What's my style?

Making the Most of Personal Style

Stop-Think-Lead outlines many tactics that can help us become effective leaders that have a knack for getting results without making enemies. When used appropriately, these tactics can help just about anyone multiply their persuasive power without multiplying their destructive power. You don’t have to born with natural leadership ability to acquire a touch or two of leadership magic. However, even knowing the tactics we can still struggle unless we understand a few things about leadership’s four basic personal styles, where we fit within those styles, the unique strengths and challenges of each style, and how to best adapt our style to whatever leadership situations we face.

In his play Henry V, William Shakespeare describes the qualities of a great man who is capable of winning great battles. Henry is trusted, courageous, and energetic; all the usual characteristics. But beyond the basics, what is special about Shakespeare’s King Henry? Is the man remarkably strong, benevolent, clever, insanely handsome or ferocious? Or does he have some other remarkable qualities? How can Henry accomplish so much when his royal French enemies by comparison accomplish so little? Shakespeare’s answer is simple; King Henry has a remarkable mindset. In the night before the decisive battle at Agincourt, King Henry walks disguised through his camp talking to the common soldiers, trying to understand what they are feeling, what they fear, and what they hope for. Henry is searching for a spark of hope among his most loyal soldiers. He knows he is facing a French army that is better fed, better rested, and far outnumber his own. Nevertheless, he believes his army can win the day if he can elevate and unify his whole army with a powerful vision that rings true with noble and common soldier, alike. The French nobles in the enemy camp, in stark contrast, spend the night among themselves bragging about how grand they are and how easily they will trample down Henry and his pathetic little army. On the morning of the battle, King Henry uses the message he uncovers the night before to speak to his men less as a ruler and more as a brother. His army feels his deep respect, his personal commitment, and responds to his vision. They believe that dying for King Henry and winning the day for England would be better than cowering comfortably at home in their beds. Shakespeare’s King Henry, addresses his army before battle with the famous words:

“This day is call’d the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d, and rouse him at the name of Crispian. Then will he strip his sleeve and show his sears, and say ‘these wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’ Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but he’ll remember, with advantages, what feats he did that day. Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words-Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red. This story shall the good man teach his son; and Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition; and gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

The rest of the story is a matter of history. Thousands of French nobles gallop forward to their deaths. The English win the battle and the war over France with only 100 Englishmen killed. According to Shakespeare, King Henry triumphs with his mindset and ability to draw out the very best from each of his men and not just with his courage and strength.

Management Wars

In today’s world economy we fight different battles yet face similar challenges. We often fight against long odds and must get the very best from each of our employees. For good or bad, every leader has a mindset that either helps or hinders their organization. And this mindset or personal leadership style is most often revealed when managing others in stressful, battlefield situations. We like to divide leadership styles into four categories, dish-out, give-in, robotic, and stop-think-lead. The dish-out style is forceful and assertive. Dish-out leaders make their point regardless of the consequences. The give-in style is sociable and passive. Give-in leaders don’t make enemies regardless of consequences. The robotic style is mechanical. They are not viewed as particularly forceful or sociable and more passive than assertive. Robotic leaders like rules and always try to stay within the rules. The stop-think-lead style is forceful yet sociable. Stop-think-leaders have the rare ability to make their point without making enemies.

