Human beings are creatures of habit.
And we all have our behavioural ‘comfort zone’. The problem is that people’s habits and behavioural comfort zone sometimes coincide and sometimes they are different. People’s reactions, whether positive, neutral or negative, are based on their observations of our behaviours and whether those make them feel comfortable themselves. Effective leadership, therefore, can’t be a one-size-fits-all endeavour. It requires an understanding of our own personal style and it’s likely impact on team members.
Diversity of leadership styles
Following on from my conversation with Gary Blisset on our recent podcast, it’s clear that team leaders who are able to build the most satisfying and successful working relationships with their team members are those you are able to adapt and ‘stretch’ their personal styles to create greater style comfort with each of their team. Just as individuals possess their own distinct personalities and quirks, leaders too exhibit unique styles that profoundly impact their relationships and dynamics with the team.
A really useful model for understanding personal styles is DiSC. Like other models of personal style you may be familiar with (Social Styles, Insights Discovery) their origins all stem from the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. DiSC was first proposed in 1928 by psychologist William Moulton Marston, in his book Emotions of Normal People. In his research, Marston theorised that people’s behavioural expression could be categorized into four primary types. These four types were labelled by Marston as Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C).
Picture the scene as one team leader heads into a team meeting focused on the agenda and what needs to be achieved. Another leader radiates confidence, enthusiasm and charm. A third leader exudes warmth, empathy and caring, while a fourth enters with a cautious, logical and processed focused demeanour.
Each style comes with their unique strengths and considerations. Each style influences how each leader connects with their team members. It plays a significant role in shaping their interactions with team members and influences their ability to foster an inclusive and productive team environment. Why? Because each team member has their own personal style as well and are ‘judging’ the style presented by the team leader.
Why could understanding this be useful for team leaders?
I could reasonably argue that adapting to others has never been more critical to organisational and leadership success. Global competitive pressures, decentralisation, remote, hybrid and flexible working, an increasingly diverse workforce, more frequent structural change and the demands for speed, quality and value have all intensified. In this environment being able to appreciate and adapt to individual differences feels absolutely essential.
A simple example of this is navigating formal performance reviews (whether we ought to have them is a question for another day and another article). They often serve as a litmus test of a leaders ability to understand and adapt to their team members’ diverse styles. These reviews can be challenging. They require leaders to communicate effectively with individuals who may have different perspectives and communication preferences. Rather than treating the process as a tick box exercise, they are an opportunity for creating dialogue and an environment where team members feel heard and valued. To successfully navigate performance reviews and interactions, leaders need to be adaptable and versatile in their communication approach, recognizing and adapting to the different behavioural styles of team members to build rapport, trust, and understanding.
For instance, a leader with an I or S style may naturally engage in small talk and social interactions, while a more D or C style leader might concentrate more on results focused, data-driven discussions. The key is to bridge the gap between these styles to ensure effective communication and collaboration. Just pursuing the review conversation purely from the standpoint of the leaders own style doesn’t achieve the relationship outcomes that inspire collaboration and commitment.
It’s a question of comfort
The is little doubt that leaders set the tone in the team. Because behavioural styles are observable to others and because we are creatures of habit, team members are likely to predict a team leaders preferred approach or focus in performance reviews or any other interaction they might have with them.
By embracing greater adaptability, leaders can navigate interactions and conversations with their team that better suits the needs of individual team members. This way they enhance team members feelings of trust, inclusion and connection.
Each of us has a ‘comfort zone’, that is patterns of behaving that arise from our experience and become habits. These behaviours become familiar and we become comfortable operating in certain ways. Personal comfort in interactions with their leader means the team member can be authentic and collaborate openly. They feel there is common ground behaviourally. Afterall, we are attracted to others that somehow feel like us in some way.
The impact of personal style
Paying attention to their personal style and adjusting behaviourally to accommodate the style and ‘comfort zone’ of others has several benefits for the team leader and the dynamics of the team. Generally speaking, team leaders do well by remembering that people form immediate impressions about others on the basis of their verbal and nonverbal behaviour. They also behave towards one another largely determined by their perceptions of each other.
With this in mind a team leader can recognise that their personal style greatly influences how team members feel about their work environment and their role in the team. A leader who is supportive, approachable, and respectful can boost team morale, motivation, and overall job satisfaction. Providing feedback, for example, in a manner that meets the needs and personal style of the receiver can add greatly to the teams commitment and engagement.
Personal style and approach directly affects how communication flows within the team. A leader who encourages open and honest communication fosters a culture of collaboration, idea sharing, and problem-solving. It can also help establish and maintain trust among team members. When team members feel psychologically safe they are comfortable taking risks and expressing their opinions without fear of negative consequences—it leads to better idea generation and innovation.
Conflict is natural in any team setting, but how it’s managed can greatly impact team dynamics. A leader’s personal style of conflict resolution—whether they address conflicts promptly, fairly, and constructively—can determine whether conflicts are resolved in a way that strengthens the team or leads to ongoing tension.
Food for thought
The overall performance of a team is closely tied to the personal style of its leader. An effective leader can inspire team members to perform at their best, align their efforts with organisational goals, and achieve high levels of productivity. To achieve this different situations and team members might require different leadership approaches. A leader who is aware of their own DiSC style can adapt it to suit the needs of the styles of their team members. Being able to flex one’s leadership style can enhance the leader’s effectiveness in managing diverse teams and addressing changing circumstances. The leaders personal style significantly influences the team’s climate, interactions and outcomes. Leaders who are self-aware and attuned to the impact of their style on team dynamics are better equipped to create a positive and productive work environment that fosters growth, collaboration, and success.
If you would like to know more about our solutions around leadership personal style and how to develop greater behavioural adaptability then contact us and let us know more about your situation.