Friday, July 29, 2016

How The Best Leaders Mix It Up to Improve Performance

An egg labeled "Leader" is cracked open

A new leader is born. The question is which leadership style will this leader adopt? Will they be more persuaded by the leadership training programs that advocate the top-down approach or those that prefer the bottom-up style?  

With two decades of experience working with leaders who want to be the best they can be, we say that a combination of both is more. Neither style practiced exclusively will produce the best results. 

Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each leadership approach:

This is the more traditional leadership style where there are clear chains of command with the leader at the top. Top-down leaders do not necessarily seek others’ opinions. And they certainly don’t value others’ input on an equal basis. What they can do is set clear direction and expectations. There are no choices to be made….the way forward has been charted already. These leaders define goals and make sure that everyone is on the path to achieving them. They dictate the path and see that their workers perform. It is simple, direct and quick to implement.

This leadership style takes advantage of searching for the best and most implementable ideas. Everyone’s input is sought. And because all workers are encouraged to offer their ideas, they all have a sense of ownership and belief that the path forward is possible. As we know, when employees buy into the company goals because they had input, they are more motivated to work toward the goal and are more engaged in the outcome. Another advantage is that this is a style that welcomes innovation. However, it can be slow because it takes time to gather in each suggestion, weigh it and respond.

The Most Effective Combination
Both styles have their positives and negatives.  Both styles have situations where they are most effective. For example, if your house is on fire, you do not want the firemen to solicit input on how to best evacuate your children.  You want them to act quickly and decisively based upon their experience and training.  Alternatively, when trying to identify how to best engage and retain your top talent, it pays to understand what matters most to your employees.  

The best leaders know how to situationally “mix it up.” We advise our clients to choose their style depending upon what they hope to accomplish. When it is time to marshal the troops and set a clear direction, the best leaders work top-down. When it is time for implementation, try the bottom-up approach. This way individual teams get to figure out how best to reach the goal that has been set. Team members who know best how to achieve the goal are encouraged to offer their thoughts and they become a committed part of the solution.

As a leader, set the direction and then let your teams figure out how to get you there.

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