Business leadership lessons from Silicon Valley's finest

11 August 2015 Kieron Johnson

Just as every ship needs a captain, every business needs a leader. And, like captains, business leaders often have to steer their rank and file through treacherous waters, although the path they take to safety varies from one leadership style to the next. We look at a selection of leadership styles topped off with some advice thrown in by Silicon Valley’s elite. Time to play Follow the Leader.

There’s no ‘golden’ style of leadership, which will propel your business to new heights, but there are some executive faux pas that you should be aware of and do your utmost to avoid.

What happens when crisis strikes? Are you most likely to be focused on:

  • Ideas?
  • Strategy?
  • Empathy?
  • Efficiency?

Who are you? All will be revealed…

Who is the leader in you?

Executive coach, Wendy Capland, has tested thousands of executives – in small and large businesses alike – and split them into four types of leader: envisioner, analyser, feeler and doer.

Here’s a quick rundown. See if you recognise any of them.

1.Envisioner

An ‘envisioner’ takes the aerial view.

They’re good at seeing the big picture, projecting into the future and coming up with new and ingenious ways of thinking about (and solving) problems.

They’re happiest mapping out the grand plan, leaving the detail and execution to the troops on the ground.

Why envisioners get the thumbs up

  • They excel at business philosophy.
  • They’re hard to beat when it comes to thinking about the long-term.

Why envisioners get the thumbs down

  • Clarity isn’t their strong suit (they’re notoriously difficult to pin down).
  • They can be a bit ‘pie-in-the-sky.’
  • They tend to talk too much and not listen enough.

2.Analyser

An analyser likes order.

They’re methodical, fact-focused and take great pleasure in solving problems and getting things organised.

Why analysers get the thumbs up

  • Logic and order are their forté.
  • Prowess in data management.

Why analysers get the thumbs down

They’re known to be cynical, unduly cautious and risk-averse.

They tend to be too slow to reach decisions.

3.Feeler

A ‘feeler’ is people-oriented with a passion for relationship-building, which is their number one priority. They have no room for formality.

Why feelers get the thumbs up

  • Perception, intuition and empathy are their stand-out traits.
  • Spontaneity is one of their trademarks.

Why feelers get the thumbs down

  • They’re often nostalgic and impulsive.
  • They’re unduly concerned with how others perceive them.

4.Doer

A ‘doer’ just wants to get the job done, plain and simple.

Why doers get the thumbs up

  • High-octane.
  • Results-driven.
  • Decisive.
  • Outspoken.
  • Kings and queens of multi-tasking.

Why doers get the thumbs down

  • Overbearing.
  • Short-sighted.

Executive no-no’s

While no style of leadership guarantees executive success, there are some wrong turns that you’ll definitely want to avoid regardless of your leadership style.

Here’s a couple from Silicon Valley (and one thrown in from Old Blighty).

1.Shooting first, then asking questions later

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Although business can be cut throat at times, successful execs recognise that it isn’t the Wild West – they don’t have the privilege of reacting impulsively.

They put their best foot forward to try to understand the situation in front of them and fully explore their options before reacting. They don’t act rashly.

Enter AOL CEO and chairman, Tim Armstrong.

A couple of years ago, Armstrong lost his temper and fired his creative director, Abel Lenz, during a conference call to 1,000 employees. Lenz had been videotaping the call against Armstrong’s wishes.

However, during the call, Armstrong had specifically said: “I don’t care what the press says. I don’t care if people leak information.” Even if this wasn’t an explicit invitation to his staff to make the call public, it certainly wasn’t a prohibition on recording the call.

Although Armstrong subsequently issued an apology to Lenz and his staff, media outlets roundly condemned him for the public firing. (Armstrong did not retract the firing.)

2.Leaving the Board out of the boat

Corporate boards are there for a reason but, oftentimes, CEOs only consult them when disaster strikes.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, only alerted his board to his plan to buy photo-sharing service, Instagram, the day before the $1bn acquisition was announced to the world.

According to an insider, the board “was told, not consulted.”

Whilst Zuckerberg’s 57% voting rights afford him the freedom to act quickly and independently of his board if he pleases (which is a huge plus in the era of online services, where competitive threats can emerge at breakneck speed), corporate boards are there to provide caution to a CEO and harness their enthusiasm when necessary. After all, they’re the last line of defence for minority shareholders.

Although disaster didn’t strike on that occasion, it very well could have.

3.Making private thoughts public

Here’s a tip from this side of the Pond.

Cast your mind back to 1991.

In one fell swoop, Ratners CEO Gerald Ratner wiped £500m off the value of Ratners jewellers with a speech that would subsequently label similar gaffes as “doing a Ratner.”

“We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, ‘because it’s total crap.’”

He added that his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich, but probably wouldn’t last as long.”

Famous last words? No, Ratners is back – but online only.

The aim of this article isn’t to try to change your leadership style.

Whatever style you have can work wonders for your business and, in any case, you probably couldn’t change it even if you tried.

The idea is to recognise your own leadership style and the styles of the people you work with (and want to work with), making your leadership more effective all around – avoiding costly mistakes along the way.

Whatever you do, don’t “do a Ratner.”