What Type of Leader Are You?

You don’t have to stick to just one style; in fact, it’s better if you don’t

Erin Binney By Erin Binney October 5, 2018
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​A leader is a leader is a leader, right? Not according to Karlyn Borysenko, principal at consultancy Zen Workplace in Boston. She says there are four distinct leadership styles, and each one has an important role in the workplace.

Borysenko began her presentation at the Society for Human Resource Management's Leadership Development Forum by noting that "anyone in any organization with any title can be a leader. It's not about where you rank. It's about wanting to do new things."

Leading an initiative involves crafting a compelling vision, getting buy-in at all levels and then making the vision a reality, she explained. The vision can be as big as implementing a new HR information system or as small as streamlining the process for ordering a new desk chair. But regardless of the scale, the idea has to be bold. It can't be about replacing black pens with blue pens.

Borysenko asked attendees to answer two questions: whether they like to move at a fast pace or a moderate pace, and whether they tend to be questioning and skeptical or warm and accepting. This DiSC assessment landed them into one of four leadership categories:

  • Dominant. These leaders are assertive, bold, direct and results-oriented—"what we think of as natural leaders," she said. They are constantly pushing boundaries, like to get things done quickly and worry about the consequences later. This style can come off as intimidating, she said, especially if you're a woman.
  • Influential. Influencers are active and dynamic. They are always in a good mood and always look on the bright side. They are excellent collaborators but don't always follow through on ideas. Just give them the executive summary; they don't want to know all the details.
  • Supportive. Leaders who fall into this category are agreeable, receptive and accommodating. They want to help people get things done, but they hate drama. They often hold back when they have solutions to share or something valuable to say. "If you're an S style, make sure you're speaking up," Borysenko told attendees.
  • Conscientious. These leaders are logical, careful and methodical and prefer working with spreadsheets over working with people. They see details that others miss. It's not that they're anti-social per se, but they prefer to close the door to their office, draw the blinds and spend quiet time being productive. They need to keep an open mind to new and different approaches.

When it comes to the process of creating a vision, getting buy-in and seeing the idea through to completion, each leadership style excels at some of the tasks and struggles with others. "Not everyone can do all the things well," Borysenko said. For example, the visioning process comes very naturally to D's, but they often aren't as effective during the buy-in stage. I's, on the other hand, are great at inspiring others to get on board but may have trouble making the vision a reality.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Organizational Leaders]

Borysenko encouraged attendees to embrace whatever their dominant style is but also to step out of their comfort zone and exhibit some of the characteristics of the other leadership styles when necessary. "Just because something's uncomfortable does not mean you don't do it," she said.

If you're a C leader, for example, that doesn't mean you can't collaborate with other people and shouldn't bother trying. "It just means you're going to need a nap afterward," she said.

Session attendee Daniel Taggart, SHRM-SCP, tested as an S, and he thought the description fit him to a T. "Although when there's a void, I go into D mode," said the director of human resources and employee relations at George Mason University's College of Science in Fairfax, Va.

He finds behaving like an I leader challenging, but he does his best to rise to the occasion when necessary. Still, "it takes a hell of a lot of energy," he said.

Other attendees agreed that stepping outside their comfort zone can be exhausting. But, as one person pointed out, "that's the only way you grow."

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