We previously talked about how leadership is critical for the success of an organization, and how new leaders need to be malleable and not one-dimensional in their approach if they want to be successful.
However, it’s an entirely different story when it actually goes down to how leaders approach their teams on a day-to-day basis. Leaders may have different goals, motivations, and strategies in mind, but if there’s one thing, they all have in common, it’s that they all have their own way of managing their own people. In this case, it’s no longer about leadership, it’s about situational leadership.
The Situational Leadership model was a concept introduced by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in Management of Organizational Behavior (www.kenblanchard.com). They argued that there isn’t just one leadership style that works for all situations. Situational leadership is an adaptive leadership style that encourages leaders to take stock of their team members, weigh the many variables in their workplace and choose the leadership style that best fits their goals and circumstances.
The Situational Leadership Theory essentially defines effective leader behavior as dependent on a leader’s ability to understand that different situations demand different kinds of leadership. It’s predicated on adapting to the existing work environment and the needs of the organization. Situational Leadership is not based on a specific skill of the leader; instead, he or she modifies the style of management to suit the requirements of the organization. These leaders must have the insight to understand when to change their management style and what leadership strategy fits each new paradigm.
Their theory is based on two concepts: leadership itself, and the developmental level of the team or individual. Blanchard and Hersey developed a matrix consisting of four styles of situational leadership, catered to four stages of employee development. What are they?
When you take an authoritarian approach where you don’t weigh in very much the individual differences of one or more members and you mainly have a set of directions and tasks you want said members to accomplish, you are a directing leader.
A directing leader’s main responsibility is to make sure its team members are participating and contributing, and are best used for tasks that have little mental bearing such as updating calendars, logging in daily updates, and the like. It’s also best suited for members who are generally just starting out and have little knowledge and expertise to contribute, but have a high willingness to work, participate, and contribute to the task. Generally, the team requires detailed directions because they don’t have enough skill or knowledge; they need to know how, what, where, when and why a task needs to be accomplished.
Examples of a directive situational leadership include:
- A fast-food restaurant manager tasking an employee to package the meals before sending them out
- A basketball coach making a new recruit run through drills during practice
- A manager setting out a set of deliverables for the intern to finish by the end of the week
There comes a point where a leader can’t just be directing all the time; eventually a point is reached where a team member is either looking or is developing a level of competence, skill, or niche that he/she wants to maximize. He/she is also now becoming more selective of his/her commitment, and is looking to contribute the best way possible under the least amount of time. Therefore, what this member needs is a leader that is still very directive, is still very clear of what is expected, but is also very supportive. This leader takes the time to be hands-on with its members and to guide them every step of the way. This type of situational leadership is coaching.
Coaching requires two-way communication and socio-emotional support. It requires a balance of directing while allowing members to provide input and maintain autonomy. Members need to be guided every step of the way in their task, because quality is now being considered. This type of situational leadership is mainly for tasks that require a level of skill/knowledge.
Examples of a coaching situational leadership include:
- A content manager guiding a copywriter in writing copy for a website
- A head chef of a restaurant teaching a junior chef how to make a risotto
- A school teacher tutoring a student who is struggling in Math. Yes, coaching also applies in education.
The supporting type of situational leadership is a step above the coaching type.
Here, the leader becomes less directive, less hands-on with a team member, but maintains a high level of support and relationship. By this stage, the team or a team member will have been able to develop a level of skill, knowledge or identity that will require less directing and will entail more self-ownership. The leader authorizes the individual or the team to create their own goals while still working closely with them.
Some coaching may still be involved, particularly for advanced cases that require brainstorming between the leader and the member. After all, none of these situational leadership types are set in stone; every leader must be able to practice all types and switch between them depending on the context. But generally, a supporting situational leader must be exactly that: supportive. They support the team or the individual, no longer acting as a crutch.
Examples of a supporting situational leadership include:
- A CEO giving a project manager the free rein to create the timetable
- A film director allowing the lead actress to play her act however she feels is right
- A basketball coach allowing a player to focus on playing their own role
The fourth and final type of situational leadership is delegating. This is the ultimate goal of situational leadership: turning individuals into their own leaders.
In this type, the leader now believes that the individual or team is competent enough to have full autonomy over their action. The involvement of the leader is very minimal and the decision-making/goal-creating responsibilities are handed over to the individual. By this point, the team/individual are leader(s) themselves, and they might have themselves their own teams, to which they will have to exercise a type of situational leadership.
If you’re the individual, it has to feel good being under this kind of leadership; you get to be your own boss! You call the shots, you’re given the confidence in your decision making, and so much more. But don’t the image above fool you, though. It’s not all fun and games when you’re the boss.
In order to reach this stage, both the leader and the team members must possess a very high level of skill/competence to the point where the individual differences can be distinguished but both can be left alone on their own. This only happens through years of experience, but it can be fast-tracked by proper situational leadership. The question is, which among these four types are you in?
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