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Leadership Styles – Situational Leadership

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Chatting to a former CEO on a recent flight, I asked him about his thoughts on leadership. He immediately started sharing about the importance of being aware of different leadership styles. He pointed out that his collaborative style would not always be the most effective. Sometimes teams or organisations, and I would add individuals, need a rather authoritative or directive style, depending on where they are at.

We all have a default leadership style depending on our personality, our experience or training we have received. Often, we have developed a style that we have seen in other leaders, even if not intentionally.

What’s yours?

Using Daniel Goleman’s methodology, I used to be quite coercive – “demanding immediate compliance”, and pacesetting – “setting high standards for performance”. I was driven to achieve, expecting everyone else should be too. While my leadership style was effective with some of the people I was leading, not everyone was as achievement driven as I. My personality determined my leadership style until I started recognising other ways that worked better with more people.

I have started to be more authoritative to “mobilise people toward a vision”. And I’ve also learned to apply a more affiliative leadership style that “creates harmony and builds emotional bonds” and recognise that “people come first”.

Longstanding leadership experts say that “in order to be effective, leaders need to adapt their behaviour to changing situations” (Goleman, 2002; Yukl, 2013). They need to be “flexible and able to adapt their leadership style to the situation” (Blanchard, 2007).

This does not mean we should be like wavers in the wind. Thomas Jefferson put it this way:

“In matters of style, swim with the current.
In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Leadership theory provides different models that accommodate this need for flexibility and adaptivity.

I particularly like Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model which suggests the four different leadership styles directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating.Which style to choose depends on what they call follower readiness.

Follower readiness is defined as “the extent to which a follower demonstrates the ability and willingness to accomplish a specific task” (Hersey, Blanchard, & Johnson, 2001). This is why I like this model. It depends on my people not on where I’m at, and it provides a roadmap for developing people as well.

The idea is that the leader moves from directing to coaching to supporting to delegating depending on the commitment and competence of the follower. It can be applied when we hire a new employee or when we train someone to take over a new task. The time frame from directing to delegating as well as how long you stay in each section might range from a few days to months to years depending on the complexity of the role.

Figure 1 Situational Leadership (Hersey & Blanchard)

To be most effective you’ll need to firstly recognise your default style and evaluate if it is suitable for the people you lead. You might be starting out as a leader and tend to be more directing. Or you might have been in leadership for a long time and are used to delegating. Both styles involve little support which might lead to underperformance or micromanagement.

On the other hand, over-supporting longstanding team members might lead to frustration and show a lack of trust.

Here are 5 steps to become a situational leader:

  1. What’s my default style and how have I developed it?
  2. How competent is the person I want to develop?
  3. How committed is the person I want to develop?
  4. Which style should I use to be most effective according to the Situational Leadership Model?
  5. What are 3 action steps to move towards delegation?

Do this for each person you’d like to develop.

Are you ready to become a more effective leader?

Book a FREE 45-min leadership strategy session here.

Happy Monday everyone (or whatever day you’re reading this!)


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