Fox or hedgehog – which type of leader are you? The 7 characteristics that take leaders from good to great.
In his book ‘good to great’ Jim Collins introduces the hedgehog vs. fox leadership style. Leaders who are foxes pursue various methods to reach a goal but are not unified in their pursuit. Those who are hedgehogs have the ability to take a world of complexity and determine a simple answer towards achieving a focused vision. You can listen to Collins discuss the concept in much more detail in these videos and if you haven’t read the book it’s one of our top 3 Amazing reads.
I’ve worked for some bad, average, good and really great leaders. My reflection is that there are 7 characteristics that in my personal experience have taken leaders into the great category (perhaps unsurprisingly they also seem to be the happiest leaders too):
1. People first. The best leaders understand that their success is reliant on their teams performing so consequently people are the number one priority. They genuinely get to know and care about their teams and invest in their learning and development.
2. Flexible. Great leaders are able to create an environment that allows different types of individuals to flourish. I worked for one particularly notable (and quite young) leader who had a team with a wide variety of experience and motivations. She was able to unite the team by ensuring we were all working towards a common goal and then giving individuals freedom to define how they would contribute to a shared vision. Notably this same leader sent me a bunch of flowers when I accepted a job working in her team -I’ve never forgotten that gesture and from day one I was very motivated to deliver results for her and the team.
3. Continual improvement and spotting opportunities. Leaders need to be able to balance incremental improvement with knowing when to take risks and spot new opportunities. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a few leaders who’ve been happy to take calculated risks – displaying bravery and belief in both new ideas and the people creating & delivering on these ideas. Importantly when some of these ideas ‘fail’ this is recognised as part of the learning process rather than individual failures.
4. Visible. The days of the corner office are over. Leaders are now expected to be accessible to their teams. This ensure leaders stay connected to the day to day work of their teams and prevents an over reliance on hierarchy (which is increasingly important as organisations become flatter).
5. Consistent communication. The most compelling leaders I’ve worked for communicate consistently and in a style that is authentic to them.
6. Thank you. I’ve worked with some very senior people and the ones I admire the most remember to say thank you for a job well done. It’s amazing the impact a simple but specific thank you can have.
7. Feedback. The best leaders are self-aware – they know they don’t need to be amazing at everything. Leaders are often in their positions because they’ve worked out the best way to leverage their existing strengths. However they also view themselves as continually being ‘work in progress’ so will ask for feedback from their teams. I always ask my team for feedback on the one thing I do that helps them in their role the most and the one thing I could do to help them more. It’s a simple but effective way of working out where I’m having the most and least impact.
If you have 10 minutes reflect on the leaders you’ve worked for so far in your career. Think about the characteristics you admire which have led to successful leadership of teams and delivery of business objectives. Then compare & contrast how you’re leading today – what are you doing well and where could you improve?