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.
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.
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.
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