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General Interest Reading

3 Ways to Manage Clashing Leadership Styles

If everyone had the same management style as you, life at work would be easier, wouldn't it? Not necessarily. While managing the tension can be challenging, working with someone who has a different approach than you, can often yield innovation and creativity. Here are three ways to make the most of differing styles:

1. Unpeel the onion.

On the surface, you may seem to have little in common with your coworker. But if you look deeper, you are likely to see shared values or a mutual goal. Focus on what you have in common, not on what you don't.

David Harrison, Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management at Penn State, and his colleagues have studied deep-level diversity and surface-level similarities in teams. Their research found that although surface-level similarities bring people together quickly, it is deep-level similarities that produce greater impact on team performance.

Unpeel the onion and you'll see shared values around the quality of work we deliver, a desire to make a difference in the work we do, and a deep belief in the integrity of one's word and action.

2. Manage your expectations.

Recognize that you and your coworker are going to have different expectations about how things should be done. Communicate about these disparities and be open to doing something another way.

Keep the discourse productive by catching the "on auto-pilot" reactions, pausing (not easy, but the critical step!), and then stepping up to offer something more constructive.

"How much time do you need to let me know your position on this?" "Here's where I am at but would like us to consider these two possible issues."

Keep three things in mind: self-awareness, self-management, and effective communication.

3. Push for innovation.

Instead of focusing on disparities, channel your creative differences toward a shared goal.

The true value of diversity is a richer end product. Use your relationship to find innovation and benefit in the work you do together.

How have personality differences worked for or against you? How have you successfully managed these relationships?

Source: Three Ways to Capitalize on Creative Tension by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins, Harvard Business School


A person's attributes are also their deficiencies. It is critical for managers to understand their strengths and surround themselves with individuals that complement them and not mirror them. Introverts need extraverts, logical thinkers need creative thinkers, etc. This partnerships brings this to light.

Clearly the value from multiple perspectives is enhanced when the perspectives are diverse. But it takes a skilled manager to encourage opposing viewpoints and promote a rich discussion. Too often concern over hierarchy or defensiveness quells the rich discussion possible when multiple bright people approach a decision differently. (One boss I've had used to demand at least three arguments against her point of view before she'd act on it. Other bosses refuse to articulate their opinion until everyone else had spoken.)

A very important piece exploring topics that don't get enough "airtime", with implications that go well beyond teamwork into how leaders make hiring, role definition, and promotion decisions. Do leaders have a clear picture of the collective capabilities required for success? Do they know how to evaluate themselves and their teams? What cultural forces are at play that influence how similar (or diverse) their teams and the larger workforce will look like?

Lots of us (myself included) spend too much time trying to work with people who have the same style because it is easier and more comfortable. While the process may feel smooth, the end result is not nearly as rich.

We all tend to gravitate to people who are most like us, and in business we need people who aren't like us to compliment our styles.
Source: Harvard Business Review

See Also:

Servant Leadership: The Parable of Brother Leo
Another model of leadership, where leaders are preoccupied with serving rather than being followed, with giving rather than getting, with doing rather than demanding. Leadership based on example, not command. This is called servant leadership.

A Brain Scientist Explains Leadership
Neurobiology helps tell us why executives screw up--and what they do to avoid it... When people win, testosterone is released. Repeated wins trigger the dopamine system. This increases creativity and energy, but it also heightens risk-taking and novelty-seeking.

6 Managerial Styles You Need to Lead Effectively
Far too many managers are “one-trick-ponies.” Early in their careers they had success with one management style and now use it regardless of the situation. The result: They lack the skills necessary to handle the complexities of managing people.

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