Leadershift: Leading Individuals the Way They Like to Be Led

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What makes someone an effective leader?

Take a moment and think of the person whom you have most admired/enjoyed having as a leader. Consider not only your work experience, but also your volunteer activities, religious affiliations, and recreational pursuits.

In the spaces below, list the personal attributes and specific behaviours this person demonstrates which you consider to be the source of their leadership effectiveness.

Personal Attributes
Specific Behaviors




















Next, ask two or three of your colleagues, friends, or family members to go through the same process with someone they respect as a leader.

Finally, compare your lists.

My guess is that while there are no doubt some commonalities, there are probably some significant differences. And even the commonalities (for example, “caring” is an attribute I hear a lot) may mean very different things to each of you as you discuss what that actually looks like in behavioural terms.

The point of this exercise is simple. It demonstrates that people like to be led in different ways—ways that are natural to their interpersonal preferences. The results of failing to adapt to others’ preferences—miscommunication, resentment, irritation, and lack of commitment—bear directly upon productivity and quality. Conversely, adapting to others leads to greater buy-in, motivation and understanding—all of which positively affect the bottom line.

There exists a widespread myth that there is one right or best way to lead. Much of the current literature on leadership supports and promotes this myth. However, my experience as a leader and as a leadership development specialist suggests otherwise.

I believe that leadership effectiveness arises out of the combination of two key factors: (1) actions that are appropriate to the dynamics of the circumstances, and (2) an interpersonal approach that is appropriate to the individuals being led.

With regard to the first of these two factors, my business partner, Ellen Samiec, and I have identified five distinct tactics—what we term, “leadership dimensions”—that need to be employed when responding to the varied circumstances and situations leaders encounter. If you are interested in learning more about these, you can read about them on our website (www.5DLeadership.com). These dimensions address the first half of the equation of leadership effectiveness, actions that are appropriate to the dynamics of the circumstances.

In this article, I want to address briefly the second factor for leadership effectiveness, an interpersonal approach that is appropriate to the individual being led.

Although there are many frameworks that can give us valuable insights into others’ interpersonal preferences, the one I want to employ is a model of personality type called Interaction Styles.

An Interaction Styles Primer
This model of type was first developed by William Marston in the 1920s, subsequently extended by John Geier through the DiSC instrument, later popularized in the “social styles” literature, and most recently, refined and expanded by Dr. Linda V. Berens. Her booklet, Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Interaction Styles is an excellent, in-depth explanation of this model. As a theory of personality type, Interaction Styles is distinct from yet consistent with both Temperament theory and Myers-Jungian Type.***

I define an “Interaction Style” as the preferred way in which a person communicates and works with others to achieve results. Like other models of type, one’s Interaction Style is about preferences, not abilities. This model of type describes four distinct patterns of interpersonal behaviour that are consistent over time, but adaptable in the moment. I believe that a person’s Interaction Style is innate, a part of their “hard wiring.” It has a strong bearing on whom you find it easy (or challenging) to relate to and work with.

The following chart is adapted from Linda Beren’s, Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Interaction Styles.® It gives you a glimpse of the essential themes and preferences for each Interaction Style pattern. Taking these preferences into account is the key to leading individuals the way they like to be led.

The Four Interaction Style Patterns

Chart-the-Course

The theme is having a course of action to follow. People of this style focus on knowing what to do and keeping themselves, the group, or the project on track. They prefer to enter a situation having an idea of what is to happen. They identify a process to accomplish a goal and have a somewhat contained tension as they work to create and monitor a plan. The aim is not the plan itself, but to use it as a guide to move things along toward the goal. Their informed and deliberate decisions are based on analyzing, outlining, conceptualizing, or foreseeing what needs to be done.

Behind-the-Scenes

The theme is getting the best result possible. People of this style focus on understanding and working with the process to create a positive outcome. They see value in many contributions and consult outside inputs to make an informed decision. They aim to integrate various information sources and accommodate differing points of view. They approach others with a quiet, calm style that may not show their strong convictions. Producing, sustaining, defining, and clarifying are all the ways they support the group process. They typically have more patience than most with the time it takes to get consensus for a project or to refine the result.

In-Charge

The theme is getting things accomplished through people. People of this style are focused on results, often taking action quickly. They often have a driving energy with an intention to lead a group to the goal. They make decisions quickly to keep themselves and others on task, on target, and on time. They hate wasting time and having to back track. Mentoring, executing actions, supervising, and mobilizing resources are all ways they get things accomplished. They notice right away what is not working in a situation and become painfully aware of what needs to be fixed, healed, or corrected.

Get-Things-Going

The theme is persuading and involving others. They thrive in facilitator or catalyst roles and aim to inspire others to move to action, facilitating the process. Their focus is on interaction, often with an expressive style. They Get-Things-Going with upbeat energy, enthusiasm, or excitement, which can be contagious. Exploring options and possibilities, making preparations, discovering new ideas, and sharing insights are all ways they get people moving along. They want decisions to be participative and enthusiastic, with everyone involved and engaged.

