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Leading the way -- by finding the right role

From Les McKeown, Special to CNN
updated 8:38 AM EST, Wed November 30, 2011
Effective leaders identify their leadership style and match it with the specific role they are playing.
Effective leaders identify their leadership style and match it with the specific role they are playing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leaders often complain about the compromises they make and stresses they are under
  • However, leadership roles can be "just right" if they fit with the person's talents
  • People should ensure their roles fit with their leadership skills

Editor's note: Les McKeown is the president and CEO of Predictable Success, and author of the upcoming book THE SYNERGIST: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success (Palgrave Macmillan; January 2012).

(CNN) -- How often have you read about (or listened to) a leader complaining about the compromises, pressure and stresses that their leadership role places not just upon them, but on their family, friends and other relationships? These days, it's almost axiomatic that taking a leadership role in most organizations means accepting that reasonable hours, work life balance and peace of mind are a thing of the past.

Les McKeown
Les McKeown

What if it didn't need to be so? What if your leadership role just felt, well...right: Demanding, yes, but fun too. Challenging but controllable; intense but invigorating? After coaching and advising thousands of leaders, I know this is not only possible, but is in fact precisely how the most consistently successful leaders view their jobs.

Sure, the demands of corporate leadership are often very high, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. But even in these stress-filled times, the consistently high performing leaders I work with do so from a state of "flow," or a "fit" with their role that gives them a calm yet intense focus. This sets them apart from their highly stressed, over pressured and out of balance colleagues.

Leader, know thyself

What sets these two categories of leader apart? What distinguishes the calm but focused, balanced leader from the hyperactive, over-scheduled, less effective leader?

Superficially, it often appears to be a matter of underlying skills -- time and priority management in particular. But on deeper inspection, the root cause is much more foundational. The calm, focused leader has a match between their leadership style and the specific leadership role they are playing. With the hyperactive, ineffective leader there is most often a mismatch between the two.

In my book "THE SYNERGIST: Leading Your Team to Predictable Success," I show that all leaders exhibit one of three natural leadership styles:

The Visionary operates at 30,000 feet, is most comfortable working on long-term, strategic issues, embraces change and risk, and needs frequent exposure to both in order to feel satisfied and useful. They are often charismatic, are great communicators, and seek to build a tight, loyal team around them.

The Operator works at the front line translating the Visionary leader's strategies into action, bulldozes their way past obstacles and is most fulfilled when overcoming problems by devising practical, if improvised solutions. They are uncomfortable with a vacuum, preferring clear direction, and despite being highly motivational often find it hard to delegate, instead depending on their team to act as self-starters.

The Processor thrives on systems and processes, delivering success and growth by iteration and constant improvement. Risk-averse and skeptical by nature, the Processor lives for data, eschews intuitive leaps of faith and bases decisions only on measurable, objective criteria. Not as naturally gregarious as the other two styles, the Processor will often build a tight team of like-minded individuals who together put in prodigious hours crunching data and running scenarios.

Finding your own fit

The single, foundational reason why some leaders are able to operate in a calm and focused manner and others cannot lies in the fit between their natural style and the leadership role they are given.

Put a Visionary into a leadership role requiring close, constant attention to micro detail (such as extracting detailed cost savings in an under-performing business, or heading up the audit department) and where they are unable to utilize their creative, expressive desires, and you have a recipe for immediate stress and imbalance.

Similarly, if you are an Operator in a role where you cannot get out on the front line every day (managing a kaizen, say or crunching numbers to decide if a second shift is necessary), or a Processor placed in a position where you're being asked to make sweeping, intuitive decisions (brainstorming new product ideas, finding new market opportunities) you will immediately begin to feel underlying stress caused by the mismatch between your natural style and the role you're being asked to play.

In all such cases, achieving a calm and focused leadership style becomes impossible due to the underlying mismatch between your natural style and the demands of the role.

The answer?

Like so many intuitive truths, fixing the leadership mismatch isn't difficult once you've seen the problem. Take these (relatively) simple steps to make sure you are in a place where you can deliver calm and focused leadership:

1. Know your own leadership style. This simple free quiz can help: http://PredictableSuccess.com/quiz2

2. (Discreetly) manage expectations. Make clear the type of role you want to be promoted to. Consider not taking a role you know will be a mismatch.

3. Infill where you have to. If you find yourself in role that's a mismatch, make sure your second in command fills the gap. So if you're a Visionary in a Processor role, for example, make sure your #2 is a Processor.

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