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How Adaptable Leaders Bring out the Best in Employees

The people in your organization deserve competent leadership, but it’s not always obvious how to cultivate leadership potential. Fortunately, there is clear framework than can help employees develop their effectiveness as leaders: situational leadership.

Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, situational leadership adapts to the demands of a specific situation. Leaders who employ situational leadership ask themselves, “How do I communicate with this particular employee trying to do this particular task?” They first analyze a person’s readiness level — their ability and attitude towards the task — and then ask what style of leadership is appropriate for the task at hand.

Situational leadership approaches vary depending on how much directing (one-way communication) or supporting (two-way communication) is required for the situation. With the same employee, you may need to coach them with one task, but you can trust to delegate with another. The following are the four different situational leadership approaches:

Directing (high directive/low supportive behavior):

The leader sets the goal and decides how the task will get gone. This approach is useful with a new employee because they need to be told specifically what to do. Even though the employee has high willingness, they have low competence at this stage.

Coaching (high directive/high supportive behavior):

Communication from the leader is about achieving goals, but also about dialogue with the employee. An employee who is becoming competent, but who is also asking a lot of questions needs high directive and high supportive leadership.

Supporting (low directive/ high supportive behavior):

An employee no longer needs to be told what to do, but they still need the involvement of the leader to help the employee develop. Communication from the leader provides support and reassurance, if needed.

Delegating (low directive/low supportive behavior):

The employee, highly competent and motivated, can do assigned tasks without intervention. The leader trusts the employee to get the task done.

Situational leadership provides a common, easy-to-understand language to address performance issues. For example, an employee who is losing confidence and fumbling at a task, may need more coaching, which is both a highly directive and highly supportive approach. Situational leadership empowers leaders to know they can help employees move into the high competence/high motivation state with directing, coaching, and supporting as important steps in the process.

Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” By putting in the work in of learning and adapting, anyone can develop into the kind of leader employees need and deserve: one who helps them grow to their full potential.

Nanci Appleman-Vassil

Prior to establishing APLS Group in 2000, Nanci was a corporate training manager for R.H. Donnelley, the largest independent sales, marketing and publisher for the Yellow Pages industry. In this capacity, Nanci provided a full range of training and organization development services, including identifying, coaching and developing managers and other upper-tier employees to build a high-performance culture.

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