True Signs of a Leader

THE IDEA OF self-discovery is as important today as it was around 2,500 years ago when Socrates said that each person’s aim should be to “know thyself”. For anyone looking to develop a successful style of leadership, knowing who you are is the first and most important step. Only when you fully understand the way you think, act and communicate, and recognise the impact of your behaviour on other people, you can bring about positive change and increase your overall effectiveness.

The process of self-discovery could be something as informal as listing down your strengths and weaknesses, or it could involve one of the more formal leadership-related questionnaires that are now readily available.

The best tools, though, generally include 360-degree feedback, which ensures that the analysis also comes from colleagues, subordinates and superiors. After all, effectiveness as a leader is not something you decide; it is determined by those around you.

One such tool is ACUMEN Leadership WorkStyles, which breaks down leadership behaviour into three categories:

Constructive It is important for every leader to develop a constructive style which focuses on the task at hand and the people who will be involved. There are four elements at work here.

The first is achievement, which reflects the need for accomplishments and is about attaining high-quality results on challenging projects. Leaders high in achievement have the internal motivation to succeed and tend to inspire others by making them feel that they can make a difference.

Next is self-actualisation, characterised by an acceptance of one’s self. This allows leaders to meet their full potential and is evident in strong self-worth and a desire to learn and grow.

Third is humanistic encouraging, which measures our interest in others. A leader demonstrating this style will focus on the growth and development of the team by helping colleagues assume more responsibility and achieve their personal goals.

Finally, affiliation shows the degree to which we form meaningful and fulfilling relationships. Leaders strong in this area establish relationships built on mutual trust and respect.

Anyone aspiring to a senior position should be aware of these different dimensions and find practical ways to develop them further. Typically this would be by refusing to let roadblocks prevent a job from getting done, agreeing to coach a junior employee, or developing new interests outside of work.

Passive / Defensive A leader should aim to minimise passive defensive traits, which cause people to protect their position and the status quo rather than attain new goals. Among these traits are low self-confidence and a desire to be popular, and they are behind the need for approval and acceptance. This is common enough, but can also be self-defeating if it becomes the primary way of interacting.

There is also conventionality. In many ways, it is necessary to conform, but always following the rules will limit creativity and effectiveness. There are times when it is vital to question authority and challenge conventional wisdom, which is part of a leader’s role.

Another common passive defensive trait is dependency and feeling one has insufficient control of events. A good leader, though, must be ready to take decisions and cannot always be turning to colleagues for support and recommendations.

Also, no leader can expect to operate in a comfort zone, avoidance of problems and potential threats. A fear of failure or of taking risks curtails innovation and progress and must be overcome. If you feel your own behaviour is too passive defensive, make a special effort to break your normal routine and try something new. Take the initiative more often and set targets for yourself.

Aggressive / Defensive There are four major aggressive defensive characteristics and, to be an effective leader rather than a destructive one, you need to strike the right balance.

The first measures our tendency to agree or disagree with others and is known as “oppositional”. Leaders at one end of the spectrum can be too sceptical, always reluctant to accept new ideas; at the other end, they may give the green light to almost every new project. Recognise your own natural instincts and train yourself to weigh up different opinions fairly.

Secondly, there is the matter of power, which some people use to dictate rather than to guide. They are often rigid and not open to new ideas. However, a good leader should be able to judge the appropriate degree of power to exercise and direct people towards a common goal.

Thirdly, there is the trait of competitiveness. In most companies, a leader is expected and encouraged to show a competitive streak, but taking things too far can be detrimental for a team or an organisation. People often forget that winning in business does not necessarily mean that someone has to lose.

Finally, being a perfectionist is not necessarily a good thing. It can mean getting so caught up in the details that you lose sight of the big picture. Even though we are taught to get the details right, a leader should concentrate on making clear who is responsible for what and ensuring that the expectations are reasonable.

A successful leader needs to exhibit a degree of aggressive defensive behaviour but must also show self-restraint. Therefore, do not reject an idea before you understand it fully, spend more time listening than talking, and accept that you do not have to be the best at everything.

Leadership Workstyles is just one tool available to help you understand your own approach to leadership. Consider the major characteristics carefully and think about how you would score yourself. Then go back and try to assess how your team would rate you. Be honest when doing this, and compile a list of action points so that, in the future, you can behave in a way that maximises the constructive style of leadership, minimises the passive defensive, and maintains a balance in aggressive defensive traits. Everyone needs clear insights into the personalities before they can start to make positive changes elsewhere.



Know Your Actions Your effectives as a leader is determined by the way you think and react in a given situation. This behaviour automatically has a direct impact on the people around you. By understanding that impact, you can start to identify what will enhance your leadership abilities and what is working against you. Although you cannot control every situation, you are able to control the way you think, deal with problems and behave towards others. The key is to remember that your actions create impressions which influence others. By behaving in a certain way, you help to determine the chain of events.

The Process Of Change If you want to become a better leader, consider taking the following five steps. First, list down all your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest because the more accurate your list is, the better the results. Second, accept yourself as you are now. You may or may not like what you see, but accept it and realise you can change. Third, take time to consider how your methods and behaviour affect the people around you. Examine things from their point of view and do not avoid the hard facts. Next, make a conscious decision that you want to change and be better than you are today. Finally, commit to a plan of action geared to changing your behaviour. Do not try to do too much at once. It’s best to focus on three things only, improve on those, and then move on to others.

Reaction to Feedback Making a decision to increase your leadership potential requires being open to feedback. In doing so, we do not always hear what we expect and there will inevitably be some surprises. Prepare yourself and recognise the stages that most people go through when they invite feedback. The first might be shock or disbelief that people see you in a certain way. When that wears off, denial might come into play. You may well tell yourself it does not matter what others think because you are good at the job and exceed expectations. At that point, though, you should be trying to change, not getting into self-justification. Therefore, ask yourself why people have formed such an impression and which part of their feedback you can agree with. The third stage usually involves a range of emotions – anger, depression or ambivalence. Take time to consider what you are feeling and why, since this will give you valuable insight. Finally, move towards acceptance. Eventually, you will gain perspective and be free to use what you have learned for self-improvement.