Improving Your Leadership Skills
By: G.A. (Andy) Marken
|In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
If you want to build loyalty for you and your organization, your products and your goals, you have to constantly refine your leadership talents.
Whether you're working at the retail, distribution or manufacturing level; the development of a successful team means you must bring forth the extra effort and support required today to compete in a tough, aggressive, ruthless market.
Examining, evaluating, improving your skills is a tough, dirty job.
For example, after three months of developing and discussing a special group of prospects in your best salesperson's territory, they still haven't been contacted--even though everyone agrees that the goal for the quarter is to expand new business.
What do you do?
More likely than not, you lay down the law ...tell the salesperson that by the end of the week, you want all of those prospects contacted and a report on your desk.
On Friday afternoon, your salesperson turns in his/her report and has opened three new accounts.
The job was done...it was done on time. But was it good leadership?
Some will say yes, because sometimes the end justifies the means.
Others would contend that it wasn't good leadership because results were achieved in an undesirable manner.
Successful leadership would have resulted in the salesperson wanting to do the job at hand to support the entire team, rather than being forced to do it.
So is there a "right" kind of leadership?
It's not "right" to take over responsibility that should properly be assumed by another member of your organization. When you do that, you lower his or her self-esteem.
It's not "right" to issue edicts. The total scope of the program should be discussed with the individual involved.
Forcing obedience is never right--it destroys initiative. But, as our example illustrated, there is no "best way" to handle leadership.
There is no simple list of dos and don'ts to follow. Every individual and circumstance calls for a different type of leadership.
Forms of Leadership
There are three major methods of handling people:
- Autocratic -- With this type of leadership you, as the manager, assume full responsibility for all actions-individual and group. You're seeking obedience to specific orders. You determine policy and decision-making as your prerogative.
Let's say you've decided that you want to test-market a product or service to see if there's a need, if a market exists, how it should be priced and what the competitive situation is.
You prepare all of the necessary instructions and announce the project to your staff. It's not a matter open for discussion.
Sure, there are members of the organization who will predict failure of the project. It's your job to talk to them individually, taking full responsibility for the outcome, and outline the benefits you expect to be achieved. You divert arguments and concentrate on how your staff can help get the information needed.
If all else fails, you will have to demand that each individual concentrates on getting the task accomplished.
- Democratic -- You will seek ideas and suggestions through discussions and conclusions.
This approach is often used when you are working with your staff to establish goals.
But let's go back to our test-marketing example and assume that the product or service was needed by your staff to capture an even greater portion of the total market. In the meeting, allow each individual to contribute his/her ideas.
The result should be a very productive meeting and an example of productive leadership.
When possible, good leaders treat individual problems on a democratic basis.
For example, you are a retailer selling to both consumer, and commercial accounts. One of your people appears to have more talent in business situations than with consumers who come in the door. Your job is to help the salesperson convince him- or herself that he or she would be more successful selling to businesses.
Then, it's only a matter of discussing how to manage the territory and selling effort.
- Free-Rein -- With this type of leadership you exercise comparatively little direct control, but act as the prime source of information, suggestions and authority.
This approach is best when you feel your staff is well-trained, responsible and professional. This approach is often required in sales organizations where people have to make immediate decisions or if sales people are in remote areas and have little direct supervision.
Free-rein leadership is used by most hardware/software manufacturers and rep organizations. Within limits, individuals set their own goals. Usually resulting in outstanding performance.
Choose Your Method
There isn't a best method of leadership ... only the most appropriate for a particular occasion. This means planning your actions for a given situation.
You can't choose between autocratic and democratic leadership.
That's like making a golfer choose either woods or irons.
During any golf game, they're all used. Decide on the type of leadership that is needed based on:
- Individual Personality -- Some people only perform (and then excellently) when a certain type of leadership is used.
For example, an aggressive, hostile type individual does better if you are understanding but autocratic.
Recognize their hostility and control it.
An individual that is aggressive and cooperative will perform better if your leadership is democratic or free-reining. Since they are often perfectionists and enjoy accomplishment for its own sake, their self- assertiveness may be very constructive.
Individualists are most productive when they can operate in a free-reining environment. This is assuming that they know their job. If not, they need a firm but friendly hand.
If you're having leadership problems, it's time to step back and review the personality characteristics of each of your people. Working with each individual, you can determine if you have to modify your leadership style...or the individual isn't worth the effort.
But don't think one review will solve your problems. Constantly evaluate your people, your programs, yourself.
- Situation -- Changes in the market, a customer crises, new products and policy changes often make new demands on the type of leadership you use.
If quick decisions and fast action are necessary, you're going to have to be autocratic. If you lack information or question your intuition, use the more democratic approach. After all, the people who are on the front line contacting customers or prospects can be helpful sources of input to help make the best possible decision.
- Organizational Flavor -- The total make-up of your organization reflects the type of leadership that should be used. Sometimes group needs and individual needs are quite different.
If your organization has a large number of experienced, cooperative people, then democratic leadership will work. If you have a dispersed organization that seldom meets and is made up of strong individualists, a mixture of the leadership methods--depending on each situation-- will be best.
If your staff is largely untrained and undisciplined, then autocratic leadership is a must. You have to be the firm and decisive force that quickly makes the organization productive.
If you have a highly trained and professional staff including good engineers, good software people and good sales people, then free-reining leadership will win out. These people are usually quite creative and will solve the problems they encounter. They require less guidance, just monitoring.
How About You?
The success of your leadership depends on whether or not you're flexible enough to recognize the need for the different types of leadership ... and are willing to change gears when necessary.
You have to determine what is best for each individual and each situation.
Just as you periodically evaluate each person who works for/with you, evaluate your operating style.