People often ask us, “How can someone exhibit such stellar leadership qualities at one organization but then miss the mark at the next?”
We often expect effective leadership qualities to transfer, independent of the environment. We teach leaders and aspiring leaders to do things a certain way; to “be” certain behaviors. We chase the leadership model of the month.
Kurt Lewin, the father of social psychology, famously said, “Behavior is a function of a person in their environment.” He posited what personality research now confirms: our behaviors relate both to ingrained personality and our ability to adapt behaviors intentionally and flexibly to our environment.
There are certain leadership situations that energize us and others that drain us. Maybe the core business of a company simply doesn’t excite us, or the intrinsic values of the culture don’t match our personal values, or we don’t have the opportunity to leverage our core behavioral “strengths.” When we encounter these challenges, we often choose to adopt unnatural behaviors to conform and get our work done. As a result, we frequently end up feeling drained, depleted, and flat without knowing why.
Leadership Capacity Is Not an Exact Recipe
Each organization is a living, breathing organism with its own set of characteristics. So, when we bring our unique “ingredients” – strengths and weaknesses – to a new organization, the results will reflect the interaction of our Leadership Footprint with the culture in that new environment.
Our leadership qualities may shine in one organization because we are a good match for its context, culture, or industry. Our leadership could also excel simply because of the people surrounding us or because of our extended experience in that company.
Yet, in another organization, these same leadership qualities will combine with new circumstances, colleagues, and characteristics. If we don’t mesh well with this new environment, we’ll feel the impact of poor fit and may have disappointing results.
A poor fit with one organization does not mean we cannot excel as a leader in other circumstances. Looking at leadership effectiveness as an exact recipe precludes us from really understanding how to best develop individuals so that they can succeed and thrive. Let’s deconstruct our assumptions about leadership so that we give ourselves, employees, and leaders more opportunities to shine.
Leadership Footprint: The Path to Success
It is time to reboot our ideas about leadership. While there is consensus on a few key elements of effective leadership, there is not a single way of leading others, leading self, leading organizations, or leading a function. We all bring a unique blend of behavioral qualities, experiences, and mindsets that shape how we show up as leaders.
At Paradigm, we refer to this as the Leadership Footprint. The leadership competency constellation that we manifest and offer is as unique as we are. Our individual leadership style is composed of a particular and nuanced blend of strengths and challenges. These qualities will be better matches for some landscapes and less so for others.
“I think… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Getting back to Lewin, our leadership behaviors have the potential to evolve as we adapt and change within the context of our environment. The degree of flex we have is a function of the intentional behaviors we adopt in pursuit of our goals and our set point for behaviors, referred to as Trait Variance at Paradigm. Trait Variance does not mean that we can morph like chameleons! Excessive time spent away from our most natural behaviors is usually draining. The right mix of energizing and draining behaviors allows us to flex our Leadership Footprint while making a few targeted adjustments.
Leadership Footprints: Nelson Mandela and Elon Musk
Literature and life abound with inspiring and exemplary leaders. Let’s look at two recognized leaders – Nelson Mandela and Elon Musk. Each has their own unique leadership footprint. Both exist in unique contexts – in terms of history, culture, and skills – that allowed them to amplify their unique strengths, as well as manage their challenges, and rise to make a difference in our world.
Nelson Mandela led in multiple contexts over his lifetime and adapted to each, most notably while in prison. While we are likely to remember Mandela more for his core values and principles, his ingrained personality also heavily imprinted his leadership style. It is very likely that he adjusted his behaviors to best serve the various roles and the situations in which he led.
Elon Musk, the CEO of companies such as SpaceX and Tesla, is known for making big, bold business decisions, running highly innovative companies, and speaking his mind. Imagine if he was instead leading in an accounting firm.
Elon Musk is a highly competent leader, but to really thrive, he seems to be best suited for a creative and disruptive industry. A more traditional and process-driven profession like accounting would likely not be a good fit for what he brings to the table.
Imagine a parallel universe in which they swapped roles and succeeded in leading in the other’s world. Evaluating how leadership qualities and outcomes might change with changes in environment and context is both difficult and imprecise. How are individuals and organizations best able to manage these changes and set up for success? The Leadership Footprint lens offers many answers.
Focus On Strengths While Managing Challenges
When we look through the lens of Leadership Footprint, we can better understand our behavioral leadership qualities and how they relate to our role and our organization.
From a talent management perspective, we can focus on the strengths that leaders and emerging leaders in our organization bring to the table and build on these strengths within the organization’s context. In recruiting, we can analyze the potential areas of strength and challenges for the individual in the given role and then take steps to learn about these during the recruiting process.
While it is tempting to focus solely on strengths, it’s an incomplete approach. We must also acknowledge and manage behaviors that are challenging to our energy and our performance – especially when we shift roles or organizations. Everyone will experience challenges in some way within their role. It’s essential to make them explicit so we can manage them with intention. By objectively identifying requirements that run counter to our strengths, we open opportunities to increase individual well-being and further business goals.
How The WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ Can Bring Out the Best in Your Talent
Clients around the world use the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ behavioral assessment and report suite’s robust insights to identify potential, develop natural capacities, and empower leaders to reach organizational goals. In today’s world of constant change, WorkPlace helps organizations reap the rewards of a strong leadership pipeline while creating the conditions for individuals to flourish and move their organizations forward.
At Paradigm Personality Labs, we are on a mission to offer high-caliber assessments and tools to help you understand your workforce. Our approach is people-centered, holistic, grounded in science, and outcome-focused.
Discover how best to align your leadership pipeline with your organization’s mission, vision, and goals. Visit our website to learn more.