“Mastering both wartime and peacetime skill sets means understanding the many rules of management and knowing when to follow them and when to violate them”
- Horowitz, B. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Innovation stands at the core of digital evolution. And if you want to be an effective leader in this space, you need to innovate your leadership style to keep up with a rapidly changing environment. Over the past twenty years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a transformational leader from hands-on experience across start-ups, boardrooms, sports fields, and as a first responder on the frontlines of emergencies.
We all have our “comfort zones” as leaders, but in the digital realm where bytes meet branding, a singular approach is not going to cut it. You need to embrace an arsenal of different styles and know when to switch between them. Here’s my guide for wielding different leadership styles in various scenarios:
- Digital Maven's Directive: The autocratic leadership style is your ace-in-the-hole for making quick decisions in the digital arena. Imagine it as swiftly adapting your SEO strategy to stay ahead of the game. While an autocratic approach may seem to fly in the face of an innovative culture, don’t shy away from using it to make fast and effective decisions in your area of expertise.
- Collaborative Campaign: Just like a successful ad campaign involves input from multiple minds, a democratic approach can work wonders in the right situation. This is about encouraging team discussions, aligning marketing tactics, and ensuring a diverse range of voices are heard. It's akin to designing a social media strategy where everyone's input counts.
- Solution-Focused Sentinel: As a digital strategist, your strength lies in finding solutions. This can be applied to a ‘servant leader’ approach which is all about supporting your team's needs. Think of it like the behind-the-scenes work that goes into crafting a website that delivers a flawless user experience.
- Innovation Instigator: For digital marketers and strategists, sparking creativity is non-negotiable. Much like crafting engaging content, use a transformational leadership style to set visionary goals and ignite your team's passion. Drive innovation like you're launching the next big app!
- Freedom for Fusion: Just as digital experts thrive with space to innovate, marketers flourish when they have creative liberty. Adopting a laissez-faire leadership approach shows your team that you trust their expertise. It's like launching a campaign – you provide the initial concept, and then you let your bright sparks do the rest.
Understanding the adaptability and strategic utility of these different styles, empowers digital leaders to navigate diverse scenarios with finesse. When we recognise leadership styles as potent tools, rather than fixed traits we can use them to shift gears, to overcome challenges and inspire our teams to drive innovation. (If you’d like more on this topic, I’d recommend Daniel Coyle’s fantastic book, The Culture Code.) As the leadership landscape continues to evolve, the capacity to create a dynamic toolkit of different styles will be an essential skill for anyone wanting to lead with impact and success.