When to Ask vs When to Tell as a Leader.

When to Ask vs When to Tell as a Leader.

Thinking your leadership style is a one-trick pony?

Feedback says you need to be the opposite of what you are?

Notice you default to a usual leadership response? Solve? Decide? Ask?

You’re not alone.

A small coaching group I’m working with were sharing the feedback in their 360 reports. One leader said he needed to change his leadership. He needed to be decisive, not collaborate as his development areas were about being too inclusive, slow, vague and not decisive enough.

I disagree.

A leader needs to be able to TELL, for example if there’s a fire in the building you need to loudly tell people to leave swiftly. A leader needs to COLLABORATE when working on cross-functional issues. A leader needs to DECIDE when the financial risk is within their remit. A leader needs to DELEGATE when it’s within the remit of their team member.
Situational leadership is not about changing yourself in my opinion. It’s about broadening yourself. It’s about having more skills and behaviours to increase your effectiveness as a leader rather than one size fits all. In doing so you also develop the people with whom you work. Win-Win.

My analogy is that of a tool box. If all you have is a hammer, you’ll deal with everything as if it were a nail. A hammer won’t help when you want to fell a tree or open an oyster. The more tools in your tool box the more situations you can address effectively with better results.

What is Situational Leadership?

Literally It’s a 2×2 model first developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey in 1969!
Conceptually it’s about a leader adjusting their leadership style or behaviour to a unique situation and hence to the specific people in that situation.
Practically it’s about leaders assessing the individual with whom they are interacting and what their needs are for completing the task at hand. In the model this is called “Readiness,” how ready is the individual to do the work asked of them both in terms of skills and motivation (intellectual and emotionally). And then the leader adapting their style to how ready the individual is. it’s the degree of directive vs supportive behaviour on the part of the leader. The relationship is often leader/follower and can also extend to leader/stakeholder so don’t just think this is for hierarchical relationships.

It’s about managers or leaders adapting their leadership style to the situation and people involved; matching their leadership behaviours to the needs of the individual to maximize their performance.

Situational Leadership Example

You notice one of your direct reports does great presentations on their team’s projects in meetings but the employees in your direct report’s team do the actual powerpoint presentations and project work and never present. You’re thinking there’s a lost opportunity for that leader to develop their team members by having them present in the meetings. What do you do relative to your direct report?

It depends. It depends on the readiness of that direct report. Are they able to develop others? Are they confident in doing that? Do they even see the opportunity? Are they uncertain? How supportive do you need to be of them given where they are?

Most leaders are paid to solve problems and would just jump in with recommendations of what that direct report should do. Situational Leadership says pause, assess where the situation is on the model and then act accordingly.

What are the Leadership Styles in Situation Leadership?

There are 4 styles outlined in the model depending on (1) your behaviour in relationship with an individual and (2) what’s needed for the individual relative to the task that needs to be done (what’s their ability and willingness to do that task).

1. Delegating – this is a great choice when the individual is capable and willing to take on the task. The leader delegates to the individual who just gets on with it with minimal involvement from the leader – the employee is competent, motivated and empowered to do the task.

2. Supporting – sometimes called Participating. The employee is competent in the work to be done and resistant for some reason. That resistance can be conscious or unconscious. The leaders must participate and support the ‘follower.’ Detailed instructions of how to do it are not required, rather it’s about the person’s motivation or confidence. The leader focuses on the relationship and the person themselves rather than the task in this style.

3. Coaching –The leader must focus on both task and relationship. There are probably practical things that the individual must think through about the task and coaching helps immensely with this. If motivation is the blocker then coaching can help to unearth the emotions. Sometimes this is called selling as it’s leader-driven.

4. Directing or Telling – clear instructions must be given by the leader. The follower is often motivated yet not competent on the task. A common scenario for this is a new employee who doesn’t know the processes yet so required clear and detailed direction.

How to Decide Which Situational Leadership Style to Adopt?

There are some fundamental beliefs or assumptions implicit to me in this model. They are:

• Every situation is different or unique, to varying degrees.
• Leaders can choose their behaviour.
• Different people require different thinkg to perform and excel.
• Task and relationship focus are equally important to getting things done.

Because Situational Leadership is about consciously choosing your behaviour as a leader it requires self-awareness and social-awareness. That means your behavioural default tendencies and preferences. Like my client in the small group, he tends to listen, ask, ponder things with others. Good in some situations we know. What are yours? Social-awareness is about knowing the other person – what’s going on for them? what might they need?

The leader needs to assess the situation especially considering the readiness of the ‘follower’ – both intellectually (skills competence) and emotionally (motivation). Obviously, this implies there is time and it’s not an emergency like a fire.

Discuss with the other person what their level of readiness is for a task or project – how is their competency in terms of skills and abilities? How is there motivation and empowerment? What support do they need from you to do the job at hand well?

Consciously choose where you are on the model. What style and hence behaviours will you exhibit?

Check in on how it’s going between the two of you. As the relationship and task progresses your style and their readiness changes, this is a journey rather than a static model. Treat it as such.

If nothing else, embrace the concept that different situations and people might require different leadership behaviours from you.

What would help you practice the 4 leadership styles from Situational Leadership?

What tools would make your tool box more useful?

What’s your development goal to increase your effectiveness?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for some thinking about your leadership effectiveness and what you might need more of from your team.