Altitude: Challenging My Personal Style

A few weeks ago, I attended PwC’s residential leadership programme for senior associates, Altitude. It’s a programme that brings together hundreds of PwC people from across Europe, from auditors to consultants, tax professionals to data specialists, and everyone in between. Over three days in sunny Cyprus (I know, it sounds terrible, right?), I learnt about my own leadership style, how to be resilient under pressure, and how to recognise my own values and protect them in my everyday life — at work and at home.

This article is, first and foremost, a reflective one. That said, I wanted to share it more widely so that you can understand more about my leadership style and values for when we work together, and also in the hope that it makes you question your own style and values.

Leadership

At its core, leadership is about having a vision, communicating a plan, involving others, adapting where necessary, and being assertive where required. While I’ve always been subconsciously aware of different leadership styles, at Altitude we spent time talking about Goleman’s six styles of leadership: affiliative, democratic, coaching, visionary, commanding, and pacesetting. Personally, I don’t believe that you can sit in one camp alone. I also recognise that you can move around the leadership styles depending on the situation you’re in.

Personally, when I first read about the leadership styles, I was immediately drawn towards the coaching and democratic styles as the ones I aspire towards. At work, I always take an interest in coaching others and prefer leaders who build consensus through participation.

This said I know that I don’t actually fit these camps at all. Recently, I’ve had some fantastic opportunities to manage and lead international teams for one of our largest client projects in Scotland. It’s work that has really stretched me as an individual, where I’ve been encouraged to fill shoes normally occupied by those a few grades senior to me. In doing so, however, I’ve found myself at the complete opposite end of the leadership spectrum, setting the pace (by demanding excellence in a way that suits me) and often commanding tasks rather than opening things up for discussion. We’ve often reached the expected outcome, but it hasn’t always been a pleasant or calm experience. Not good.

So, what can I do about this? I recently spent some time with my team and we took some time out to discuss how we’d do things differently if faced by the same situation again, and what we could do to improve things in the immediate future. It was a really inspiring session, and at times quite challenging too. The key is to take small steps towards a common goal and to measure ourselves against them and give honest feedback to one another. We won’t always succeed, but we’re more likely to succeed with smaller steps than by attempting a giant leap.

Values

For me, the most powerful session was on our values as individuals. For this session, we were presented with a set of cards with a variety of common personal and professional values on them (here are some examples) and asked to pick our top ten. Having picked ten — which is not an easy task, I might add — we were then asked to whittle down the list again to our top five. Here are my top five values, and why I picked them.

  1. Family — I am at my most relaxed when with my family and closest friends (whom I count as part of my family). Making time to spend with them is always a priority, as is putting in the effort to cross the North Sea to see them.
  2. Independence — I am most productive when I have goals and objectives but am left to my own devices to determine how to accomplish them, what to prioritise, and where to work (remote working is important to me, as I’m most productive in my own space).
  3. Excellence — I’m not a perfectionist, but do strive to produce work of the highest quality (writing included). I also strive for excellence in teamwork.
  4. Personal Accomplishment — For me, this value is all about learning and reaching for the next step up. That might be undertaking certifications or qualifications, or taking on a role a grade or two above my position and striving for excellence.
  5. Wealth — Work-life balance is important to me, and being able to live a comfortable lifestyle and make the most of my time off is where this value comes from. It isn’t about having lots of money; rather, it is about having enough (through saving and budgeting) to do the things Eve and I would like to do.

But this exercise was not about prioritising our values and explaining choices. The key is to be able to assess how well we embody these values and where we can improve. Here are my values again, and this time I’ve assessed how I feel I’m doing against each of them and what I’m going to do to improve.

  1. Family — This year has been a good one, with plenty of trips to catch-up with family and friends. With our wedding on the horizon in 2019, next year should be no different. That said, I’d like to spend some more time in Frankfurt in the next year (a trip home in October made me realise how much I’ve missed it).
  2. Independence — I’ve struggled with this one; as a consultant working on a local project, I’ve found it more difficult to escape client site than my colleagues that travel. As such, I don’t feel as productive. I’ve found a good way of managing my to-dos and goals, but need time to test it out.
  3. Excellence — Managing a tech project, this has been an interesting one because there’s always a bug to be found somewhere. That said, it’s always nice to bring a smile to clients’ faces when you deliver something they desperately need. I can improve here by recognising that not everything will be perfect and that a process of gradual improvement (the agile way) is not a bad thing.
  4. Personal Accomplishment — This year, I obtained a certification in Business Requirements Engineering from BCS, and I’m working towards a Microsoft and a Salesforce certification. My client work has given me opportunities above my grade, which I’ve thrived on but also found a struggle at times without appropriate support. I need to recognise that it isn’t a bad thing to shout for help when I most need it.
  5. Wealth — There’s always going to be scope to grow this one (for example, I’d love to take private pilot lessons but they’re a little costly right now!) but we’re comfortable and make the most of our current situation. I could worry less about money though — I’m hoping that Monzo is going to help me with that one.

On Tuesday, I’ll be catching up with two colleagues, James and Sara. The three of us are accountability partners for each other, and we’ll be checking in regularly to see how we’re improving on our values at work and at home. It’s a great motivator to do something about things.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Altitude — it far surpassed my expectations and I’ve told many that it is the best training course I’ve taken in my career to date. The key takeaway is that only you can protect your values and alter your leadership style. Let’s see how I get on.

If you’ve worked with me before, I’d appreciate your views on whether you feel my assessment is honest, or where I could improve. Your advice and support is key to mine (and others’) success in developing as individuals and professionals. If we haven’t met, I’d love to hear your views on how to flex your leadership style and hear about how you’ve protected your values in the home and workplace.