Leadership is a mindset. Make sure your actions reflect it. Don't get in your own way!

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

by Shayan Azhar

Sometimes I try to emulate my CEO, Saira Akbar's leadership style. As with all humans, she has major strengths I aspire to have. From her laser-like focus to her drive for results to her ability to make everything a learning or teaching point. However, one day I remember we were working together and she was giving me some feedback. To my surprise, she suddenly said, "Don't copy my leadership style. Don't do what I do."I was quite confused in that moment and it must have shown (or not, either way she's very good at reading me!) because then she said, "I know you try to learn from me but remember that with my style I have some major flaws too."

I understood what she was trying to tell me pretty fast. She wasn't saying not to look up to her. Nor was she saying she was a bad influence or anything of the sort. She was highlighting the fact that she as a leader is great in specific things and not so great in others. A prime example of that is when she openly admits she's a bad listener. She knows it, admits to it, and tries to work on it. One of her strategies is surrounding herself with people who are better listeners than her (cough, cough......... me!)

To paraphrase some of what she said that day and put together what I've learned, she was telling me that I have my own leadership style to explore. It isn't about position or mentors - after all, leadership is an attitude and mindset. It is about finding what I naturally do best. Then borrowing from other people's styles in areas I know I struggle with. I may not be the best person when it comes to quick turnaround (I openly admit to being a perfectionist) or having a pinpointed laser-like focus. But I definitely make up for it with a critical eye for detail and an undying desire to learn and share what I learn with others. I recognize the flip sides of my style but I'm definitely going to play to my strengths. And I'm going to do it in an intelligent manner, not just wing it. I'm going to use Wiley's Everything DiSC® to do it.

Let's look at how DiSC can help us understanding ourselves and in turn our leadership styles at a fundamental level. Each of the 4 behaviors has 3 major priorities. 2 of the priorities overlaps and is shared with another behavior.

Saira is a high D or Dominant individual. Her major priority is results which in turn bring in:

  • Her need for action

  • Love for being more efficient

  • Sense of urgency and drive

  • Quick decision-making

I, on the other hand, am a high C, or Conscientious individual. My major priority is accuracy, which along with that comes:

  • my need to challenge to understand better

  • stability, as it gives me assurance that there is prior evidence to make sure I'm accurate

  • attention to detail and high standards

  • objectivity through data

Now those were our strengths. Let's explore the flip sides of overusing the behaviours. Saira mentioned she's a bad listener. Why?

  • High Ds are ambitious and extremely fast paced, which means they want things done yesterday, not tomorrow or today. Excuses are unacceptable

  • With that also comes a fall in attention to detail, D's are rushing for results so the quality of work might suffer

  • Too much focus on an outcome sometimes makes the focus on people go down. Others might get hurt if they're not moving at the same pace

  • Some high D's are like bulls in a china shop!

What about me? As a high C

  • My overuse of accuracy leads straight to obsessive perfectionism (slows everything down)

  • High standards? I can get extremely critical of myself and others. That attention to detail makes me nitpick!

  • Questions, questions, questions. C's are known for the constant questions and skepticism. It might kill creativity and innovation

  • With all the focus on black and white, C's can often forget about the human element and emotions (I think we're a bit robotic. Saira loves to say we're her favourites and C stands for constipated)

It's safe to say that all behaviors bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the table. None is better than the other (though people have their personal preferences). There needs to be a good mix of all these behaviors in any team so the team functions well and nothing suffers. I didn't talk about our high I's or S's, the Influencers or Steady people of the behaviors. Curious to hear about them? I'll get around to writing about them next time, don't worry.

Do you have a mentor or coach you look up to? Do you try to emulate them? What is leadership to you? Let me know your thoughts!

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