Dish-out Leadership Style

Several years ago we were in France eating lunch with a business associate. Our French colleague ordered for us. When the food arrived we noticed that the salad was a little different from what we have in the U.S. Besides the usual lettuce, some nasty-looking stuff that looked and smelled a little like meaty paste also arrived on the salad plate. Trying to be a good sport about it, we tasted the meaty paste and asked our host, “Umm, this is very different. What is it?” “Goose liver,” he replied, quickly adding, “I’m glad you like it. Let me tell you how it is made. The goose is put in a very tight cage so it can’t move. Then a funnel is used to keep pushing food down its throat into its stomach. The goose is feed three times the amount of food a goose normally eats in a given day. This causes the goose’s liver to get much bigger and taste much better!” Hearing this, we just sat there a little stunned, and then blurted out, “Who would ever think up doing something like that?” The host, perhaps not fully appreciating the tone of the question, smiled broadly, raised both of his arms and cheerfully announced, “The French!” A dish-out “drill sergeant” manager metaphorically puts people in cages and relentlessly pushes rules, details, and tasks down their throats. Dish-out leaders mean well in that they force people to gain bigger and better abilities. While they mean well, these leaders push so hard that some employees may push back, which can cause other employees to become negative and join the battle against the dish-out leader. Dish-out leaders can accomplish a lot, but at great personal consequence. It is easy for a manager relying on the dish-out style to lose the support of almost everyone in the group.

Dish-out leaders are goal-oriented. They focus on saying everything they want to say, but rarely slow down long enough to make sure everyone is comfortably following along. When working with this style of leader, employee comments must be quick, correct and to the point so that the manager can get all the information he wants and then have more time to get more done. Employees describe a dish-out manager like this, “We never worry about it that much when he asks a question, if we just wait a second or two he’ll answer the question himself, but the trouble is he just talks on and on until we lose interest. We remember when we were working on a project with a manager from another business team. In our team meetings he wouldn’t let the other fellow say one word. It was funny, because here is this one manager waiving his raised hand back and forth to make a comment about the project and our manager just keeps talking and talking.” Dish-out managers are sincere and know their stuff, but they can make employees feel overwhelmed and awkward if they do not understand everything they are asked to do or if they happen see the business issue in a slightly different way. These leaders clearly value results over people. Often, these leaders have been extremely good followers and they’ve been promoted because of their productivity. But when putting on the leadership hat, unfortunately, they can come across as intimidating and harsh even though they have many good qualities. Apparently, what works remarkably well for stuffing geese doesn’t work nearly as well for leading people.

Give-in Leadership Style

Give-in managers are much kinder, gentler souls than dish-out managers. One would think this is a good thing; and it is. However, their kinder nature, while a strength, can also be a weakness. Everyone loves a give-in leader, but often a give-in “pooh bear” style doesn’t get results in a business. Some employees intuitively recognize and take advantage of a give-in manager and the give-in manager usually knows he or she is being manipulated. However, one consistent trait of the true give-in is that he or she would rather gain approval and acceptance of coworkers than risk disapproval from them by requiring office discipline or up-to-standard work performance. When an individual can’t handle inattention, rejection, anger, and objections to his or her ideas, giving in to the objectors rather than finding effective ways to gain cooperation becomes the norm. And this can shut down the effectiveness of an entire organization.

In spite of the virtue of keeping everyone happy and content, “pooh bear” habits can sap the energy and drive of a company’s best employees. They can be left feeling like the older brother of the prodigal son. They reason, “Why should I work hard when the complainer in the next cubicle gets away with doing less and still gets rewarded?” Dish-out leaders lose support by moving too quickly and often in the wrong direction. Give-in leaders lose support by not moving at all. Give-in leaders can have a sense of lost opportunity. Looking back on their careers, it is not unusual for “pooh bears” to wonder why they didn’t push harder to get the really important things accomplished and lament, “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

Robotic Leadership Style

Robotic leaders are mechanical. They are just like the tin man in Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz; we think there may be a heart beating in his metal-clad chest, but it may take a bit of magic to find one. Robotic managers excel at facts, figures, rules and regulations, but often do a better job connecting with data than people. This sort of analytical detachment from people can be disconcerting to employees.

Robotic managers believe employees are best when they also are robotic. From their point of view, employees are self-programmed to solve problems, get work done efficiently, and never let any personal problems get in the way. The robotic manager enjoys working things out on their own and without interruptions; so they naturally reason everyone else is the same.

