What’s your habitual leadership style?

No, this is not another personality test – or at least, not one that’s going to assign you a specific type based on your traits – because at RADA Business, we don’t define leaders in such a prescriptive way. To us, the most important thing you can learn about your leadership style is how to flex it.

As RADA Business tutor Jonathan Lewis explains: “We all have a preference in terms of our leadership style, but the key thing is learning how to move away from your habitual state when necessary. For example, if you’re trying to persuade people to do something, you might want to try and bring them round to your way of thinking – when, actually, a more effective approach could be to think about what they need from you.”

Be self-aware

This is not to say that it isn’t useful to understand what your default leadership style is. Being self-aware, without being self-conscious, is at the root of good leadership.

“If you understand where your confidence comes from – and what your habitual leadership style is – then you can start to anticipate how you’ll react under pressure,” says Jonathan.

It's also important to be aware of how your communication style comes across to your colleagues. As Jonathan says: "if the communication isn’t right, the leadership isn’t right."

So understanding your default style, both in terms of leadership and general communication, is often the first step towards developing the flexibility that will help you make the most out of any situation.

To help you identify your own habitual leadership style, we’ve put together a series of basic questions. There are no right or wrong answers; it’s just about how you would instinctively respond.

Imagine yourself in these six key scenarios...

1. When you’re on holiday, do you:

a) Like to plan an itinerary for each day
b) Prefer to wake up and go with the flow

2. When you are given a task to complete, do you:

a) Plan how you are going to fulfil the task first, before sharing it with your team
b) Identify and consult with your team first, before you create a plan of action

3. When you are listening to someone, for example in a meeting, what state are you most likely to be in?

a) Listen intently to the content, focusing on the speaker before you consider your own reaction
b) Listen actively and engaging physically with what is being said, for example using positive affirmations such as nodding, mirroring, and making noises of agreement

4. If you’re chairing a meeting at work, is your primary goal to:

a) Focus on getting through the content and identify key follow-up actions
b) Allow time for other attendees to talk and create space for collaboration wherever possible

5. Clear communication in the workplace is obviously important, but if you were set a task that asked you to focus on developing your own communication skills, how would you respond?

a) This is fluffy stuff – everyone needs to know what they are doing, but beyond that communication should not be a key focus
b) This is essential – without creating space for people to talk, connect and collaborate, the team’s output could suffer

6. When you are leading a team, delivering a presentation, or otherwise communicating with a larger audience, are you more focused on:

a) Informing, updating and educating your audience so that they go away knowing exactly what their next steps are
b) Getting the emotional tone and content right, so your audience leaves the interaction feeling positive about your leadership

What do your answers show?

If you answered mostly A...

This default leadership style is one that is primarily focused on tasks. It is a mode of leadership that favours deep analysis, thorough planning, and is detail-orientated.

If this is your default leadership state, then by habit you are likely to be a do-er – someone who is highly motivated to get things done, and tries to drive others to do the same. Task-oriented leaders are often great at seeing a particular challenge, and then identifying what needs to be done to achieve the desired outcome. These are invaluable skills in business, whether it is seeing a project through to completion or analysing information.

There are also instances where the habitual response of a task-oriented leader might not be the best way to achieve a favourable outcome. As Jonathan says: “If you're a detailed, task-focused person and you've got people around you who aren’t, then your habitual instinct to provide as much detail as possible could be perceived as micromanaging. So it helps to know what your team’s preferences are. For example, if you ask a very direct question to a person who is not as focused on the details, they might feel put on the spot. And those are the kinds of situations where misunderstandings can occur.”

In instances like this, someone who is habitually task-oriented can learn to flex their leadership style and display a more expressive, outcomes-based approach. As with the example mentioned by Jonathan, pausing to consider what a colleague needs can be useful. In many cases, even just making time to explain the reasoning behind a request can make a huge difference. For individuals who are less detail orientated, and are more expressive and relationship-based, the why is often just as important as the how – so to communicate effectively, details-oriented leaders may need to challenge their habitual response, take a step back, and think about the bigger picture.

If you answered mostly B...

This default leadership style is largely focused on the ultimate vision, and less interested in the specific tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve that vision. This is a type of leader who, by habit, is likely to focus first and foremost on the relationships within their team, and how to best harness those relationships in pursuit of the end goal.

If this is your habitual leadership state, then you are probably expressive and energetic in your attempts to communicate your vision with colleagues. Expressive, relationship-focused leadership can be great for motivating staff. Employees are more likely to feel supported by relationship-focused leadership, and if they feel supported, they are more likely to be engaged and happy at work.

However, there are situations where expressive leadership might not be helpful. As Jonathan says, “if you’re naturally a ‘big picture’ leader with lots of vision, your instinct might be to try and bring people along with you – to capture them with your energy. But if you're in a room full of analysts who want to drill down into the detail, you run the risk of alienating them. In situations like this, your energy and drive might even come across as aggressive. If you only ever focus on the big picture, you’re not speaking their language.”

In such a situation, it can be helpful for an expressive leader to take a step back and challenge that desire to focus exclusively on the vision. Instead, consider what the audience needs to hear at that particular time. If it is necessary to go over details, then be curious and take the time to do so.

We all have a preference in terms of leadership style, but the key thing is learning how to move away from your default state when you’re under pressure.
RADA Business tutor Jonathan Lewis

The performance of leadership

When we look again at the scenarios above, it’s easy to see that each calls for a slightly different approach – and, in both cases, that approach should be driven by what the audience needs.

This is what we mean by flexing your style. “Under pressure we tend to do more of our own preferred style” Jonathan says. And yet, being an adaptable, flexible leader is more likely to generate a positive outcome. So it is not about which type of leadership is right or wrong, it’s about recognising what works best in any given situation.

Whatever your habitual leadership style is, challenging it might mean tapping into skills that do not feel natural – but with practice it becomes easier to flex, depending on what kind of performance is required.

Because, as Jonathan says, “performance is an aspect of leadership.” This is true for every type of leader. And as performers are trained to be adaptable and reactive, the same skills can also be useful for leaders.

Jonathan has one final suggestion, and that’s to rehearse. “Every conversation that matters to you could be rehearsed. Spend 10 minutes practicing with a colleague, and you’ll learn even more about your own habitual style and how to treat that particular situation.”

After all, performers learn how to exhibit different styles by rehearsing scenarios. Why should leaders be any different?