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Stop wasting your time on these four popular leadership styles

Being an authentic leader and focusing on your strengths may sound like good ideas, but latching onto popular ideas isn’t always the best thing to do.

Stop wasting your time on these four popular leadership styles
[Photo: Ian Stauffer/Unsplash]

If there’s a time-saving trick for getting what you want, most of us will be willing to try it. Unfortunately, a lot of the hacks that are intended to make us better leaders simply waste our time, says Marc Effron, author of 8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest).

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“Anything that sounds too easy likely is and will sap your productivity by delivering nothing in return for your efforts,” he says.

Leadership fads often start with a legitimate author—someone backed by Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton, for example—and an enticing idea, such as feeling more powerful or authentic, says Effron.

“Most fads aren’t helpful,” he says. “In fact, they’re harmful in that they waste your time and others’. If you’re sitting in a leadership position where you’re recommending a fad, it can also damage your reputation.”

Don’t let your hard work be derailed by the latest trend. Before you experiment with your career and change your work style, beware of these four fads Effron recommends avoiding:

Being an “authentic” leader

The idea that you should be an authentic leader sounds logical; who would want to be an inauthentic leader? The concept was made popular with the book Authentic Leadership, and encouraged leaders to be more open, self-aware, and genuine.

“The challenge is that a lot of people believe when they say, ‘Be an authentic leader,’ it means you can be whoever you think you should be,” he says. “Conclusive science has found that we need to adapt ourselves as effective leaders to what other people need. What I do shouldn’t be based on how special I am—that might be the wrong me needed at that moment. Understand if what people need from you in a situation is different from the genuine you, do your best to perform in that way.”

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Focusing on your strengths

You’ll be more successful if you focus on what you’re good at is the premise behind Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, and almost 19 million people have taken the assessment. Unfortunately, there’s no independent scientific proof that says that focusing on strengths causes you to develop faster or be more successful, says Effron.

“There is research that shows that the behaviors we need to succeed as we move up in an organization change, so today’s strengths may be irrelevant tomorrow,” he says. “More importantly, if you only focus on your strengths, your career will plateau. Focusing on your strengths will help you be better at the exact same things you’re good at today, but won’t help you be good at anything else.”

Developing “true grit”

Another popular book encourages leaders to develop true grit—perseverance and passion for long-term goals. The challenge is that grit, from a scientific standout, is hard-wired into your personality, says Effron.

“We all have a ‘fixed 50’—50 things we can’t change about ourselves,” he says. “This includes your intelligence, personality, upbringing, and socioeconomic background. We also have a ‘flexible 50,’ things we can do something about. Grit falls squarely into our fixed 50. It’s a relabeling of being conscientious, which involves working harder and being well organized.”

While grit is a wonderful trait, some of us start three or four steps ahead because we’re naturally wired that way, says Effron. “We can become a little more gritty, but if you’re not naturally wired to do that, it takes a lot of effort,” he says. “The challenge with the grit fad is that it announces the trait as if it’s new, special, and just discovered. It’s been proven to be old wine in a new bottle.”

Striking a power pose

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about body language has more than 48 million views. She suggests that if you stand in a more aggressive posture, you’ll get a boost of testosterone and feel more powerful and risk tolerant.

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“It’s enticing, isn’t it?” asks Effron. “You can be more effective and less fearful in front of groups, and all you have to do is stand this way. It’s an easy solution and no surprise that people who aren’t psychologists would try it.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, he continues: “That sounds cool, but it’s 100% untrue, according to one of the article’s coauthors, who came clean about the experiment, and to other scientists who tried and failed to replicate the original research,” he says. “Just stand any way you want to—it doesn’t matter.”

How to evaluate the next leadership trend

More good and bad leadership trends are sure to come along, and Effron says you should look for three levels of proof when deciding how to spend your time.

First, is it researched? he asks. “If a consulting firm did a study, came to a conclusion, and published it, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong; it means that nobody else has looked at it yet,” he says.

Science means someone has done a carefully constructed experiment that was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, letting us read the details and make up our minds. “Most fads go through the science part,” says Effron.

Conclusive science, however, is when the same experiment is done 100 times with similar results. “This is the belt and suspenders level of confidence,” says Effron. “Not everything gets to that level. If you’re making decisions about your own career or someone else’s career, you should require a high level of proof.”

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Good leadership techniques involve setting big goals, networking, and excelling through experiences,” says Effron. “We know this works but it might not be easy. You might try fads and maybe get a placebo affect that benefits you. Maybe you won’t become a higher performer, but you might enjoy doing something new. You’ll likely waste your time, though, and that’s time you’ll never get back for trying techniques that work.”

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