-eight-hour stay in Germany.

Does Matthew have "an issue" delegating work? It's possible. More likely, the structure of his top management team isn't optimal. His company doesn't have a chief operating officer, for example, even though it has grown substantially in the past thirty years, and that void clearly warrants attention. (Recent articles in the press have highlighted a lack of COOs in large corporate organizations, so his situation is probably not unique.)

Recently, however, Matthew has made some progress in incorporating more of his would-be role as mentor and visionary into his job, despite the organizational circumstances. His company has begun offering an internal leadership development course for midlevel managers, a course staffed and taught by senior managers. He has now built into his formal schedule two three-day events each year designed to allow up-and-coming managers the face time with him they crave (and, by the same token, to allow himself to "indulge" in the kinds of mentoring behaviors he rarely has time for otherwise).

Becoming a Better Leader

Matthew is well aware that he needs to address the design and structure of his senior management team. In the meantime, he has found a way to make his working life more enjoyable in the short term and to seed a legacy that he knows he wants to leave for the long term.


Your Leadership Legacy

Adapted with permission from Harvard Business School Press from Your Leadership Legacy - Why Looking Towards the Future will Make you a Better Leader Today by Robert M. Galford and Regina Fazio Maruca. Copyright 2006 Robert M. Galford and Regina Fazio Maruca. All Rights Reserved

Interested in improving your own leadership style? Take the free leadership assessment test created to go hand - in - hand with the book.

This CEO is also a good example of the ancillary benefit of having an increased understanding of one's own natural roles. He has begun to identify others' natural roles as well and, in doing so, is better able to temper the advice or counseling he gives. He is also better able to calibrate his senior management team: understanding the roles that dominate the team now, Matthew is seeking people who will instinctively help the team gel and become more effective.

After taking an introspective look at her natural role in her organization, a colleague of ours, eloquently summed up the benefits. "It is a luxury, in a sense, to be able to identify and home in on one role at work. As a parent, you can't say, 'Sorry, honey, you know, I'm more of a builder/creator. You'll have to deal with that teen angst elsewhere.' You have to give it a shot.

But at work, if you see something heading your way that doesn't play to your strengths, you can divert it. In fact, you'll be rewarded if you bring people into the organization who can handle the kinds of things you're not great at."


About The Author

Robert Galford & Regina Maruca
Robert Galford & Regina Maruca

Robert M. Galford is a managing partner of the Center for Executive Development in Boston. Regina Fazio Maruca is a writer and editor who specializes in leadership, marketing, and organizational issues and a principal at the Center of Executive Development.