Alan's corner: Situational leadership
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Alan’s corner: Situational leadership

Alan’s corner: Situational leadership

As leaders, we have to treat each and every task we set for our people as being different

Gulf Business

After getting past the usual pleasantries, it was probably 10 minutes before my telephone caller came up for air and took a break. Liz was highly exercised by an infuriating incident that happened that day. She is a very capable project manager with an IT company and her boss Mike had just given her a new project to complete. With no respect for Liz’ experience, capabilities or commitment, Mike felt it was appropriate to micro-manage the situation. Not only did he brief her on the project, but he also ‘helped’ her to construct a detailed plan. That caused enormous frustration and feelings of disrespect in Liz. What a pity.

By coincidence, in the same week I had a coffee with an old pal that works in a company that has recently been acquired. George, the new CEO, is still getting to grips with the acquisition. With a hands-off style, he expects senior people to know what to do and to just get on with it. However, as operations manager, my pal Fred is now challenged with a new product stream and supply chain. He is struggling to get to grips with it and is deeply concerned about failing.

Clearly, both Mike and George got it wrong. But they’re not alone, as bosses the world over so often get it wrong. Leaders tend to have a primary or default style of management and fail to recognise that not all member of their teams are at the same stage of development. This is probably not surprising given that many leadership theories promote particular leadership traits. Thankfully the world has moved on from Taylorism of the early 1900s, that encouraged a leadership based primarily on the organisation’s needs.

Later theorists such as Kenneth Blanchard opened our eyes to the concept of situational leadership. In this model, Blanchard encourages leaders to adapt their leadership style based on the learner’s needs and development levels of competence and commitment. Liz, in my first example, needed to be left alone once briefed. Fred, on the other hand, needed more guidance on what is expected and how to deliver on those expectations in a new operation.

How to adapt your leadership style to any situation
The initial thing here is for leaders to embrace the concept of one-size does not fit all. Both Mike and George will get it right some of the time, for sure. But the risk of getting it wrong is just too great.

As leaders, we have to treat each and every task we set for our people as being different. Fred is a very competent operations manager. However he is now presented with some new complexity and that needs to be learned. But it doesn’t mean that every other aspect of his job needs to be explained.

Hence, without over-complicating it, I’d like to encourage you as a leader to always consider the situation first.

1. Goals. Be very clear on the goals that you want your team member to deliver. Remember SMART goals? Here is a new version: S- Specific, measurable and timebound; M-Motivating; A-Achievable; R-Relevant; T-Trackable. Take time to align both parties on what is expected.

2. Diagnosis. Stand back, slow down a little and consider the learner’s stage of development. Is she/he competent and committed for this task? There are four possible scenarios; D-1: low competence/high commitment; D-2: low competence/low commitment; D-3: high competence/variable commitment; D-4: high competence/high commitment.

3. Matching. As a consequence of determining the learner’s level of development, we should therefore adapt our leadership style appropriately. A telling-directive leadership style is appropriate for D-1 level of development. A ‘coaching’ style is right for a D-2. A listening-supportive approach for D-3 and a delegating style for D-4. In other words, four different styles to match four different situations.

The last word
You’ve heard it said that employees don’t leave organisations, they leave their bosses. I have seen this truth having witnessed it first-hand in the countless employee engagement surveys we have administered over the years.

We’re living in the strangest of times and the ‘great resignation’ is real. Never before as much as now, do leaders have to self-reflect on their own leadership style. What’s your primary or default style? How effective is your ability to flex your style to the situation and the individual that you’re leading?

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