Skills for Leaders: Leverage your Leadership Style

Ken Blanchard, the prolific author and creator of Situational Leadership, theorized that there are 4 styles a manager can deploy when he engages with this followers. These 4 styles are always selected in relationship to the skill and will of the follower:

  • The directing style- directs the follower to do what the leader believes is the right response to the situation, leader makes the call
  • The problem solving style- asks the follower to participate in the solution needed based on the situation, leader still owns the decision
  • The coaching and developing style- asks key questions of the follower to guide the follower to the conclusion he/she feels is best
  • The delegation style- asks the follower to execute the task on his/her own

In our work inside organizations, we find all too many leaders are over reliant on either the directing style or the delegation style. In fact, once a leader gains any confidence with the aptitude of a follower, he/she begins to abdicate his/her involvement by now overly delegating decisions and responsibility. That is until, the follower makes a mistake and then, the leader immediately begins to use the directing style again. This back and forth path from directing to delegating can feel like a rut and tends to leave the talent leaders’ manage short of the key skills they need to grow and develop.

Problem solving skills are essential in high performing teams and they go hand in hand with effective coaching and development of critical thinking skills. We simply do not know what our talent is capable of until we begin to ask them to step up and make decisions and yes, even mistakes, so that we allow them to learn new ways of doing things for themselves.

A few years back we worked with a leader who was overly reliant on the directing style. She was rather heavy handed about who made the decisions on her team and she readily believed that she knew what the best solution was for everything at all times. She was critical and demanding and people feared not obeying her. Despite trying to work with her on this issue, she was exhausted by all the decisions she had to make for the team. Indeed, she had built a team who believed they could not make a move without her. The team was not loyal to her and key talent ended up leaving before she was able to realize her directing style was limiting the effectiveness of her team.

Contrast this style with a recent leader we had the pleasure to work with who sees her talent as experts and regularly engages them in problems, decision making and team opportunities. She fosters an environment of high trust, accountability and growth. People are being groomed to grow into larger roles and they feel an active part of the team. She has had some turnover- for the right reasons- promotions! This leader sees the power in using the problem solving and coaching and developing style to engage her talent.

What is your primary leadership style? What impact does this style have on your followers?