5 Steps To Improve Your Leadership Style

What happens when your once-successful methods and strategies no longer work? Let it go.

5 Steps To Improve Your Leadership Style
[Photo: via Shutterstock]

In my 15 years of executive coaching and running leadership development programs, I’ve worked with thousands of leaders charged with getting different results.


A number of scenarios can drive the demand for new results. How many of these apply to you?

  • You’ve been recently promoted.
  • You’re in the same job you were in a year ago, but the scope is a lot bigger today than it was then.
  • You’re working in an organization where the performance bar has been raised dramatically.
  • You’re operating in a constantly changing competitive environment.

Based on my experience, I’ll bet that you could check two, three, or even all four of those boxes. Most leaders check more than one. What they all have in common is that, when you’re in those situations, you have to get different results. Of course, it logically follows when you have to get different results, you have to take different actions. Otherwise, you end up living out that well-known definition of insanity.

Sure, you’ll be bringing strengths to the table that will help you achieve those new results. You might have to dial those strengths up or down depending on what you’re trying to do, but they’re assets you have and you should definitely use them.

But when you have to get new and different results, you can’t just rely exclusively on your existing strengths. You usually have to pick up some new skills and behaviors to accomplish what you’re expected to do. You also typically need to let go of some skills and behaviors that used to serve you, but are no longer the best use of your time and attention.

Which Is Harder To Do–Picking Up Or Letting Go?

If you’re like 98% of the leaders I work with, your answer is letting go. Why is that? Picking up is usually a cognitive exercise. It involves learning how to do something new. Most successful professionals flourish because they’re very good at picking up new skills.


Letting go, on the other hand, is more of an emotional experience. It plays out as: “I’m not comfortable turning that over to my team,” or “I’m skeptical that it will get done correctly if I’m not involved,” or “I’m nervous about letting go of control.”

What’s the underlying emotion in any of those statements? It’s fear–of not being needed, of finding a new path, and above all, of failure. To succeed at your next level, you have to mitigate and overcome your fear of letting go.

Here are five actionable strategies for doing that:

1. Get Clear

The only way you’re going to create the space to pick up the stuff you need to do to get new results is to get clear about what you’re going to let go of to create the space. Getting clear on how letting go is vital to creating new results, and can help build the confidence and momentum needed to let it go.

2. Do Some Homework

The good news is that you’re not the first person to have to let go of behaviors that used to work for you. Do some homework on how to make the transition by asking some colleagues you respect and trust how they’ve let go of doing some of the things you know you need to let go of, too.


3. Start Small

Don’t try to solve 100% right out of the gate. Look for small, limited experiments where you can let go without going all-in on everything. For instance, if you need to let go of checking and redoing your team’s work, pick one project where you’re not going to do that. If that goes well, you’ll have some data points and experience that will enable you to let go of more.

4. Use Guardrails

Letting go with your team doesn’t mean that you have to set it and forget it. Establish and use some guardrails about when and how you’ll check in along the way. Knowing that you’re still going to be in the loop will reduce your fear of letting go.

5. Look Back

If you reflect on your history, you’ll recognize the times when you’ve let go of behaviors that once served you well, and corrected ones that held you back. The cool thing about that is here you are. You worked through the process of letting go and went on to bigger things.

In this case, past performance is a predictor of future performance. Take comfort in your track record of successfully letting go when you needed to.