Challenges I faced in my early leadership career
I believe that most leaders when they were children did not use to say „leader“ when asked What would you like to be when you grow up?
The same was with me. As a child, I wanted to be an astronomer, but still, I focused on software engineering. Neither of those two professions specifically directed me towards leadership. However, during my schooling, I went to a competition in entrepreneurship and innovation. I was on the team with four, at the time unknown people. I did not impose myself to be a leader of the team, it happened instinctively and I led a team of people who have been professionals in areas such as economics, marketing, design… I enjoyed watching everyone working as a team to achieve one common goal – victory. Together we reached that goal, we won. Even then, not knowing it, I faced what was one of the main challenges in the leadership world. And that is how to lead people of different profiles, characteristics, and natures.
I recently read a great book on emotional intelligence in leadership written by the outstanding psychologist Dejan Zivkovic. Some of the conclusions he brought to light in his book I found extremely useful. That’s why I think is important to share some of them with you. I would like to start by highlighting the importance of leadership styles because it is these styles that can help leaders when working with different profiles of people.
- Visionary style – When it comes to leadership, people in most cases imagine a leader as a person having this style. The feature of this style is that the leader has a vision and uses empathy to inspire people in the team to follow that vision and to believe in it. He is doing his best for that vision to be the goal of each individual, but also the goal of the whole team.
- Affiliate style – A style in which the leader shows that he cares about the people in the team, and does his best to build a great relationship with each member individually. It’s crucial to cultivate empathy for each other among all team members. An affiliate leader inspires others with his example and shows his employees how their work contributes to achieving the goal.
- Democratic style – Wants to involve the whole team in making important decisions, always asks for the opinion of team members trying to solve the problem together, and knows how to listen to his teammates.
- Coaching style – A leader who is also a mentor, closely related to the profession in which he leads people. He leads others to find their strengths and weaknesses and to push their limits. „Coach“ mainly directs to what should be tried when solving problems but never tells solutions.
- Tempo dictating style* – A leader with this style sets high standards and goals for himself and the whole team. He is focused on the quality of work and constant progress.
*all of the mentioned styles were originally defined by Daniel Goleman.
It can look as if these styles are very similar or even the same. This is probably because when we imagine an ideal leader, we imagine him practicing each of the aforementioned styles. And I would agree with that.
As one of the founders and leaders at Crystal Pigeon, I do my best to master each of the styles above. I do this so my people can trust me, that they can enjoy while working with me, but also so that we can reach our common goal.
When I founded the company and started my career as a software engineer, I was a technical mentor to two people. In the beginning, my main task was to train and guide them technically so that they would become independent as soon as possible and so that we could distribute responsibilities as soon as possible. That’s when I got to know the coaching style. In the meantime, I realized that without a visionary style, I would not have been able to gather a team and inspire them to work with me.
As time went on, the members progressed differently. Each team member was showing individual abilities, and each of them had something to be predominantly good at.
I started to wonder how was it possible that one person, let’s call her Ruby, fails to solve problem X while a person, let’s call her Diamond, solves that problem like out of a hall. On the other hand, when a Y problem arises, Ruby enjoys solving it, while the same is unbelievably boring and stressful for Diamond. I realized that the key is the diversity in personalities.
Imagine that on the one hand, you are leading Diamond, an extremely talented person who needs to be directed towards the goal. At the same time, you are leading Ruby, a very creative person, who knows what the goal is and does her best to reach that goal. She is persistent but lacks a lot of technical experience and psychological support for personal development. If these two people were on the same team, working on the same projects, how would you balance their progress and task completion?
This is when my challenges on the path to a good leader begun.
I intuitively started my leadership career with a coaching style, and as time passed by, it became a sort of a habit for me.
The coaching-style started to lose its effect with Ruby because she often wandered to find a solution. That resulted in losing will, motivation, and results getting weaker. With Diamond, the coaching style continued to be effective as she progressed at her own pace. Still, I decided to try a democratic style within the whole team and let them make decisions for the problems that are in front of them. I wanted to encourage their creativity, and that turned out well at first because they got the impression that they were a part of what they were creating. They felt like they are not only there to solve the problem but to contribute with their ideas and decisions.
However, the problem with this approach was that sometimes the team was afraid because of the presumption that the leader was not sure of his decisions and therefore leaves it to the team to make a decision. Besides that, at times it was very stressful for the team to make decisions. I figured it was necessary to adjust style usage, so I used the democratic style only on adequate occasions. The tempo-dictating style proved to be great in moments when there was a lot of work to do. It allows the team to see and feel the progress, and each individual feels his value. This style should be applied in moderation, as it can often be stressful and lead the burnout.
If I said that the solution came of its own accord, I would be lying. It took lots of experience in leading, and we had to go through all these situations together, as a team, to realize what the solution is – applying different styles, at different times, and adjusting them to different people. Even today, I study and work on choosing the right style at the right time. I often succeed, but I still make mistakes.
However, besides the two people I mentioned above, there are other Crystals in our company that I work with and have to maintain a good and friendly relationship with. When I started to bring in people from the other fields I was not able to mentor them, because I did not have enough experience in their field. That is the time when you have to make decisions jointly. I had to be able to direct them towards the goal and then listen to them and believe they are the ones who will find a solution to any problem that arises in front of them.
I am not a leader with a lifetime of experience behind me, but the one thing I know is that every leader must master the visionary and affiliative style, and should constantly apply and improve them. The leader must be there for his people, take care of them, and sacrifice. That’s how he gains trust and how he gets the same from his people. A leader must be a visionary, he must know the path he leads his people so that they feel safe and see clearly where they are traveling.
Lead your team so that everyone enjoys and progresses because after all, that is the most important thing of them all.