Leadership Style and Substance

As leaders, the substance of what we do each day – the results we produce – is important. Of course it is.A fundamental part of the leader’s job to get things done, to create change, and inspire invention. But, setting aside whatwe do and intentionally focusing on the waywe do what we do, can make a significant impact on our overall success.

Leadership style is, in my mind, a bigger concept than the personality traits you bring to the table. We all come with individual traits, strengths, and weaknesses that have an impact on the way we operate as a leader. That’s fine. But, leadership styleis more of an active choice, built upon experience, and born out of lessons learned from failures and successes. It’s about the way others experience our leadership, and the thing people most remember about us.

I think there are four broad buckets to consider when evaluating leadership style: Character, context, clarity, curiosity, and connection. Let’s take a (very) brief look at each.


I don’t know anyone who would say that character isn’t an important part of good leadership. But how is character communicated to others through our words and actions?

For one, character lends consistency and stability to our leadership style. Fundamental aspects of what guides and motivates our decisions, actions, and interactions are rooted in our character. When we recognize this, we can choose to hold our values at the forefront of our minds, making the conscious decision to act in accordance with who we want to be.

For example, when heading into a difficult conversation, reminding yourself to “not take things personally” and be “respectfully assertive”will influence your words and actions. Making these types of conscious choices to choose actions that align with the character we wish to embody, builds a style of leadership firmly rooted in our values.


As your career path leads you into larger leadership roles, your perspective naturally changes. For example, if you’re a CEO, you see much more of the big picture than you did in your first management position. The interesting thing about context is that even when it’s limited, it’s not necessarily wrong. It’s simply your perspective from that particular position in the organization. Therefore, part of leadership style is finding ways to express and communicate that perspective to others in a useful way that broadens the knowledge base of the entire team.


Most organizations need leaders to bring clarity to any given situation about what the most important priorities are. Clarity is especially important in complex situations or when facing decisions with unknown outcomes.

As with context, the larger the leadership role, the greater the need for big-picture clarity. Leaders who are constantly offering new possibilities that run in conflicting directions, or spouting knee-jerk reactions, run the risk of creating a scattered team that lacks strategy as everyone frantically tries to deliver on every whim.


As a leader, others look to you for direction, information, and important decisions. But that doesn’t mean employing a leadership style in which you approach every situation as if you must have all the answers. As Michael Dell puts it, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people, or find a different room.”

Developing a leadership style of curiosity means believing that there is always the potential for a better solution if multiple perspectives are listened to with an open mind. It means asking questions that help others understand issues from different perspectives. It means having a willingness to listen to those with conflicting opinions.


If your career path includes new positions with greater influence, it can become difficult to make meaningful connections with broadening groups of colleagues, networks, and teams. The larger your organization is, and the higher your position within it, the more likely it is that you have people working for you who are layers beneath you. This makes it difficult to exhibit a connected and visible style of leadership.

One simple thing you can do to combat this is to take time for a few minutes of rapport-building at the start of most conversations or meetings. While it’s important to be conscious of everyone’s time, including your own, taking a few minutes to connect on a personal level can make a big difference in how others perceive you. Another simple thing that can make a tremendous difference in your level of connection to others is to consciously decide to make gratitude a part of your leadership style. Making expressions of gratitude a normal part of your interactions with others can create an environment in which connections come easy.

Discovering and developing your leadership style is, of course, the work of a lifetime and cannot be summed up in one blog post or article.It includes the current development of your character and exists within the present context. When expressed with clarity, curiosity, and a desire for connection we can inspire others in a more authentic and impactful way.

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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