"What's your management style?" is a classic job interview question most people come across as soon as they start supervising others. In response, job seekers dutifully come up with some vaguely flattering and self-descriptive answer that they tweak slightly depending on what they think a particular interviewer wants to hear.

That might help you get the gig, but it doesn't actually involve much soul searching about the true answer to the question. And if Joanna Lord, CMO of ClassPass, is to be believed, many professionals give surprisingly little thought to their actual leadership style - even after they rise to the executive level.

Too few executives know their leadership style.

"I've been doing a lot of phone screens for open roles at ClassPass and inevitably for the more senior roles the conversation turns to leadership styles," she writes in an interesting recent Medium post. Almost always, she goes on to report, these candidates answer this question with something like: "Oh great question, I guess I haven't really thought about it. I know I am not a micromanager and I believe in empowering my teams to do great work."

Or, in essence, the same bland BS we all spit out earlier in our careers. Lord thinks leaders (or would-be leaders) need to do better, pondering way more deeply their approach to management, as well as the pros and cons of their style.

A good place to start.

How should they do that? Lord recommends rising leaders familiarize themselves with leadership expert and author Mark Murphy's four leadership styles. As I'd personally never heard of them, I dug up a Forbes article by Murphy outlining these four fundamental approaches to leadership. In it, he gives detailed descriptions of each style, which are well worth reading in full, but here is the essence of each style.

  • Pragmatist: The rarest type of leaders, pragmatists "have high standards, and they expect themselves, and their employees, to meet those standards. Pragmatists are driven, competitive, and they value hitting their goals above all else. They can be bold thinkers, unafraid of taking the road less travelled (even when others struggle or feel anxious)," according to Murphy. Jeff Bezos is a prominent example.
  • Idealist: "Idealists are high-energy achievers who believe in the positive potential of everyone around them. Idealists want to learn and grow, and they want everyone else on the team to do the same. They're often charismatic, drawing others to them with their intuition and idealism. They're open-minded and prize creativity from themselves and others." Think Tony Hsieh of Zappos. Around one-in-five execs embodies this style.
  • Steward: "Stewards are the rocks of organizations. They're dependable, loyal and helpful, and they provide a stabilizing and calming force for their employees. Stewards value rules, process and cooperation." Again, this type makes up about 20 percent of leaders. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, is one.
  • Diplomat: The most common of the leadership types, diplomats like Sheryl Sandberg "prize interpersonal harmony. They are the social glue and affiliative force that keeps groups together. Diplomats are kind, social, and giving, and typically build deep personal bonds with their employees."

As Lord and common sense both suggest, each of these fundamental styles comes with advantages and disadvantages. Getting the most out of these strengths and minimizing these weaknesses, though, depends on having a good grasp of the reality of your leadership style. That's why it pays to spend some time considering which type you most resemble.

Which leadership style sounds most like you?

Published on: Dec 7, 2016