02 May 2016 19:13 IST

What's your leadership style?

There’s no one-size-fits-all leadership style. A lot depends on the situation

During one of my coaching assignments, the Senior Vice President who was being coached shared an interesting experience.

Each month, he would usually chair the safety committee meeting to review and offer advice. However, during March, he was travelling and hence, had to delegate this position to a direct report. He thought the meeting would go smoothly, but on his return, he found that the meeting had not gone off well. He was at a loss, trying understand why the meeting didn’t go as well as it should have.

In the course of the session, I asked him a few questions to help him figure out an answer. After a bit of prodding, it became clear to him that his delegation to a direct report and keeping the other members of the committee informed were not enough — he agreed that doing the following would have avoided the rather ineffective meeting:

~ Making it clear to the committee members that the delegated junior had been given all the authority to drive the meeting and take decisions on his behalf. The decisions would be ratified by the SVP later.

~ Choosing a person to run the meeting any time he was not going to be around, and making that person sit through one or two of meetings to get a first-hand experience.

Merely sending a communication that someone else will stand in for him was not enough, at least in the environment he and his colleagues were operating in. After the reflection and discussion, I realised the SVP needed to be familiarised with the ‘situational leadership model’.

Situational leadership model

This model was given by Dr Kenneth Blanchard more than two decades ago and since then it has guided the leadership styles and effectiveness of managers worldwide. This model is fairly simple to comprehend and practice, although building expertise will need continuous practice.

In short, two factors revolve around the situational leadership model. They are:

~ There is no “one size fits all” approach to leadership.

~ There are four potential leadership styles that leaders can become adept at using, depending on the situation. They are Directing, Supporting, Coaching and Delegating.

The followers’ maturity should determine which one of the four is the most suitable. Maturity is a combination of the follower’s competence and commitment. Which means more than the employee’s tenure, it is the task-relevant maturity that matters.

Directing style: If the maturity of the subordinate is low (low competence, low commitment), then directive style of leadership would be the most appropriate. Remember, however, that directing style is not the same as dictatorial style, as sometimes managers misinterpret.

Directing style is about giving elaborate instructions, and frequent reviews to ensure the employee does not fail.

Supporting style: Where the maturity combination comprises high competence and low commitment, then the subordinate needs a large dose of emotional support. Hence, a supporting style would serve the purpose.

Coaching style: This leadership style would deliver maximum effectiveness when the supervisor notices high commitment and low competence.

Delegating style: And if the junior is high on both commitment and competence, then the obvious leadership style is delegating. It is best to leave the employee to deliver, as he or she needs no supervision.

Introspection

After sharing the model, I asked the SVP a few additional questions:

1) Now that you understood the follower’s maturity as comprising commitment and competence, where was the direct report when the delegation happened?

2) Was the style appropriate for the maturity as assessed by the SVP?

After some introspection, the SVP admitted that the junior had competence based on which he delegated, but upon reflection, the task-relevant (running a high level safety committee meeting) commitment was fairly low. The appropriate style, therefore, would have been that of supporting, not total delegating.

Leadership effectiveness, therefore, is not necessarily adopting one style all the time, but ability and comfort with which we can assess the maturity and adapt the four styles that determine a leader’s effectiveness.