The way we think about ourselves and how others perceive us can be well-aligned or light years apart. This is often the case for managers and leaders, who can believe that they know what they are doing simply because they have been given the job. They can have difficulty recognizing that what they believe about themselves is very different than the experience of their direct reports, and can have a lot of trouble receiving feedback about the negative impact of their leadership behavior. This is particularly true for the Leader Striving Style.

Defining the world through the left rational brain

As this Style functions from the left rational brain – the part of the brain responsible for deciding, defining, sorting and ordering – people with the Leader Striving Style believe that the way they define things is the way things should be. This attribute makes this Style a great fit for any managerial or leadership role, as it comes naturally to them to provide structure, establish objectives, and move people toward achieving outcomes.

The left rational brain is also responsible for creating our self-concept and holding an idea of what we are like, which may or may not be an accurate account of what is true. However, for Leaders, it is absolute truth. “I think, therefore I am” is how they live their lives, infusing them with the confidence, determination and resolve to make things the way they decide they should be. This often includes trying to make direct reports behave the way the Leader Style thinks they should, despite the actual capability of the employee. Leaders don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on their behavior because they have already decided what they themselves are like, and it is generally favourable to them. This means that they are likely to take any sort of feedback or comments about their behavior as information to be argued rather than considered valid. They believe they are a certain type of leader and, therefore, they are.

Telling vs. collaborating...

For example, a Leader Style client of ours, that we will call Ross, believed that he was self-aware, collaborative and a team player. He promoted this idea to his direct reports, telling them that he had an open door policy and that he loved to work together toward goals in a collaborative fashion. While his door was always open, every time an employee came in to discuss an issue or with an idea they had on how to improve how things were done, Ross would be dismissive or act as if he didn’t have the time or patience to talk to them. His idea of collaborating was to tell everyone what they had to do and he accepted no excuses for not meeting his timelines. To him, working on a team meant that his role was the leader and everyone else did what he wanted.

Ross’s direct reports became demotivated. They were intimidated by his critical, questioning approach and became too afraid to ask him questions or say anything to him. They felt he was always questioning their competence and micromanaging them and their work. They were continuously complaining about him and frustrated that they couldn’t do anything about his behavior. While they liked Ross and respected his work, they could not tolerate the situation that he had created. They had to stand by silently while Ross reported to his manager that they were a collaborative, high performance team, when they were actually a repressed, under-functioning team with an autocratic leader.

During the company’s annual 360˚ Feedback Process, the employees decided to be candid in their responses about Ross’s performance and behavior. Unbeknownst to them, Ross’s peers and manager had observed how he actually behaved and did the same thing. When we conducted the debriefing session, Ross could not believe his results. While the comments and ratings were honest, consistent and objective, the poor ratings and overall results shattered his self-concept. Following a range of reactions from Ross over a series of follow-up coaching sessions, which included denial, blame, accusations of others trying to destroy him, threats to quit, anger at his ungrateful employees, our client decided to consider the feedback that his manager, peers and direct reports gave him and use it for his development. He began to see the difference between his approach and that of a truly collaborative leader. Over time, he was able to develop empathy and the ability to see how his behavior fostered dependency on him for every decision, and how it got in the way of his direct reports working to their full potential.

Developing the whole brain...

The Leader Striving Style does extremely well when, like Ross, they chose to listen to feedback and develop the other part of the brain responsible for relating, empathizing and influencing others (right emotional brain). Building the neural pathways between the quadrants of our brain - giving us access to other talents and abilities we need to utilize - only happens through experience. When working with a Leader Style, it is important to make sure that they are actually experimenting with new behaviors, instead of telling you that they know what they need to do and then doing the same thing.

Any activity that helps them experience their “human” side, such as tolerating the emotions of others without judging them; practicing self-reflection techniques, like mindfulness, to check in and see how they are feeling; asking employees or peers about how they come across in meetings, are all ways to keep the Leader develop the ability to use their whole brain. They can also practice active listening skills and consider the ideas and input of others before rejecting or dismissing them. It helps them to practice letting go of the reins and allowing others to lead during team meetings. These are only a few of the types of experiences a Leader needs to have to allow new patterns of behavior to form in their brain while at the same time learning to delay the gratification they get by being in control. In this way, they are able to experience being a part of a team, become more than an idea of who they are, increasing their potential to become who they are meant to be.

Author's Bio: 

Anne and Heather have more than 50 years of combined experience helping clients to develop their full potential and working with leaders in organizations to alleviate dysfunctions and bring about behavioral change. They spent many years using personality and emotional intelligence assessments in their work with individuals as well as organizations.

Frustrated by the limitations of these systems to facilitate self-awareness and expedite development, they began building customized reports for each client. However, the cost to do this was prohibitive for many clients, leaving them and their clients without the tools necessary to create significant behavioral change and develop new habits of mind.

Inspired by Their Desire to Help Clients

Experiences in their own lives as entrepreneurs, parents and spouses served to reinforce Anne and Heather's belief in the need for something that would help people to really understand why they behave the way they do.

In 2007, Anne and Heather decided to create an assessment and development system of their own with the same type of substantial reports they had been customizing for their own clients.

How SSPS Evolved

Using the most up-to-date research on how different parts of the brain function and the role of emotions in learning and development, they combined this information with Psychological Type, Needs and Brain Dominance theories, and Mindfulness to create the Striving Styles Personality System, or SSPS. After using the system successfully in their consulting business and personal lives, Anne and Heather have brought it to a wider practitioner market as well as to the general public.