How Images of Leadership that People Have Differ Across the Organization

As a leader, do you ever feel like you aren’t connecting with your team as well as you could be? As a team member, do you ever feel as if the leader is out of touch with your views?

Oftentimes, people believe that these disconnects stem from things such as personality conflicts, lack of communication, being too bossy, or being a bully. But it is entirely likely that the underlying issue is that you have different implicit ideas about how a leader should behave, communicate, and interact. These ideas may be based on deeply held beliefs about what effective leadership actually is.

Not everyone has the same image of how a leader should behave. To some people, a leader is someone who takes charge, while others think of a leader as a facilitator.

If the leader of a group believes that a leader should take charge, while members of the group believe that a leader is a facilitator (and should not take charge), the parties will likely conflict about how the group is run. Similarly, if the leader believes his or her role is to be a facilitator, and the members are expecting a more take charge approach, disagreement and conflict is likely to emerge as well.

Therefore, it is critical to understand what your implicit image of leadership is, and which images of leadership others bring with them to the organization. Understanding your own image of leadership can help you appreciate the diverse perceptions of your colleagues and co-workers.

Images can be instructive for identifying and articulating our assumptions about leadership. They can help clarify what you expect of yourself as a leader – and help you see how differently people may expect leaders to behave.

If you know what images and expectations others have about leadership, you will be able to adjust or tailor your behavior or messages to better meet the needs of different perspectives. You will be able to identify the characteristics of your view that might confuse or bother others, allowing you to more effectively meet your colleagues where they are, which is a critical component of every leader’s job.

Published: January 2014

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