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Can You Adjust Your Leadership to the Situation?
Last week two situations happened again.

In the first situation, an excited new employee was thrust into a situation they were ill-equipped to handle and they made a major mistake. The manager got frustrated and the employee went from being excited with the new job to dreading the work.

In the second situation, an experienced veteran employee with years of successful experience was being micro-managed again. She had just finished writing another meaningless report for a manager and he was now picking it apart.

I believe these situations repeat themselves thousands of times every day. What their manager/leader didn’t understand was that different leadership is required for each situation.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is a term developed by Ken Blanchard. As a situational leader you are able to adapt your leadership style to fit the situation of your team member or employee. This means you can deploy four different leadership styles depending on the situation. As you assess which style is needed, you need to make a conscious choice about which of your own behaviors is needed. With directive behavior, you provide structure, control and close supervision for the people who need it. With supportive behavior, you use praise and two-way communication to facilitate the work of your team.

Blanchard sees four leadership styles growing out of combinations of supportive and directive behavior: directing style, coaching style, supporting style and delegating style.

In “directing” style, the emphasis is on control and close supervision of the worker. In “coaching” style, the leader provides more explanation of what the job entails and solicits suggestions while still staying in control of the situation. With “supporting” style, there is a team approach between the leader and follower with the leader emphasizing support of the follower rather than control. Finally, in “delegating” style, the leader turns over responsibility to the worker.

Employee Evolution

When I coach people on how to use Situational Leadership I usually talk to them about their own evolution in their current organization. I usually say, “During your first week, how did you feel? You were likely excited and a little anxious. You also wanted to know what you were expected to do and shown how to do it. You needed your supervisor to be using a ‘Directing’ leadership style.”

Most of us evolve in our careers from needing “Directing” leadership at the beginning and then “Coaching”, then “Supporting”, and finally “Delegating” leadership when we become experienced and reliable.

Of course people develop at different rates and the Situational Leader needs to know where each person is in their evolution in order to determine what type of leadership they need. As Blanchard describes in his work, the level of a person’s development is measured by assessing their “competence and commitment”. As you can read in this Exhibit, “competence” is the level of a person’s knowledge and skills as they relate to doing their job. Commitment, on the other hand, is the level of the person’s confidence and motivation. Most leaders find “commitment” to be the most difficult to assess and adapt to.

Success in leadership comes when the leadership style is matched with the characteristics of the follower. Problems with leadership come when the leadership style does not fit the follower.

So, when you think about my first example, remember that the delegation of responsibility to a person not prepared to handle the responsibility frustrates the worker and disappoints the employer. What appears superficially to be an employee attitude problem is in fact a leadership problem caused by the leader’s inappropriate
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