Leadership Style Influences

December 03, 2012  |   Executive Coaching Blog   |     |   0 Comment

The argument rages on about whether leaders are born or made. In this article we look at some of the key influences on leadership style and how Training and Executive Coaching can support leadership development.



Key Influences


Here we look at the key influences on leadership style and how, if at all, leadership style can be changed. We start with Personality and then move on to look at Personal Values and Leadership Models. Finally we look at the roles that Training and Executive Coaching play in leadership development.





There are continual debates among psychologists about whether there is some kind of genetic blueprint for our personality, or whether personality is something that develops based on our experiences from the time we are born. Most commentators seem to agree that part of our personality is defined by some kind of blueprint, whilst the rest is shaped by our experiences in life.


Regardless of where our personality comes from there is no doubt that it has an influence on the leadership style. There are hundreds of psychometric profiling instruments dedicated to showing this. The question is can you change your personality to develop a more effective leadership style? Some commentators would say that this is not possible, but that it is possible to tone down or turn up personality traits. So for example if you are socially confident you can become a bit more, or a bit less, socially confident. But you will not become shy. Just as an introvert will not become an extrovert.


I prefer the Myers Briggs Type Indicator approach to personality type which says we all have a preferred and natural personality. This is the one where things are effortless and don’t take up our mental energy. However we are capable of using behaviours that are opposite to our natural preference. However this is much more of an effort and takes up a lot of mental energy. For example Myers Briggs defines a ‘Thinking’ type and the opposite as a ‘Feeling’ type. The Thinking type makes decisions using logic, objectivity and analysis; whereas the Feeling type will use their values, feelings and seek harmony. In coaching it is possible for someone who is a thinking type to use some of the approaches of someone who is a feelings type, and vice versa. This is achieved through becoming more aware of the two types and how each sees the other.


Personal Values


Our personal values have a significant influence on the way we live our lives. They are those things ‘that are important to us in life’. Examples of personal values are; independence, trust, challenge, security and challenge. If one of our values is security of job and income it may be that we are more risk averse than someone who prioritises challenge.


Our personal values are shaped by important people in our lives such as parents and teachers. They have a significant influence on leadership style because they dictate many of our beliefs about how to treat others and get things done. Surprisingly people are often unaware of their values and this can lead to difficulties, particularly where personal values conflict, or where our values conflict with organisational values.


In leadership coaching the subject of values seems to arise often. By understanding their values and how they shape their leadership style, clients are able to choose to change their thinking or beliefs. Clients sometimes recognise that an early personal value no longer has so much relevance today. Through this kind of reflection and thinking it is possible to develop and enhance leadership style, even if the outcome is to recognise all the values in play and choose not to change them.



Leadership Models


Our view of the best leadership style to adopt is often strongly shaped by the way we see others lead teams. As we start work and progress we are managed by a number of line managers. We experience the effects of their leadership style on ourselves and others. As a result we tend to choose what we think are the best bits of their style and use them for ourselves. This is entirely natural and a sound approach for creating our own leadership approach.


However it does run the risk that we do not make the most of our own potential. There are many leadership models and styles outside the ones we directly experience ourselves so we restrict our choice of approaches. If we have had pretty average leaders through our working life we are likely to pick the best of an average bunch!


Through Executive Coaching it is possible to explore and reflect not only on our personal experience, but also on the leadership styles of others both inside and outside our organisation. This gives access to a wider repertoire of leadership styles and potential leadership models.


Executive Coaching or Training?


There is no doubt that training is a great vehicle for leadership development. As an ex HR Director I used it extensively to develop future leaders. But over time I discovered that leadership training is not always the answer.


Training courses are valuable in providing leadership education and to explain the various leadership models and approaches. However courses do not often allow a leader the opportunity to reflect on all the things that have influenced his or her personal and individual leadership style. It is also difficult sometimes to take a new leadership behaviour from a training course and build it into a personal leadership style.


Executive Coaching provides Leaders with the time and structure to reflect on what has influenced their personal leadership style, to evaluate its effectiveness and with the personal support to change leadership style. Often training to give education and coaching to adapt to personal circumstances work well in combination. This is an approach taken by many of the organisations with which I work. For example there may be a number of workshops on different aspects of leadership incorporating 360 feedback. These are followed by Executive Coaching to look at how individuals can develop their personal leadership style and implement changes to enhance performance.


Can We Change Leadership Style?


It is possible to change leadership style but it does take effort and energy to do it. Often leaders are not aware of the influences that shape their leadership style and it is through greater awareness that they can choose to change. In order to make these kinds of changes it seems both training and Executive Coaching have a role to play.


Certainly in my own Executive Coaching practice I have seen many examples of leaders successfully modifying their leadership style. They do not have some kind of personality change (and why would they want to do that?), but they are able to develop new techniques and approaches that fit with their natural style. There is plenty of evidence that as a result they are able to enhance overall organisational performance as a result.



Tony Goddard

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