Whatever I had learned about people management and leadership styles in my career was only by self-learning and hits & misses.
I was unfortunate to have seniors as my mentor or to follow as a leadership role model.
I can recall a couple of cases when I tried to act following seniors’ advice and failed. Those were actually ill advice.
At a later stage, when I introspected, I could understand my shortcomings to handle the situation. This realisation was painful.
What was the benefit?
Life seldom gives a second chance in today’s highly competitive environment.
Therefore, my journey as a leader was full of many failures and some successes. Moreover, any of my success was never last for long.
I wish I could get a mentor to groom my leadership capability at that stage. Who could teach me that there is no fixed style of leadership to get the best outcome?
My experience now tells me that a particular leadership style to be adopted analysing the situation at hand:
Type of the task to be accomplished,
Quality of people in the team and
The resources and time are available to do it.
I had attended some leadership courses ran by renowned trainers of my time. Surprisingly, I never heard about the “Situational Leadership Theory” and the names of Dr Paul Hersey & Kenneth Blanchard in those training.
Neither I was aware of their books “The Situational Leader” and “One-Minute Manager”, nor any of my HR leaders ever informed me about these gentlemen.
Was that my fault? Maybe!
So, my leadership approaches were decided from my experience, a little bit of formal education and maturity, without the strong support of an able trainer or mentor.
Trainers and mentors are essential in a career. They cut, polish and shine your inherent potential and also add to it.
Had I get a mentor, he could teach me that there are four primary styles of leadership to be adopted according to the situation:
- Telling (S1)/Directing: I need to tell/direct my people what to do and how to do it.
- Selling (S2)/Coaching: I need to “sell”(convince & coach) the idea of doing something to my team. My success rate is directly dependent on their acceptability.
- Participating (S3)/Supporting: I need to restrict offering directions upfront and allow the team members to take a more active role. Empower them to come up with ideas and taking decisions.
- Delegating (S4): I need to entrust a complete work or a portion of it to a competent team and focus on something else more important. The team takes most of the decisions and shoulder the responsibility for the outcomes.
Though, I had applied all these four styles in my tenure based on my maturity. But now when I look back, I can question my competence to judge the maturity of my team. I find many gaps in those judgements.
To succeed as a leader, it is important to select the right style of leadership depending on the maturity level (subject knowledge and competence) of individual team members and the group.
Maturity exists in four levels:
- M1(Disillusioned Learners): team members have some knowledge & skills, but the willingness is low due to earlier setbacks of any kind.
- M2(Enthusiastic Beginners): team members lack the ability, but they are enthusiastic and willing to complete the work.
- M3(Capable but Cautious Performers): team members have the skills and capability to complete the task but not willing to take responsibility.
- M4(Self-Reliant Achievers): team members are sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled and also willing to complete the work assuming responsibility.
Matching Styles and Levels
Whenever I could match my leadership style with the styles recommended in the situational leadership model(developed by Hersey-Blanchard), I invariably got better results. Otherwise, in most of the cases, it was failures.
The model suggests the following combinations between M and S would work better:
- Directing (S1): Team with Low Maturity (M1)
- Coaching (S2): Team with Medium Maturity & Enthusiasm (M2)
- Supporting (S3): Team with Medium Maturity & good Capability (M3)
- Delegating (S4): Team with High Maturity & High Skill (M4)
How Situational Leadership Works
The situational leadership model tells about flexibility. It focuses on attaching an appropriate approach in team management, depending on the need of the situation and available team competency.
I had to establish sizable (wind turbine) manufacturing units a couple of times in my career. In the beginning, when the team was new and lacking skill, knowledge and sense of responsibility, I had to adopt the “Directing” style.
As the team gain experience and skill in the field, it is appropriate for a leader to shift the leadership style to match it with the expertise level of the team at that juncture.
What I learnt from experience, that some factors silently influence the efficacy of leadership style. Later I found that experts are also suggesting the same thing:
Relationship with team members:
I have seen, it matters the most.
Social and interpersonal relationship between the member and the leader makes the task smooth, and most of the time it guarantees the willingness of the team members to perform a difficult task.
So, the leader can easily choose the leadership style and maximize the result.
Nature of the Task:
When the task is simple, it can be done by a less efficient team or individual. In case of a complex task, a highly skilled group or individual is necessary.
On occasions, looking at the nature of the task and the quality of the team available, I too had changed my leadership style.
Sometimes, I had performed a critical task myself to demonstrate and train my team.
The level of authority of a leader comes from two directions. One is from the organization authority structure. Either the hierarchical position of the leader or his closeness to the top authority ( commonly seen in Indian promoter-driven work culture) gives him more power.
Another one comes from the social and interpersonal relationship of the leader and his subordinates. Gaining respect and a high level of acceptance empowers a leader to demonstrate high-level authority.
The maturity level of a team signifies the knowledge, skill, willingness to complete a task and decision-making capability.
And in the case of a leader, it means the ability to clearly understand the maturity of the team (as assigning a complex task to a team or member having high willingness but low ability could lead to a failure).
A competent leader should also be capable to determine his leadership style to get the best outcome in that given situation.
When I took my MBA course, it taught me about the various approach to leadership, like ‘democratic’, ‘authoritative’,’ laissez-faire’ (maybe some more I can’t recall now). But I can’t recall it taught me anything about situational leadership at that time. Or possibly I skipped it.
In real life, the situational approach of leadership covers up the pitfalls of any individual style. It points out that the best approach (of leadership) is not a constant. It keeps on changing depending on the nature of the problem, people, position and possibility (I call it 4P) at that instant.
Finally, an effective leader:
- Can gauge the maturity of a team in time.
- Can operate in all 4 styles.
- Can change his style whenever required (flexibility in style).
- Can groom the maturity level of the team.