Leadership Styles: What Toastmasters taught me about “Do, what it takes!”
Greetings to fellow Toastmasters and Dear readers.
In what can be called a historic moment in the Indian corporate world, Narayan Murthy (billionaire and co-founder of Infosys) bent down to touch Ratan Tata’s (Chairman Emeritus of Tata group of industries) feet as a gesture of humility and respect.
That's the kind of leadership I was taught growing up in the nation of Gandhi; great leaders exhibiting values like integrity, humility, hard work, and compassion before everything else.
Later I did my MBA and entered the corporate world. I tried to find the above virtues in my seniors at work. Little did I know, bosses(managers) and leaders are two different words in the English language. Corporate leadership is about maximizing shareholders' value and “they” love an individual in the driver’s seat who can “do what it takes!” The rules of the game and the objectives are different and one is supposed to shift gears between an idealist, pragmatist, and realist depending on the context and people involved. I was confused.
As I started attending board meetings more frequently, the yearning to understand “leadership” in the today’s context became urgent. This is when I came across Toastmasters International, whose tagline reads, “where leaders are made”. I quickly enrolled in the “Dynamic Leadership” pathways which involved performing various public speaking and leadership projects. One such project was to understand your leadership style and present your learnings to the audience.
This was exactly what I was looking for and I took up the task with great fervor. Toastmasters provided me with a template to start with. On top of this I did my own research, which involved a lot of reading, taking leadership style tests, and consulting with my mentors and peers. The various leadership positions I had handled in the past also helped me internalize the essence of these styles. The summary of learning is as follows.
“True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders” _Tom Peters
The purpose of Leadership is to empower others to accomplish individual goals and contribute to the successful completion of group objectives. It is to provide guidance, feedback, and model behavior for others to emulate.
To accomplish the above purpose, successful leaders have primarily five Leadership Attributes —
- Optimism: They focus on the beneficial side of a situation and expect positive outcomes; which opens up the opportunity to overcome obstacles and adversities.
- Effective Communication: They communicate expectations, goals, plans, and feedback with others in a direct, concise, and thoughtful manner.
- Lead-by-Example attitude: They express leadership through their actions, and not just by giving instructions to others.
- Open-mindedness: They are open to new ideas, learning without any bias.
- Integrity: They are honest and ethical which helps build trust, strengthening their team to accomplish group objectives
With these primary attributes in mind, let us can now dive into the “do what it takes”- the various styles of an effective leader. Contrary to my past belief, I discovered that no style is good or bad but the effectiveness depends on team composition, and the overall context. Successful leaders are those who excel in gauging the context and using the right style to achieve the given leadership goal. Having said that, an individual will have 2–3 dominant styles based on his/her personality which makes him a champion in one context while completely ineffective in others. But the one who can take up many hats and be effective in most of the situations has a higher chance of success. In all there are 8 types of identifiable Leadership styles:
My learnings — By reflecting on my past experience with the newly gained tools, and taking the leadership survey within Toastmasters, I discovered my top 4 dominant leadership traits to be Innovative, Authoritative, Democratic, and Altruistic, while the least prominent was the Bureaucratic. By knowing about the 4 major styles and their application in different situations, I can now use them more effectively while also trying to strengthen the remaining 4 gradually. For a better understanding of the concept, here are examples of where and how I demonstrated my top 4 leadership styles.
Final Note to readers — Whatever roles you take up in life, one of the above leadership styles will always be applicable. And the above illustrations will help you figure out which kind of leadership style is best suited for a given context and team composition. You may find it hard to adjust to some of these styles owing to your personality traits. However, this is what it means by “Do what it takes”. So, take some time to understand your dominant and weakest traits, and try to practice the ones which you are not comfortable with to excel in every situation.
All the best.