Photo credit: Andrew Neel, 

What do the leadership styles of Richard Branson and Steve Jobs have in common? If you said ‘absolutely nothing’ you’d be on the right track.

According to most accounts, the styles of Jobs and Branson couldn’t be more different. While Branson is a delegator who mostly leaves his team alone while he concentrates on the big picture, Jobs was a micromanager who was overly brusque and intrusive with his employees. Yet, both of them achieved results in a big way and will be remembered among the greatest leaders of their time.

This contrast creates an interesting question for me around just how important leadership style really is when it comes to achieving great things with your company or your team. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think leadership style is important—especially if you’ve got a bad one. I’m just not sure it takes top spot for most important.

Those with good (or even great) leadership styles may wonder why they still have a revolving door of employees, or why they struggle with building new business or partnerships. They’ve got the right style, right? Why isn’t everything falling in line?

In my experience, those leaders who are missing the mark are lacking one incredibly important factor: self-awareness. Self-awareness is a two-parter. It includes both:

  1. The ability to know yourself and be able to effectively tap into internal and external feedback to make positive changes.
  2. The ability to have a clear understanding of the impact you have on those around you.

Because those who lack self-awareness obviously can’t be very aware of that (or they would be self-aware, right? Sorry – I had to!), we need to look for clues that this might be the problem. According to research done by Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger/Folkman, a strengths-based leadership development firm, there are three big things we can look for:

  • A lack of clarity among employees about the organization’s plans for the future, when the leader feels it is perfectly clear, and that it has been frequently communicated.
  • The seeming contradiction between what the leader says and what employees perceive her to be doing. “We say we want to be customer centric, but you want to nickel and dime the customer for any little request they make.”
  • The apparent contrast between stated values and day-to-day policies, such as, “We want to build a trusting climate where people are empowered,” yet a manager needs to get multiple signatures to make something right for a customer.

When you practice self-awareness, you not only catch on much earlier in a process when something isn’t working, but you also become willing to accept that you might be a big part of the reason. With better developed self-awareness, leaders can:

  • Recognize and influence how feelings and emotions impact their performance, their team’s performance, and ultimately their company’s performance.
  • Tune into their guiding values, which will make things like decision-making, problem solving, and conflict resolution a much faster and less stressful process.
  • Step outside their own perspective and see the big picture in complex situations and relationships to generate solutions.
  • Recognize and act on opportunities quickly and take very little, including setbacks, failures and even successes, personally.
  • Quickly establish trust and maintain strong and long-lived relationships both personally and in their business.

Great leaders not only see potential in others, they’re able to spot opportunity and act quickly and decisively. They’re able to see the big picture and what role they play in it on an everyday basis. When that role is a positive one, they can amplify it. When it’s a negative one, they can be honest with themselves and start finding ways to change how they interact with the situation.

Want to learn more about how to raise your level of self-awareness? Keep an eye out for my next blog where we’ll discuss some effective methods that will take your leadership to the next level!

Trish Cody has over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for global Leadership and Development initiatives with some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies, and has coached senior level leaders and teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives.