How well do you know yourself?

leadershipJamie Morley discusses the different leadership styles and the importance of knowing your own strengths and weaknesses.

When I interact with dentists, orthodontists, practice managers or lead nurses I often find that they want to talk about what to do with their practice, business or team. The starting point for this is looking at yourself. Why?

The fact is that your presence alone as a leader impacts the team or practice that you are leading. As frightening as it might seem, everything you do impacts the people around you. And therefore the output and results of your team.

This is a responsibility that I sometimes think leaders don’t want to acknowledge. Or perhaps they believe that they don’t care.

Sometimes people will say: ‘Well that is me and I am not changing.’

I think this is an excuse for the fact that people don’t take the time and effort to understand themselves, and to truly recognise what they are good at as well as the things we are not so good at. Perhaps we don’t want to go there for fear of what it might reveal.

Sometimes the reason for this is because we are scared to admit that we are doing it wrong. Admitting we are wrong and making mistakes is something that leaders are not always prepared to do. They often see it as failure. It also goes against the often quoted need for a leader to be ‘strong’.

Time for self exploration

We all have our weaknesses. We all have our strengths. Understanding and accepting who we are currently allows us to move forward and change as we want to.

We can look to maximise our strengths. Then we look at the areas we are bad at and bring them up to good enough levels that they don’t hold us and the team back.

You can decide not to do anything about it or to do something about it. But the important thing is to have an accurate understanding yourself, being truly honest with yourself and exploring the impact this has on the people around you.

Don’t carry on doing it ‘your way’ without being really honest. Do some self-exploration and honestly recognise the impact this has on the people around you.

This is a never ending journey that is hard and takes time and effort. But there are significant rewards that come from it in terms of the people and business you lead.

It is also immensely fulfilling and improves your level of inner confidence and therefore performance.

Difficult conversations

Personally, I went through a pretty long journey on this front. For me it was on having difficult conversations with people.

In the beginning I didn’t really have an awareness that this was even a problem. I was really in denial for quite a while and got quite angry and frustrated when people were telling me about the fact that this was holding back my team and performance.

I then got down about it before eventually getting off my back side and starting to experiment.

Part of what enabled me to do this is understanding that this doesn’t mean I cannot do this as a person. I can change and be a leader that has this in my armoury.

Also, it doesn’t change the core of who I am as a person but it allows me to adapt in certain situations where it is required.

This is something that will always be an ongoing work in progress for me. At the same time, I came to realise that when I did pluck up the courage to have the conversations, I was actually quite good at them. I have a natural level of empathy in how to do them. Unlike somebody who is happy to regularly have difficult conversations, but can forget the need for empathy and understanding.

Our greatest strengths in extreme measures can also become our greatest weaknesses.

Strengths and weaknesses

The key is recognising the time and the place when you have to adapt and go outside of your natural comfort zone, style and strengths. If you cannot truly recognise and be aware of your strengths and weaknesses then you cannot go about adapting appropriately.

Looking at your strengths and weaknesses from a technical skills point of view is valid, but for me is the easy option. What we are talking about here is your strengths and weaknesses from a behaviour point of view.

There are many tools out there to really help with this. These include using a coach, personality profiling, 360 feedback and simply being open to, accepting and encouraging feedback from your team.

When that happens you must listen and become genuinely curious.

Be honest with yourself

How do these behaviours specifically relate to leadership? What is your leadership style? How do you influence, motivate and inspire the people around you?

There are many different known ways in which people have looked at this. One of the most common is based on an article by Daniel Goleman in Harvard Business Review in 2000 called Leadership That Gets Results. He states that there are six different styles of leadership:

  • Coercive – do what I say
  • Authoritative – ‘come with me’ approach, which states the overall goal but gives people the freedom to choose their own means of achieving it
  • Affiliative – people come first attitude with a focus on building harmonious teams
  • Democratic – gives team members a voice in decisions
  • Pacesetting – sets high performance standards and exemplifies them themselves
  • Coaching – focuses on the personal development of team members.

Which of these styles do you use most frequently?

Leadership style

In the research Goleman speaks about the impact the leadership has on the climate of the team.

The following shows the different impact of the styles in terms of different attributes of the overall team they were leading and then an overall score:

You can see the positive impact of authoritative, affiliative and coaching styles, all quite close together. Versus the negative impact of the coercive and pacesetting styles.

That said, the research shows that no one leadership style should be relied on exclusively. All have at least short-term uses.

The research from this paper and many others shows that the most effective leaders are those who employ multiple different styles. Specifically four of the six are the most successful. The ability to employ these different styles in the right situation requires significant skill.

In my experience we all lean to one specific style primarily that sits most comfortably with our personality. This comes naturally to us. As a result it is relatively easy to do.

What elements of your personality lend themselves to one of these particular styles? What would you say is your primary leadership style?

As an example, part of your personality may be very friendly and compassionate. Do you tend to use the affiliative style a high percentage of the time?

Or perhaps part of your style is being very efficient and organised. Are you more coercive a high percentage of the time?

Be honest with yourself. You may not like the descriptor of the style, such as coercive. But do you tend to tell people what to do? In which case, that is more of a coercive style by Goleman’s definition.

Identifying your style

Identifying and doing your ‘natural’ style is the easy bit. However, it is clear from this paper and other research that the most effective leaders adapt their style to different situations.

Goleman’s paper specifically noted that leaders who effectively employed four of the six different styles were by far the highest performing.

So, however you look at the different styles, the key is to remain agile and adaptable in how you use those styles.

What other styles do you employ currently? What other styles could you employ more often? In what situations are the other styles more appropriate and how can you actually go about employing those styles?

This is potentially quite a daunting prospect to become effective in multiple different styles. As well as to know when to use them and in what measure. But the payoff in terms of motivating, influencing and inspiring your team really leads to results.


Jamie Morley is the author of Lead Your Dental Practice available at bit.ly/leadyourdentalpracticeamazon.

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