As one might expect, individuals with a purely robotic leadership style do not often get an opportunity to manage others. Established management, whether in business, academia, or any other walk-of-life, usually favors individuals who easily interact with everyone or at least easily interact with upper-level management. This is unfortunate because typical robotic-style individuals are so gifted, bright, and willing to invest tremendous time and energy to get a difficult job done right. The problem is the robotic-style leader that doesn’t self-medicate with a dash of sociability, a sprinkle of forcefulness, and a handful of stop-think-lead will leave employees, colleagues, and employers with the false impression that the robot doesn’t care about them or the business.

Stop-Think-Lead Leadership Style

Stop-think-leaders are sociable in that they can quickly make positive connections with people and are forceful in that they can get others to fully embrace an idea and accomplish it. But being a sociable and forceful people person still falls short of a stop-think-lead leader. As the title suggests, this style of leader has the knack of stopping and thinking before speaking. And when they speak, they have a knack for lifting people up rather than smacking people down. It is possible for a people-person to be born that way, but stop-think-leaders can be made not just born. We believe that is good news because it means that all of us, regardless of our natural leadership style, can learn to be effective leaders.

Let’s dwell on this important point for a moment. We find that employees admire their supervisors when they enjoy how they are being trained, what they are learning, what they are doing, and what they are becoming. Certainly, a stop-think-lead manager is a good person, but that’s not the only reason why people want to listen to them and work hard for them. People respect what a stop-think-leader has to say because the leader is always lifting them up and showing willingness, even enthusiasm for creating positive experiences that help them feel the excitement of accomplishing and winning together.

Great leaders are great because they can either consciously or intuitively adapt their style of leadership to the needs of the situation at hand. In a sense they can tap into all the best qualities of each leadership style. They know their facts, rules, and think logically. They are results oriented. The can quickly get close to people. They make work fun and rewarding for themselves and others. Stop-think-leadership is, to state the obvious, thought out. It is adaptive to the people and the situation of the moment. To realize our full potential as leaders, each of us must recognize, accept, and embrace the person who we are right now. Then knowing the “who” of our persona, we can figuratively roll-up our sleeves and build on the foundation that our natural leadership style affords us.

One More Thing: Selling vs. Leading

Successful salespeople often see themselves as successful leaders. We believe that many salespeople can be successful leaders, but we want to point out the difference between selling and leading. Successful salespeople highlight the pain. Successful leaders highlight the positive. We don’t fault salespeople. Highlighting the pain gets action and in the world of sales, no action – no commission – no bank account. A theme in this book is that truth is like a coin. On one side of truth is the truth that hurts. On the other side of truth is the truth that builds. Same truth, but the message is different. A successful salesperson is forced to see truth from the perspective of finding the truth that hurts. A leader has the opportunity to see truth from the perspective of finding the truth that builds.

As an example, consider an entrepreneur that must sell the manager of a home improvement store on placing a battery recycling station in his store. In meeting with the store manager, he is likely to say, “I’ve noticed that you don’t have a battery recycling station in your store. What sort of problems may that cause for your customers?” He may then continue by asking, “Where do you think your customers are going to recycle their used batteries?” “What sales could you lose because these customers are going to Best Buy rather than your store to recycle batteries?” To increase his chances of success, the entrepreneur must sell by highlighting the truth that hurts. He certainly wouldn’t say, “I’ve noticed that you don’t have a battery recycling station in your store. That’s one hassle that you don’t have to worry about!”

As an alternative, consider a leadership situation in which a dad finds out his son has just kicked a hole in his bedroom wall in a fit of anger. If the dad decides to highlight the truth that hurts, he says, “Kicking at the wall is something a four-year-old does. You’ve got to learn to control your temper. Fixing this is going to be a big hassle.” On the other hand, if the dad decides to highlight the truth that builds, he may say, “You must have been pretty upset to kick a hole in your wall. You know, I’m sure you feel bad about it, but working together we can fix it. It will take some time, but once we are done no one will be able to see it ever happened.” Taking the time to not say the first thing that comes to mind and finding the words that heal, encourage, and gets things done is what this book is about.