Have you ever experienced a leader who used the same remedy for every situation? Some leaders are so attached to their preferred style of operating that they lack the flexibility to adapt creatively to the needs of their employees and the situations in which they find themselves. True situational leadership is being adaptive in every circumstance.
Adaptive leaders are differential in their approach. They consider many issues before intervening, taking into account each individual and the context of the situation. To be an adaptive leader one needs to focus on the following three factors:
- Motivation of the employee
- Capability of the employee
- Factors and issues within a given situation
The situational leader needs to be a sleuth, sniffing out the various reasons for an employee’s performance, especially as it relates to their productivity level. The goals that an employee and their employer establish, form the parameters for the investigation. The leader must assess the competence and motivation of the employee to meet these goals and then decide on a plan of action. One of the following four styles may be employed for this purpose in situational leadership, depending on the findings of the assessment.
- Directive style. This style works best when employees rank low in competence and motivation. The former manifests in lack of ability or self confidence regarding the specified job. The latter shows up as low commitment or even unwillingness to perform the job. Here the leader focuses more on getting the job done and less on the relationship with the employee, telling the employee in minute detail how to proceed.
- Coaching style. This style is preferable when the employee has some competence and some motivation, the latter manifesting in moderate commitment. In this situation the leader focuses on the task and the relationship to help achieve the goal, but relies more on the resourcefulness of the employee to get the job done. If the employee is over-confident, the leader needs to be diplomatic in helping this person acquire the necessary skills to match their self perception.
- Participatory style. This style is effective when the follower is highly competent but unsteady in commitment. The leader needs to focus more on the relationship and less on the task, giving attention to the de-motivating factors within the working context. The leader needs to learn what motivates the employee, as each person has their own unique set of motivational criteria. Some are motivated by money or working conditions; others by status or praise, and so on.
- Delegating style. Here the employee has high motivation and high commitment. Competency is equally high. In this situation the leader oversees from a distance and places a low focus on relationship and task, knowing that the job will get done in a competent fashion with minimal intervention. This style was made for the “dream” employee, whose passion flows through their work with minimal external monitoring.
The mental space and disposition of the leader are key variables in how the leader will influence others in situational leadership. Studies have shown that a leader’s beliefs and attitudes about an employee’s ability and style have a serious impact upon the functioning of the employee. Employees tend to live up to the expectations of their leaders, even if these expectations are not stated openly.
The leader’s self perception also impacts how he leads. If the leader is insecure, he either corrects for their feelings by becoming autocratic and dictatorial or avoids their response. Other personal factors, such as the leader’s mood and stress, also play a role in how the leader responds, as these issues may affect their cognitive functioning, perception and, consequently, their decision-making.
Effective leadership assesses the situational leadership factors before deciding how to intervene. Every working situation is unique and requires a tailored response by the leader. These leaders understand how their inner state influences the situation and factor in all the variables determining which leadership style is most effective in accomplishing the desired task.