business people group at officeWhy do leaders do what they do? I believe that leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions are heavily influenced by three things: their social style or personality type, the culture in which they operate, and their role models (past and present).

Each of these three are powerful, yet we may not be completely aware of how they drive our behavior as leaders.

Our social style is made up of traits we are born with (“wired” preferences) as well as traits we accommodate (“acquired” preferences) through interactions with others, typically in our youth. (Yes, these acquired traits are influenced by role models and the culture we operate in!).

If you’ve taken a DISC assessment or MBTI profile, you get a snapshot of your preferences for that role (DISC) or for your life (MBTI). Our leadership tendencies like driving for results or supporting team members or ignoring conflict or being aggressive with others can be attributed to our social style.

The culture we operate in can guide us – sometimes subtly, sometimes brazenly – to behave in ways we might not otherwise model.

If you were a senior leader at Toshiba in the last five years, the culture might have influenced you to tolerate scandalous accounting practices that inflated the company’s earnings by $1.2 billion. Where an organization’s culture rewards aggressive sales, you might embrace those tactics to earn “your share of the gold” this quarter. If you operate in a values-aligned tribal culture like the WD-40 Company, you share your learning moments (mistakes) willingly so others won’t make the same mistake.

Role models are powerful. If a past boss micromanaged me and I hated it, it is unlikely that I micromanage my team members today. If a past boss yelled to get his or her way, and us team members delivered, it is likely that I will yell when trying to “inspire” my team’s performance. If a past boss held team members accountable – kindly but firmly – for both performance and for citizenship, it is likely that I will do the same, kindly but firmly.

Role models can include our parents, teachers, coaches, professors, friends, enemies, public figures, and presidential candidates.

Effective leaders are able to examine the drivers of their daily “influencing” behaviors and embrace those drivers that help them serve others, exceed shared goals, and live desired values. They invite others to share their perceptions of how well they are leading.

One client described a manager that recently announced the values that he expected his team members to embrace moving forward. His demands were not credible for two big reasons. First, he didn’t include team members in the creation of those values; he simply announced them. Second, this leader does not model the values he was asking others to demonstrate.

As you might guess, the team is frustrated by the leader’s demands. The leader is frustrated by the team’s frustration. It’s not going well.

A recent article on new Denver Broncos football coach Gary Kubiac shed light on his leadership behaviors over time. Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum gave Kubiac his first coaching job in 1992. Slocum said he knew Kubiac would be a head coach before long. Slocum explained, “Players loved him. And he didn’t think he had all the answers. As a head coach, you have the right to be demanding, but you don’t have the right to be demeaning.”

“Gary leads with class.”

Don’t assume you’re an effective leader. Ask for help. Learn others’ perceptions of you. Understand your unique drivers, and refine your efforts to consistently be of service and of grace.

What do you think? How well do you serve others kindly while driving for results? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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