Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Who's the Greatest Leader of them All?

We often underestimate the impact the style of leadership has on the performance of an organisation. Current theories describe leadership either in terms of leader traits (the characteristics of the leader such as their personality and characteristics) or in terms of situational leadership (how the leader behaves in certain situations). Less is known about the perception the managers have of their own leadership style and how this affects the actual results of the firm. It is often a case of the “perceived” affecting the “real” situation - some managers may perceive the presence or absence of certain traits in themselves differently to their team. The manager’s perception may be mis-aligned to what colleagues and subordinates perceive the leader as being, both in terms of traits and in terms of behaviours.   A recent internal study conducted by a corporate training firm in Sydney in conjunction with a management consulting group found a strong correlation between self-reflection by managers and the accuracy of their perceptions about their leadership style. The more a manager self-reflected, in a structured way, the closer they were to where they wanted to be and where they ought to be. They were also closer to where their teams wanted them to be.   A client of the consultancy needed a corporate training program for a specific manager at the client’s firm, a financial services institution based in Sydney. The training request was the result of complaints from the sales team regarding their newly appointed sales manager. The manager in her mid-thirties came from the same pool of sales people she was managing. Driven, goal-oriented and unforgiving, she perceived herself as a mentor and coach with a “tough love” approach to management, while her team perceived her as a tyrant.   She was convinced by senior management to attend an external training session on self-reflection and personality identification. On (deep) reflection, she reached the conclusion that she had perceived herself significantly differently to what her colleagues thought of her. She realised that her behaviours were received differently to what she had thought. The manager embarked on a self-change-and-reflect mission to better align herself to the “real” traits she was aspiring to represent. The result of this was harmonisation of the team and an enhancement of sales results.   It is important for leaders to gain an external, candid view of their perceived leadership style, traits and behaviours. This can be done through individual peer reflection meetings and anonymous feedback from subordinates, with mentoring support for the leader, so that survey results are taken on board positively, rather than negatively. Once external views have been collected and understood, the leader can engage in self-reflection. Self-reflection can occur by writing down the most important traits and behaviours the manager’s team expects to find in the leader. Running a candid inventory check of these traits and behaviours can reveal gaps. This gap analysis is then used to develop, train, learn or behave differently, thus creating a better alignment with the perceptions of the team.   Mirrors, mirrors on the wall help managers self-reflect, allowing for better business outcomes and organisational culture.