Season 4: Thriving in a changing world

Les McKeown Founder & CEO, Predictable Success

Discover your leadership style—then learn how to adapt it

My friend Marshall Goldsmith (widely held to be the world’s most pre-eminent leadership coach) put it succinctly in the title of one of his excellent books: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

Embracing change—and getting the most out of it—requires flexibility. To put it another way, to effectively manage change, you must change.

Specifically, as I detail in my book The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success, there are four key leadership styles:

  • Visionary—all big picture, high risk and motivation
  • Operator—just “get it done”, pretty or not
  • Processor—measure twice, cut once, low risk, high precision
  • Synergist—primarily people focused

Most of us have a default leadership “DNA” that means we turn up by default as just one or two of these styles.

Most non-trivial leadership decisions—especially those involving change—become challenging because they require us to transcend the usual “default” way of thinking our leadership DNA locks us in to.

Here are the three most important lessons I’ve learned from having the privilege to work with great leaders:

1. You can’t meet change with inflexibility

You’ve heard the old saying: “When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. The same applies to your leadership style—if you can only show up in one “mode” (Visionary, Operator, Processor or Synergist) you’re not going to be able to respond effectively to at least 75% of the change challenges you face.

What to do about it:

Know your default leadership style AND those you can emulate.

The leadership styles are highly intuitive, and you’ve probably already guessed which you are. That is good to know—self-awareness is important—but it’s equally good to know what styles you struggle with too.

2. You can’t meet change in your comfort zone.

It’s highly likely that you find one of the leadership styles highly uncomfortable. For you, maybe it’s soul-sucking to do the “Processor”-style leadership work (or Visionary, Operator or Synergist).

Problem is, you don’t get to choose which leadership style is the best one to overcome any specific leadership challenge.

What to do about it:

Test your responses to non-trivial changes and ask if it is enough.

Once you know what your default style is, it’s important to “step outside” key challenges your business faces and ask: “Knowing that I’m (say) a Visionary leader, what am I missing in my response to this challenge? How would an Operator, Processor or Synergist respond to this challenge and do I need to take that into account?”

3. You can’t meet change alone.

There is no perfect leader—this we know. I’ve also, in all my time coaching leaders, never met a leader who was the perfect mix of Visionary, Operator, Processor and Synergist—only a team can be that.

What to do about it:

Build your team.

The only way to guarantee a fully balanced V-O-P-S response to serious change in your business, is to have a well-balanced V-O-P-S team. As I tell all the founders, owners and business leaders I coach: “If you’re serious about building your business, build your team.” PS If you would like to know more about the four leadership styles and find out what your V-O-P-S DNA is, you can take this short, free quiz.