Matching Style to Other People
The essence of leadership is always personal relationships. To lead, you must, by definition, work with others to achieve the goal you've set. Undertaking a quest by yourself might be considered heroic, but if you aren't inviting others to come and help, the interpersonal dynamic is missing, meaning there is no room for leadership.
Lead the Individual
At its core, human nature is immutable. Individuals certainly find unique ways of balancing and expressing the drives and concerns we all have.
A situation that affects one person in a certain way will cause a different reaction in a neighbor. You can't assume that a given approach to any leadership will be effective with every person. Just as you need to better understand yourself, you need to better understand the people you want to lead and your relationships with them.
Those who study human learning have long determined that people learn in different ways. Some work best visually, some through hearing information, and others through physical interaction. At a bare minimum, that means a leader needs to find the best way to present goals and motivate individuals.
Individuals, Not Groups
No two people are completely alike, and there is no such thing as the average person. If there are no average people, there is no way to conveniently group them and treat them in a singular way. That means it's impossible to have impersonal, mechanical relationships with the people you lead.
As you move upward through the ranks of a hierarchy, being a leader becomes ever more difficult because of the increased distance from the others involved. That's why large organizations have formal mechanisms. But the big mistake is to confuse those tools with the process of leadership. In each case, they depend on a chain of personal connections from the leader down to everyone else. Leadership may become more removed, but it always stays personal. You can have no relationship when you don't recognize that you work with human beings. Recognition of that only comes when you see their view as well as your own.
To lead, you need to understand the relationships you have with others, and that means to look at those people individually. Don't get preoccupied with personalities, which in a sense are insignificant. Actions are more important.
Look at Actions
The truest form of communication is action — important, since leadership is ultimately about getting things done. When you consider the approaches to leadership that might work with others, focus on what is happening, not what you feel about each person. You might think that a certain person's attitude is a bit too casual, for instance, but if the same individual is greatly advancing your group's goals, something is going right. Likewise, the perceptions others have of your actions are just as important as your perceptions of theirs.
Getting a Personal Evaluation
Taking stock of yourself is important, but it can be tricky. As human beings, we are deceptive creatures, both to others and to ourselves. Market researchers often ask people how they'd react under given circumstances, such as whether they would buy a new type of product and how much they would pay. At the same time, marketers are aware that such data is among the least reliable. People often answer in a way that reflects how they would like to think of themselves and how they think others will perceive them.
Because leadership only happens in the presence of proper relationships with others, you will need to understand what drives those interactions. Make copies of the reflective leadership evaluation tool found in Appendix B. Ask your coworkers to fill them out. The more you understand how people perceive your actions in an impersonal way, the better you can evaluate how your leadership approach is working.
Most people find it difficult to be blunt with those they don't know well. That is true even for individuals who pride themselves on being direct. By using a formal method of feedback, you reduce (though, unfortunately, never completely eliminate) the conditions that might call for surly proof of independence or a bootblack's deference.