We are all leaders, and that has no bearing on our formal titles. Ironically, many people bearing the “leader” title are not the ones I would follow into battle. The reasons are many. It could be they do not have the right leadership traits, while with others are betrayed by their actions. Many develop megalomaniac egos and others are indecisive. There are many reasons that executives struggle with leadership. This is the reason that a big challenge for most of us is finding a role model. We need mentors, but honestly, I think the best process is to read a lot, use your inner compass, find what works for you, and then let the school of hard knocks teach you the right way.

The Situation Drive the Leader Style

The first step is understanding what you are leading. If you are the first person at the scene of a car accident, your leadership will be directive—telling people to call for assistance, directing others to find fire extinguishers, first aid supplies, blankets, etc., and quickly assessing if anyone has medical training who can aid the injured. The immediacy of the situation requires telling people what to do. Once the first first-responders arrive, your role changes and, assuming you are not a paramedic yourself, your role will morph into marshaling experts to the most urgent need. Shortly afterward, a highway patrol officer, or the like, will replace you entirely and you may continue on your way—after a little time to regain your composure.

The same is true at work. In one meeting you may be dealing with an experienced team that only needs coaching. In a subsequent situation, you may need to be directive with a group of newly hired team members. This could be followed by dealing with a customer with whom you are trying to reach consensus—here neither coaching and direction will work.

In reality, you need to be familiar with various strategies, traits, and actions. Let’s focus on leadership strategies in this article. Next week we will dive into leadership traits.

Leadership Strategies

There are six various types of leadership strategies that you can blend to create a situational style. This should underscore that the term situational leadership is not a fad or a buzzword. For millennia, without knowing it, great leaders have been changing their style based on who they are dealing with. Great leaders, just have that knack. The rest of us need to study and understand our options.  Here are the six strategies explained:

Directive Leadership: This form of leadership is compliance and obedience based. There are specific areas where it is used effectively (for example, some military situations, emergency response, and the like), but is best used in short spurts when crises arise. Leaders quite often use this style by involving the subject matter expertise needed to solve a problem. Use this strategy in attaining short-term goals.

Expert Leadership: Expert leaders often have a strong component of direction in their style until they build a team of highly competent self-directed experts. They rely on their own and other’s expertise and knowledge to create and achieve goals and visions.

Consensus Leadership: Consensus leadership focuses on building agreement through the participation and understanding of everyone. It takes time to build consensus and make decisions, but often it can be effective at building allegiance to the decision. This is a common form of leadership in volunteer and some social organizations.

Engaging Leadership: The engaging strategy is visible and upfront. These leaders are driving the creation of a shared purpose and vision. They rely upon and mobilize troops around that purpose and vision, by questioning, listening, motivating, and encouraging people. They may do some of the work in building the output.

Coaching Leadership: A coaching leadership strategy’s goal is developing other leaders. It, like engaging and affiliative, is a long-term strategy focusing on building leadership as a core strength in the organization. This leadership strategy is very tolerant of mistakes and sees failure as building blocks for strong leaders and solid character. It encourages a ‘process of discovery’ for arriving at a solution.

Affiliative Leadership: The affiliative strategy works to create emotional bonds and harmony. It requires excellent soft skills for pulling people together by building bonds between them. Its focus is long-term and relies heavily on delegating to groups for making decisions. It propagates a leadership philosophy throughout the organization.

Tandem Strategies

The image above illustrates how these relate to their levels of control and focus. What is most important in this image is that the aspiration is to be able to switch between all of the strategies to create a style appropriate to the situation. You are not trying to aspire to the upper right. As a great leader, you need to fluidly adapt and, by the way, remain authentic. It is not a simple feat.

You may not use all in your capacity. When I step in to fix a failing project or organization, I regularly use the first five strategies. I am rarely with an organization long enough to use an affiliative strategy. Affiliative is a long-term growth strategy that takes time to build with your team.

Next week, I discuss some of the traits and actions that great leaders perfect. Remember, though, there is no checklist that identifies you as a great leader; everyone is different. It is your job to put pieces together to build yourself into a great leader.

What Are Your Experiences?

The point of this series of articles is to create a dialog. Remember, the word dialog comes from dia- meaning “across, between” (as in diameter) and legein or “speak,” (think lecture, lexicon, and legible). We need your help in this dialog. This article is only one person’s view. A person from just one culture and one set of experiences. We cannot talk across a topic and cover it with only one person giving input. So please, help chime contribute.

Check out Todd’s second post in this series on leadership traits

Read Todd’s third post on replacing blame with accountability

Read Todd’s fourth post on getting people to talk

Read Todd’s final post on listening as a leader

Learn More

Learn more about avoiding project failure and filling the gaps that cause failures in your organization. Todd C. Williams has devoted his career to understanding and filling those gaps.

As the name implies, Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure, an Amazon #1 best seller, focuses on project actions. In the book, Mr. Williams delivers decades of project rescue experience. Unlike other books on the subject, it has detailed information on the process to rescue the project. This is the critical few weeks that transform a failing project into a successful project. Other authors blindly layer processes on top of a project without finding the cause of the failure. Rescue the Problem Project provides tools for and stresses the need to determine root causes, defines a recovery process to facilitate the required negotiation, is thorough and methodical, and educates the reader on how to prevent red projects.

In his latest book, Filling Execution Gaps: How Executives and Project Managers Turn Corporate Strategy into Successful Projects, Mr. WIlliams covers the six gaps that cause projects to fail—an absence of “common understanding,” goal-project misalignment, lackluster leadership, ineffective governance, disengaged executive sponsors, and poor change management. Filling Execution Gaps addresses the sources of these gaps, and how to fill them. Without any one of these important functions, projects fail. Without change management, adoption suffers. Without a common understanding, there is confusion. Without goals and capabilities aligned, execution falters. Without executive sponsorship, decisions languish. Too little governance allows bad things to happen, while too much governance creates overburdening bureaucracy. Without leadership at all levels of the organization, people are directionless.

Using decades of experience, years of research, and interviews with hundreds of business leaders, Todd Williams illustrates how to fill these gaps, meet corporate goals, and increase value.

Filling Execution Gaps a great balance of methods and personal experience that delivers a practical approach to successful execution of projects. A must-read for any project executive sponsor!

Tom Flookes , Global Business Services Associate Partner, IBM

Whether you are trying to prevent, identify, or recover a failing project, Rescue the Problem Project shows you how to analyze the interaction between people, process, and technology. Rescue the Problem Project is an insightful, comprehensive guide for recovering failing projects. The discussion of project methodologies offers a realistic look at the application of competing processes and highlights their strengths and weaknesses.

Jackie Barretta, Senior Vice President and CIO, Con-way, Inc.