Here is an excerpt from an article written by Li Xin Bai for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
* * *
Consider the following findings from the Hay Group:
Research conducted worldwide shows that leadership contributes to 70% of corporate atmosphere, while corporate atmosphere contributes to 30% of corporate performance. Therefore, leadership can exert direct influence on 21% of corporate performance.
In Chinese companies, 19.1% of the managers are found to be high-performance leaders, 9.8% inspiring leaders, 13.4% leaders who create no obvious value, and 57.7% leaders who actually discourage their employees. That is to say, 70% of the managers either don’t help or discourage their people.
The first conclusion reinforces that leadership does have a significant impact on organizational performance. But the second conclusion tells us that leadership development in Chinese companies really has a long way to go.
As a follower, we may not be able to change our leader’s style. But we can help solve the problem by adjusting our own work style. Based on my experience — meeting with two or three CEOs a week for the past five years — I have come to think of leaders as falling into one of three categories. Being able to categorize which type of leader I’m working with has helped me figure out how to work most effectively with them.
Sun-like leaders. The quintessential sun-like leader is an entrepreneur, one who takes the lead in everything,
just as the sun illuminates everything. Their subordinates get close supervision. These hands-on leaders sometimes feel like if they’re not involved, they’ve lost control — as their follower, you need to be aware of this sense of insecurity.
When working with such a leader, be sympathetic. Include him in work where he can demonstrate his ability — he wants to be useful, so give him something to do! Invite him to get involved — he will do so anyway, and bringing him in increases the odds that he’ll support your work. Make your own job easier by leveraging his experience and his insights with customers and others.
Moon-like leaders. The moon reflects the light of the sun; a moon-like leader reflects the light of his employees. He is more open-minded and trusting of his people. Only when you lose your way — just like someone walking a dark road at night — would he step forward to shed light on what he thinks you should do. This kind of leadership gives employees room for development. However, trust between the follower and the leader does require timely maintenance; when the leader does step forward, be willing to answer questions and open your project up for inspection.
Star-like leaders. Leaders of this type will only indicate a direction, like the North Star. Their teams, however, still need a light source, so star-like leaders need followers who can step up and light the way for others. Only those leaders with great wisdom have the confidence to be star-like. Their empowerment shows high recognition for your capabilities. This kind of leadership only works when the leader has built a capable team that can function with minimal supervision. As a follower to this kind of leader, you’ve got a great platform, but you have to demonstrate that you deserve the trust you’ve been given.
In reality, each of us is both leader and follower. As a leader, review your behaviors and words from the perspective of a follower; as a follower, ask yourself how you can work more effectively with your leaders. Imposing high standards in both roles will improve performance for all.
* * *
Li Xin Bai is a Senior Strategy Consultant for IBM in China.