How to be a better leader

What’s your default setting? Are you an encourager, a teller, or a teacher? All leaders have one of those default settings. It’s the behaviour they automatically go to.

Why? Because it comes naturally to them. Because it’s worked for them in the past, so they keep doing it. Because it’s the way their leaders led them. Because it’s become a habit. And sometimes, because they’re not very good at the two other types of leading.

So what do you automatically do? Do you encourage people to have confidence in their abilities more than you tell them what to do or show them how to do it? Perhaps you spend most of your time telling people what to do: Do this, Do that, Have it finished by Wednesday. Or maybe you excel at helping people learn by coaching and showing.

Each of these three styles is useful – at the right time. But like any skill, when you over-use it, it means you’re, for example, encouraging when you should be telling, or showing when you should be encouraging. Too much of one means too little of the others.

When you get that balance right, people won’t be learning by trial and error or making mistakes because you’ll show them what to do when they need to learn or coach them when they need to polish their skills. They won’t be holding back because they lack confidence or think you don’t care because you’ll be offering them the right amount of encouragement.

And they won’t resent you because you won’t be telling them what to do when they already know what to do, thank you very much. You won’t lose their respect because they see you as an empty cheerleader because you’ll coach and teach and tell when you need to, rather than telling them how much faith you have in them – You can do it!! You’ll be fine!!

To be a better leader, expand your repertoire beyond your default setting. Develop a wider range of ways to encourage your team members and look for occasions to do so. Become better at seeing when you need to tell people clearly what to do and become more comfortable giving direct, explicit instructions. Be alert to opportunities to help people hone their skills and develop your own coaching skills so you can coach effectively when coaching is called for.

Discussion questions

What’s your default style? What steps can you take to include the others when it’s appropriate to do so? How can you recognise whether a team member needs encouraging, telling or teaching at a particular time?

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