The above chart is meant only to introduce you to the very basics of the Interaction Style patterns and dynamics. The model has much more to it, and I would again encourage you to read Beren’s booklet to introduce yourself to the richness of this framework.

Interaction Styles and Leadership Effectiveness
With regard to leadership effectiveness, the ability to adapt to the Interaction Styles of the individuals we lead greatly extends our capacity to gain their understanding, cooperation, and commitment.

For example, I have a “Get Things Going” Interaction Style. As such, I naturally lead with lots of enthusiasm and excitement. My focus is on getting the energy going in interpersonal discussions and group interactions and I want to obtain an embraced result (i.e., a result to which everyone wholeheartedly commits). I tend not to develop or be comfortable with a predetermined, detailed plan of action, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing and refining details of an emerging decision. Finally, I am generally uncomfortable telling others what to do. I want them to want to do it, so I prefer to inform them about what needs to be done rather than directing their actions. These are some of the natural tendencies of a “Get Things Going” Interaction Style.

While this style works very well for other “Get Things Going” individuals, it can be frustrating and even irritating for the other three styles. For example, my lack of a predetermined and concrete plan of action can irritate a “Chart the Course” type, who may view my leadership as thoughtless, aimless, and overly expressive. An “In Charge” staff member may view my desire for small talk and storytelling as a waste of time and see my lack of specific directives as a lack of clarity or as a lack of commitment to achieving results quickly. A person with a preference for a “Behind the Scenes” style may be frustrated with my “let’s move ahead as long as we have a general agreement” approach. They may experience my fast-paced, consensus decision-making style as a frustrating impediment to taking the time necessary to dialogue, research, and refine our ideas to get the best result possible.

My leadership effectiveness can be greatly enhanced by adapting my approach to try to meet the Interaction Style needs and preferences of the person I am leading, rather than trying to lead him/her from my preferred approach. Remember, people like to be led in ways that fit their interpersonal preferences.

Leadershift
Leadershift is the name I have given to the practice of adapting one’s own Interaction Style to that of others. Becoming proficient at “leadershifting” requires three skills. First, we must be able to identify correctly an individual’s preferred Interaction Style. This ability grows as we familiarize ourselves with the Interaction Styles model. Second, we must be able to shift our energy levels, communication style, and decision-making style to match those of the person we are leading. This comes with conscious effort and trying out new behaviours. Third, we must be able to evaluate how well we are adapting to others’ Interaction Style preferences. This is best done by a combination of (1) observing others’ responses and (2) asking for feedback on our attempts to shift to someone else’s style.

What might leadershifting look like in practice?
Let’s say I am going to delegate a project to one of my staff members. As a “Get Things Going” leader, my natural tendency when delegating would be to:

  • connect with the individual on a personal level before getting down to business.
  • explain only in broad outline what I want accomplished.
  • explore collaboratively a variety of options about how to accomplish the objective(s).
  • employ a relatively non-structured, but fast-paced format for the conversation.
  • keep the conversation fun and lively.

I have decided which staff member I think is best suited for the project and I am going to speak with them about it. Using a Leadershift approach might involve the following actions.

First, I need to determine their Interaction Style. In reviewing the Interaction Styles patterns, I conclude my staff member probably has a “Chart the Course” style.

Next, I need to decide how I am going to adapt my natural tendencies to this person’s “Chart the Course” preferences when discussing the project and their responsibilities. This would involve at least the following shifts:

  • limiting small talk and being more matter of fact and to the point.
  • being systematic in how I explain the project’s objectives, timelines, requirements.
  • explaining in detail the plan for accomplishing the project.
  • pausing to allow them to absorb the details.
  • inviting questions about the details.
  • not interrupting while they are speaking.

Third, I will need to observe the person’s response to my attempts to shift to their preferences and adapt and learn. It’s easy to stereotype a different style and end up being patronizing, not helpful. So I will watch for clues (verbal and non-verbal) that tell me if I seem to be on their wavelength. And, of course, I can always ask them directly if the way I am explaining things is helpful or what I could do differently to make it better for them.

As you practice “Leadershifting,” it will become more habitual, less conscious, and more effective. You will find individuals responding to your leadership initiatives with more commitment, greater understanding, and better results.

People really do like to be led in different ways—ways that are in keeping with their natural interpersonal preferences. Interaction Styles is one framework that helps us apply that truth for greater leadership effectiveness.


* The focus of this article will be solely on leading individuals, as opposed to teams or groups. The principle of adapting one’s own interpersonal approach to others’ preferences remains the same when focusing on team dynamics. The challenge, of course, is to meet the diverse needs and preferences of all team members.
** For more on the relationship between these three type models, see article: Essential Qualities of the Patterns by Linda V. Berens (available on the 16types.com Learning Center).

® Used with permission from Berens, Linda V., Understanding Yourself and Others®: An Introduction to Interaction Styles, p.23 (Huntington Beach, Calif.: Telos Publications, 2001)