What’s my leadership style?

3 people high fashion clothing


We are constantly bombarded by images of the rich and famous exuding style. As I’m writing this, your social media feeds and news websites are awash with the photographs of the great and the good attending the annual Met Gala fundraising fashion event in Manhattan. Many commentators will hail this as the epitome of style. “Fabulous!” “Extraordinary!” “Daring!” But there are also detractors. “Ridiculous!” “Decadent!” “The Emperor’s new clothes!”

Why does style matter? Why does it provoke such reactions? And, more to the point, what’s this got to do with medical leadership?

We’ll come back to these questions shortly, after a short diversion into the world of politics.


A few days before the magical/preposterous Met Gala, (delete as appropriate), our weekend news was filled with politicians conducting the post-mortem/celebrating the latest round of election results, (delete as appropriate). One thing that they generally had in common was a desire to demonstrate that they had the upper hand. They want to show that they, rather than their opponents were the answer to the current challenges. A highlight/low-point, (delete as appropriate) came when one high profile interviewee dismissed a candidate for high office as being unsuitable for the role because they have “the charisma of a peanut!”

Why does charisma matter? How do you get it? What is it anyway? And – again – what’s this got to do with medical leadership?

On our various medical leadership courses, we often hear comments like “I want to develop my leadership style,” and, “I wish I had charisma.”

A question of style

When it comes to taking the lead and getting something done, we have choices in how we go about it. This idea of behavioural choice is well established in our language. “Different strokes for different folks.” “Each to their own.” “There are many ways to skin a cat!” But our choices are not always evident to us.

We inevitably learn from the leaders that we have worked with in the past. When it comes to leadership style, they are, in many ways, like the uber-celebrities on the Met Gala red carpet. We recall some unbelievable catastrophes and are pretty certain what behavioural choices we want to avoid. At the same time, we look back fondly on other leaders with admiration and aspire to copy their style. So, quite rightly, we intelligently try to approach leading people in the same way that they did.

However, our awareness is limited by our experience. Going back to common phrases, “All roads lead to Rome,” suggests you’ll get where you want to no matter what choice you make. Is that actually true? The fashionista’s don’t always dress the way that they do on the red carpet. They choose their style to suit the occassion. Sometimes that’s expensive couture. At other times, it’s a t-shirt and jeans. Good leadership requires adapting and using different styles in different situations.

“If all you’ve ever had is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail,” is a useful reminder that there may be ways to get things done that are beyond our experience or awareness. We’re not always aware of the range of “tools” or leadership styles that are available to us.

In clothing, we know that some people wear styles that we can’t imagine ourselves in. At other times we see new things we’d like to try – and we don’t always know what suits us best! So, it helps to step out of the bubble of our personal mindset from time to time and explore the possibilities.

Isn’t this focus on style a bit shallow?

Potentially, yes!

“Style” has many definitions – many of them related to appearance. If your leadership style choices are all about how things look, then – yes – that’s too shallow. And that’s a mistake many people make, particularly when seeking the intangible magic ingredient called “charisma.”

Leadership is about making things happen. When the focus is all about style, how things look and personality it’s unlikely to result in any sustainable change.

Style and substance

If we consider charisma as the “ability to gain and maintain people’s attention,” then that part becomes easier to grasp. We gain and maintain attention when we engage people in an idea that matters to them in a way that matters to them. Having a focus on what matters and what needs to change provides leadership substance. The choice is then: which leadership style to adopt to match the specific situation?

Leadership style and substance is a powerful combination.

What steps are you taking to ensure you keep your leadership fresh?

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director