The Proactive Manager: Matching Your Leadership Style to People's Needs
Do managers need to be more proactive when it comes to providing direction and support to their team members?
Lately, managers have been leaning toward a more hands-off approach, says Blanchard senior leadership consulting partner Courtney Harrison.
“The leadership pendulum has swung too far toward under-supervision,” says Harrison. “Managers are deathly afraid of being labeled as a micromanager, so they are leaning toward the low direction side of the spectrum, as measured by the Blanchard SLII® model.”
Have managers lost the nerve and the will to provide direction? Only time will tell, says Harrison.
“What we do know is that people really need direction when they don’t know how to do something. And if you as a leader can’t provide it, you need to find someone who can.
“The basic underpinnings of SLII® are that managers who do three things well can bring out the best in people. They need to be able to set clear goals, to diagnose where people are in terms of competence and commitment, and to provide a matching leadership style. The Blanchard SLII® model advances the idea that, at a high level, people need different combinations of direction and support at different times. Blanchard breaks down direction and support into 14 specific behaviours.”
This sounds very straightforward—and it is, says Harrison—but it requires the proper mindset and skillset to pull it off.
“Effective leadership can be a challenge in a busy world when everyone is stretched thin. Managers inundated with tasks often leave their direct reports alone to figure things out for themselves.”
Harrison uses a leadership assessment tool called the Leader Behaviour Analysis II® when she conducts SLII® courses. The assessment presents 20 different leadership situations along with four possible responses. Responses to these situations reveal several things;
Leadership style flexibility
Primary and secondary styles
Effectiveness in matching a leadership style to a situation
Tendency to misuse or overuse styles
“By identifying leadership preferences and matching styles to development levels, the tool is useful in teaching leaders different ways to manage people and situations,” says Harrison.
“We've learned from the assessment that most people use one leadership style—Supporting—in all situations. Supporting isn’t a bad leadership style, but it is effective only when a leader is dealing with a Capable, but Cautious, Contributor—someone who has the skill for the goal or task but is just a little unsure of themselves.
“For someone who is new to a task, or struggling, Supporting alone is a terrible approach. Imagine being frustrated with your progress on a task. You’re completely lost and in over your head. You realise you don’t have the necessary skills and time is ticking away. Things get so bad that you gather up the courage to tell your boss how much you’re struggling.
“Imagine your surprise when your boss listens to you describe how lost you are and replies with an optimistic, ‘I know you’ll figure this out. I have confidence in you.’ They often add, somewhat ironically, ‘Let me know how I can help further.’”
Harrison explains that when people are struggling or are new to a task, they need a more directive style. That can be a stretch for managers who are used to offering a supportive style with little direction.
“The good news is that a shared understanding of the SLII® model can help managers and direct reports share a shorthand language that makes matching easier. With SLII®, managers can be on the lookout for markers along a person’s development journey on a new task. They can have open conversations earlier when the direct report falls into the inevitable dips along the way. A leader can also find the right way and the proper moment to delegate responsibility for a task or project.
“Leaders learn a true model of partnership. And direct reports experience a more complete sense of involved and caring leadership, which benefits everyone.”
Not surprisingly, SLII® works—both at an engagement and a performance level.
Jim Irvine, solutions architect and measurement specialist at Blanchard, points to several impact studies that measure the changes in employee performance and engagement when managers start adopting these practices. The results are gratifying.
“We are seeing improvement in several key areas,” says Irvine. “Direct reports state that their manager’s skills have improved, which has a noticeable effect on the direct report’s ability to get their work done in a way that is both effective and engaging. Leaders are more aware of the importance of flexing their approach in order to meet people where they are.
“We know from previous research that good operational leadership practices lead to positive intentions in terms of performing at a high level, applying discretionary effort, being a good team player, and not only staying with an organisation but also speaking highly of it. Managers play an important role in this.
“Our contention is that an involved manager—someone who provides appropriate direction and support for the task at hand—creates those great intentions, which bring about positive behaviours, which ultimately produce bottom-line results.
“As managers gain a new understanding of development levels, they realise how important and effective matching leadership style truly is. It’s a critical approach for succeeding in today’s busy, multi-faceted work environment.”
About the author:
David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.