Through the leadership mirror: like what you see?

Do you still enjoy being a leader? If not, read on...

Whether you took the helm recently and are responsible for a small team, or you’ve been leading large, complex teams for decades, are you the effective leader you wanted to be?

No one said leadership was easy. Not everyone thinks like you or values the same things. You can’t just walk away from a prickly employee. You need them to do well, which means bringing out their potential. 

Even tougher if you didn’t plan to be a leader in the first place and found yourself heading up your team as a result of organisational change, a new parent company or a major promotion.

Maybe going into in 2024 you’re embracing the challenge. But what if you find yourself falling into reoccurring negative behaviour patterns or seemingly hardwired habits that you can’t control or prevent from happening? 

If that’s you and if it’s getting you down, it could be time to take the self-awareness plunge and hold up a mirror to your ‘leader self’.

Whatever and whoever it is in the team that triggers your ‘bad day’ habits, you’re not alone. As leaders, we need to inspire and motivate all kinds of employees, even those who trigger our ‘worst selves’ or conflict with our styles and values. 

It’s not always comfortable, but there are ways to shift what’s happening.

“Are we on the same planet?” (a real world leadership question)

Let’s delve in: what are your reoccurring challenges, blocks or irritations as a leader?

Perhaps there’s a colleague who slows momentum down by valuing ‘the process’ over the outcome/the exciting change you want to see? Maybe their communication style conflicts with yours e.g. they value feedback on the finer points of every email before progressing a project. 

It drives you nuts that they prioritise accuracy to help them control or eliminate emerging issues. It means their emails are long. You prefer to keep your internal exchanges as brief and top-line as possible.

Or maybe there’s someone you hired for their lateral thinking, refreshing flexibility and creative flair, but whose habit of getting easily distracted or ignoring the plan is hindering real progress. 

Some of this will be down to the type of leadership style you favour. There are four common styles and you probably lead with one of them. 

  • If you’re results-driven, you make your decisions based on what needs to get done, when and how, and focusing on deliverables. 
  • If you’re relationship-driven, you’ll prioritise creating supportive and harmonious team environments. 
  • If you’re a visionary leader, you’ll bring people along on the journey by painting a picture of the future that they can buy into. 
  • And if you’re a centred leader, you’ll be grounded in what’s right for people and how priorities are affected by decisions.

Whatever type of leader you are, and whatever type of colleagues try your patience, it helps to able to pinpoint your stress triggers, whether it’s someone’s lack of structure, interruptions, lack of urgency or curbed flexibility that gets your goat. Or someone’s constant resistance to change, or another’s refusal to seek different perspectives before they act.

We often fear that we can’t change how we react. 

These stubbornly reoccurring patterns remind us constantly that we can’t achieve the outcome we wanted, yet we don’t feel equipped, brave, flexible or open-minded enough to improve the situation. 

We might doubt our ability to lead, second guess our instinctive decisions and fall back on our insecurities. It’s tough at the top…


“It's not you, it’s me…” How good leaders adapt

The good news is, we can adapt. But first we need to understand more deeply where our own preferences come from and why the behaviour of our ‘opposite’ types can trigger irritation or stress. 

Think about your (and about their) typical ‘good and bad day’ behaviour. Let’s explore it from both sides in the language of the four main colour energies...Insights colour energies
If you recognise yourself somewhere here, it might not be a comfortable feeling, but it may help you to dial up your empathy. This is potentially how you come across to the people you’re responsible for leading. Imagine being on the receiving end of you in these moments. How might it affect the performance of others?

Do they feel listened to, energised, supported and inspired by you? Or is the reality, despite your best intentions, that they feel irritated, drained, excluded or pressurised because of your leadership communication style? 

And that’s an important distinction. In-built values and behaviour vs. our chosen communication style. We can’t choose our internal knee-jerk reactions to a triggering situation, but we can pause before responding and make a choice to communicate differently, especially if it might improve the outcome. 

We could choose regular avoidance, we could even move someone to a different department OR we could meet this opportunity to understand them better and adapt our own style. 

You might not usually fret about how you come across. But to be a transformational leader (not just transactional), you do have to care about it. 

After all, do we want to be known for our bad-day behaviour more than the good? There’s always room for more empathy, even if you’re happy with your style and believe you’re not in the role to be liked. You just want to move the organisation towards its goals. But if your communication style isn’t working and one of you is always irritated, then it follows that something needs to change.

 Self-awareness isn’t just about understanding ourselves. It’s about respecting different interpersonal preferences and working styles. When we understand ourselves better, we also develop a heightened ability to recognise others’ preferred approaches. 

If we look at our reactions through the lens of the colour energies outlined above, we notice some interesting signposts. 

For example, people who lead with Fiery Red energy (as per the Insights Discovery model) may feel exhilarated by the constant challenge of leadership, while those with strong Cool Blue energy may feel drained. 

Understanding this can be an enlightening secret weapon. Next time you’re triggered by someone saying: 

  • ‘let’s get it done, now!’ (Fiery Red energy)
  • ‘let’s make sure everyone is involved!’ (Sunshine Yellow energy)
  • ‘is everyone ok with what’s going on?’ (Earth Green energy)
  • ‘are we doing this correctly?’ (Cool Blue energy)

…ask yourself, could you shift your kneejerk response to create more harmony in your team (and in your head!)?

If you truly understand what each team member values and therefore what they’re really saying when they speak to you, you can flex your response to suit.


Self-awareness and other-awareness is key to leadership development

 All this points to one major actionable goal: get to know your people as well as your ‘leader self’. 

As non-judgmentally as possible, review their ability to adjust in different situations as well as your own. They too will have leading good day and bad day energies. 

You may wish to introduce teambuilding days, psychometric profiling and offer professional and personal development training or pair them with mentors that help them reach the parts they haven’t tapped into yet.

 As a leader, it’s your call to improve whole-team understanding and create opportunities for them to leverage their strongest skills and address their weaknesses. 

And as for you and your reoccurring behaviour patterns, a deeper knowledge about self-awareness is power. 

Whether it’s letting things go more often, including others’ opinions, showing a more caring side or respecting the detail more, or developing this understanding of your preferences, good and bad day habits (and those all-important blind spots), this could be your moment to become the leader that your team needs you to be.

For more ideas on where to start, click on the button below to get your Insights leadership pack, including the Five steps to transform into a vision leaders workbook

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