We’ve all been there. Do to some mix-up or poor communication we end up being either over or under dressed for an occasion. You’re wearing something too casual for a formal event (think shorts at a client meeting) or you find yourself wearing formal to a casual event (think a business suit to an after-work event.)
The same thing can happen when it comes to matching your leadership style to the needs of the people you’re leading. In this case, leaders often overdress by over-supervising (providing too much direction and support) or under-dress by delegating (providing too little direction and support) when their help is most needed.
How do you make sure that you’re always in style in both instances? Here are a few tips:
Make sure that you understand the situation. Being in style starts with information. What can you find out about the event that would give you clues to what would be most appropriate? When it comes to clothing choices, ask yourself: Who is going to be there? What is the situation? Where is it being held?
When it comes to leadership style, the same questions, slightly altered, can help in a management situation.
In this case, ask yourself: Who am I meeting with today? What are their specific needs in this situation? Where are they at in terms of competence and commitment for the goal or task? Find out as much as you can about the situation so you can match your style to the needs of the person you are working with.
Develop some flexibility—give yourself some options. Knowing that you need a certain style doesn’t help you if you don’t have that available in your wardrobe. The same is true when it comes to your leadership style. You need a variety of options that you are comfortable wearing. Most leaders play only one note—in essence, they wear the same style regardless of the situation. As a result, they are only in style a portion of the time.
This means that they might be on track when it comes to delivering a high direction style to someone new to a task, but completely off-track when they try using that same style with a highly-experienced, long time employee.
The best leaders have a full wardrobe at their disposal and are comfortable suiting up in a variety of styles to match the occasion.
Double-check that you’re on track. Once you’ve identified what you think is the perfect choice for the situation, be sure to double-check. Ask others, “Here is what I’m thinking would be appropriate in this situation, how does that sound to you?” Watch for a positive response. It might be subtle, so watch carefully. Some visible signs such as a release of tension, return of a confident look, or even a smile will tell you that you are moving in the right direction. If you don’t see that, return to step one—maybe you need some additional information to understand the situation more completely.
Creating a comfortable, natural leadership style takes work. But if you focus on the situation, develop your skills, and work together with people to make the right choices, you’ll find that you can develop an authentic, lasting style that will serve you well in any situation.