Leadership Styles

Leadership Tips — Situational Leadership

Tom O\’Dea asked:



What’s your leadership style?  In his 1994 book, renowned leadership guru Jimmy Johnson (ok, he was renowned as a football coach — but that’s a leadership role too!) spoke of his leadership style. 


What he said was “I’m totally consistent; I treat everybody differently.”  He went on to explain how different players responded to different stimuli, ranging from private counseling to public humiliation and effective use of the press.  We’re not all leading a football team, so the tools we use may be different.  But Jimmy’s philosophy is a good one.


Textbook Leadership


Today’s leadership tip is straight out of Jimmy Johnson’s philosophy.  Academics like to describe three general leadership styles, and they do it in the context of decision making.


Authoritarian or autocratic — Leader makes all decisions, using his or her own knowledge, contacts or methods.



Participative — Leader makes all decisions, after active consultation with staff to solicit their ideas and input.



Delegated or self managed — Leader sets strategy and direction, is not generally involved in decision making.  All decisions pushed to lowest possible level of organization.



In the 80’s and early 90’s there was a great deal of emphasis on self managed teams (the third style).  There is a lot to be said for giving decision making authority to subject matter experts.  Problem is, experts tend to make decisions in a narrower context than do generalists. 


Which decision is better, the narrow context of the expert or the broader view of the generalist?  It depends, and that is why the best leaders recognize that they need to adapt their leadership style to the situation.


How to Decide Who Decides


If you’re going to be a situational leader, good for you.  You’ll need to figure out what aspects of a situation to consider.  Here are some ideas:


What’s at risk? — Think about customers, financials, PR, etc.  The greater the risk, the more you, the leader, are going to be held personally accountable.  Delegate high risk decisions only to those in whom you have supreme confidence.



Skills and Experience — Who is best qualified to handle a situation or make a specific decision?  Let that person do the job.  If it’s you, don’t automatically take it on.  Consider the other factors in this list first.



Opportunity — Does a situation or decision offer the chance to build someone’s leadership profile, and their confidence, at a reasonable level of risk?   Don’t pass on the chance to build your people up and let them demonstrate their capabilities.



Confidence — Obviously you’re not going to turn critical decisions over to people in whom you are not confident.  On the other hand, if you’re always finding yourself less than confident, what kind of team have you built?



If you’re locked into one leadership style, you’re locked out of something as well.  Show flexibility based on the situation and you’ll make better situations.  Your people will notice, and so will your boss, your board, and your customers.

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