Behavioral Leadership: Getting the Most From Employees by Relating to Them in Their Styles

Practicing The Platinum Rule--treating others the way they want to be treated by adapting to their behavioral style--can quickly make you a more sensitive, effective leader. Indeed, this rule can have a positive effect on every aspect of managing and leading. With each of the four behavioral types, there's a different way to communicate with them, delegate tasks to them, compliment them, correct them, motivate them, and counsel them. The Director style tends to be direct and guarded; the Socializer style tends to be direct and open; the Relater style tends to be indirect and open; and the Thinker style tends to be indirect and guarded. You can be more effective with all employees, regardless of their behavioral style.

Your power to influence employees springs from two sources:

  • Positional power comes from position--you are the CEO or manager, and some power comes from being anointed by the hierarchy. Positional power is a starting point for influencing people, but the best you will get from them is compliance.
  • Personal power comes from earning and developing it. It turns mere compliance into real commitment, cooperation, and collaboration. You can't really lead until you are genuinely accepted by those led. Thus, personal power--your skill in dealing with people--is crucial to you. If you honor your employees' individuality, their essential differences, they'll feel that they're on a winning team and will work harder and better for you. But you must empower them rather than seek power over them. You can do that by learning to listen, observe, and talk to them. And then adapting so they'll feel important, wanted. When you put The Platinum Rule into action, you'll see less tension and fewer conflicts and have a more effective, motivated workforce.

The Best Leadership Style The best leader isn't someone with a particular behavioral style, or some ideal blend of styles. Instead, the best leader is someone who realizes what a job or task requires--and then does it! That means working well with all behavioral styles in all sorts of situations. As firms restructure and put new emphasis on teamwork, leaders who understand behavioral styles will have a leg up. As situational leaders, they may wish to act in their natural style, using their intrinsic strengths. At other times, they may choose to adapt to others, using The Platinum Rule principles. Or, when they sense a clash of styles, they may opt to pick a third person to handle a certain situation, or to change the work environment--realign a worker's duties, alter deadlines, or revamp priorities--to allow people to play to their strengths (you can't mandate productivity).

Organizations need all four styles. You can't just say "We're a sales organization, so we need all Socializers." Or "We're an engineering firm, so we just need results-oriented Directors and Thinkers." You need all four types, and you need them in the right spots. In all cases, you (manager or leader) should be aware of your style and how it affects others. Being aware of the extremes of your style will enable you to become a leader, not just a boss, and make your primary style more palatable.

Here are some ways you can hone your personal style and become an effective situational leader:

  • If you're a Director, ratchet down a notch. Remember that people have feelings, and that your hard-charging, know-it-all style can make people feel inadequate or resentful.  Accept that mistakes will occur, and try to temper justice with mercy. You might joke about errors you make, rather than trying to always project a super-human image. You can encourage growth in others by praising them when they do something well and by giving them some authority and then staying out of their way so they can use it. Whatever you lose in control, you're likely to gain in commitment and improved competency. Try not to be quite so bossy! Ask others' opinions and maybe even plan some collaborative actions.
  • If you're a Socializer, your people depend on you for ideas and coordination. So anything you can do to be more organized--making lists, keeping your calendar current, prioritizing goals--will pay big dividends for you and them. Nothing's so dispiriting as seeing the boss drop the ball on important matters. If you fail to follow-up, procrastinate on tough decisions, or make pledges you don't keep, your people will lose faith. Even though you don't do those things purposely, they'll see you as letting them down. Your charm and warmth can't compensate for unreliability. Realize that conflicts will occur. Try to deal with them up front, not sweep them under the rug.  Organize your time better, and keep socializing in balance with your tasks.
  • If you're a Relater, you're well-liked. Your goal should be to become a more effective, well-liked boss. Learn to stretch by taking on more or different duties and trying to accomplish them more quickly. You may want to be more assertive and more open about your thoughts and feelings. Experiment with a little risk, a little change. Being sensitive to people's feelings is one of your strengths. But you can't be knocked off balance by the first negative comment or action that comes your way.
  • If you're a Thinker, your high standards are a two-edged sword. Your people are inspired by your quest for excellence, but often they feel frustrated because they can never seem to please you. You might lessen and soften your criticism, spoken or unspoken. You can seem so stern sometimes! Ease up on your need to control. Walk around; spend more time with the troops, chatting at the water cooler or lunchroom. You can have high standards without requiring perfection in each instance.

Whatever your style, being adaptable can help you to build bridges to your people and make them feel valued. By learning to best respond to their interests and concerns, strengths and weaknesses, you'll get the most from your people and leave them more satisfied.

How can you hone your leadership style?

Adapted from THE PLATINUM RULE: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities--and How They Can Lead You to Success, by Tony Alessandra, Ph.D., and Michael J. O'Connor, Ph.D. (Warner Books, 1996) Dr. Tony Alessandra is a behavioral and communication expert, and a leading business motivational speaker on communication, customer loyalty and sales.

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