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The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

Leading the Team You Have

I was sharing the results of a Leadership Assessment with a CEO when she remarked, “I’ve been leading for me.” It took me a second to understand what she meant: she had been leading the way she needed to be led earlier in her career. And it wasn’t clicking with her team.

Don’t get me wrong: she’s a fabulous leader. She’s brilliant, experienced, committed, caring, direct, and, as her comment revealed, humble. Her style had worked beautifully at other organizations where she had grown with her team – she knew their skills, they were all culturally aligned, and they could all keep pace with her. In her role at this new organization, she wasn’t experiencing the same synergy.

And then she had her “ah-ha” moment. She wasn’t leading her current team from where they are. She expected them to function like other teams she’d led had. She was leading based on what had worked in the past and what she had needed as an employee.

Sometimes we all wish we had a different team, or one or two different team members. There are times when it’s very appropriate to change out some of the players on your squad. The reality, however, is that we can’t just keep rotating people, and sometimes we have to work with what we’ve got.

You all know I promote hiring the best talent you can and “liberating” folks who aren’t pulling their weight, don’t have the skills sets, or are toxic to the team dynamic. However, more often than not, people can improve given coaching, support, and a leadership style that facilitates their growth. That means dialing into what works for the people on your team who most need leadership: it may take some hand-holding or breaking things down into small steps until you grow them into their role, or it may take clear direction and consistent accountability.

Leading the team you have requires incredible patience, tons of listening, and tuning into their needs. It means taking one step at a time and moving your team along step-by-step. It does not mean coddling or accepting lack of engagement. Leading the team you have also requires self-awareness on your part and shifting your leadership style to most effectively help your team make progress at this moment in time.

In their book Primal Leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee define 6 leadership styles and claim that the most effective leaders have a dominate style but are versed in several others with the ability to utilize the appropriate style at the right time to most effectively lead their teams. They labeled the 6 styles Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Commanding. A leader might leverage the coaching style to grow her team’s ability to meet a higher level of expectation and longer term goals. A leader would break out the commanding style in a turn-around or crisis scenario. And a leader might lean into the affiliative style when there are rifts to heal or dysfunctions in the team dynamic.

Self-aware leaders with experience and a few different styles to draw from serve their organizations through different phases of maturity, strategic shifts, tough times, or high growth with agility and finesse. How do you know which style to call on? Listen to your team: what are they asking for? What’s tripping them up? And what’s the best approach to moving them forward?

Focus less on what you would need or the style that’s easy for you and more on what will help your team get where you want them to go.