How to be the leader your team want AND the leader your business needs

Most people, when asked what kind of boss they prefer, have a similar answer. They want us to be responsive to their needs, wants and aspirations, to give them the freedom to do the tasks they want to do, and to support them when they have problems. A warm and generous manager who trusts and promotes them and is sensitive to their personal needs. We’ll call him Mr Nice Guy!

Mr Nice Guy has his peoples’ well being at heart and believes that feelings and attitudes are of utmost importance. He does all the great leadership stuff; walking the floor, holding productive and encouraging meetings and one-to-ones, he is considerate and friendly, trusts his team and allows them to make decisions. There are regular social events within his team, he is truly liked by the team and during a 360 review he receives very high scores from his subordinates.

There is only one spoiler to this picture, by leading in a way that promotes camaraderie and friendship,Mr Nice guy unintentionally de-emphasises productivity. In short, this team doesn’t actually get much done.

Let’s consider another leadership style. Organisations are established to reach the goals of the owners, founders and senior leaders who want their managers to be driven towards task achievement. They want us to focus on decision making and problem solving. We must contribute to the organisational effectiveness by controlling projects, budgets and resources to meet set goals and reach our performance agreements. A power and project focused manager who utilises resources successfully and always has his/her eye on the end game. We can call her The Hard Task Master.

The Hard Task Master is naturally task focused. She makes plans and oversees projects. She is interested in milestones reached. People need to be on task and able to update her at any time on a project status. She believes that the work place should be an emotion free zone – ‘leave that stuff at home’ is her favourite saying. She incites competition between team members to encourage performance and will not hold back sharing disappointment in a team member very publicly. Her team are known to get things done. She heard that some of them go for a post project drink but she doesn’t have time for that, even if they asked her.

One thing does bother the Hard Task Master though. She has a high turnover of team members and sickness within her team. She doesn’t understand why the team doesn’t seem to be as excited as she is when a project is completed on time and on budget and, in a recent 360 feedback review, she received some very concerning feedback about her managerial style.

When it comes 360 reviews and the relationship between leader behaviour and performance ratings, given by supervisors, leaders themselves and the subordinates research shows that often the results do not tally. It depends who provides the ratings and what they are measuring.

This example of Mr Nice Guy and the Hard task Master is extreme, but it highlights the dichotomy between how leaders and managers are encouraged to perform by superiors and subordinates. Of course, it is necessary to maintain both a task and a people focus in our leadership style to meet all of the needs of an organisation and its people.

An invaluable leadership skill is the ability to adjust our focus according to the need of the moment and to be aware of the influence others may be applying. Effective leaders learn that as they drive for results, it is equally important that they build, maintain, and enhance positive relationships.


Jon Aarun Andersen, European Business review, 2009 – Your favourite manager is an organisational disaster.

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