Do you converse with your coworkers and spouse in the same style? How about your kids and your neighbors? Do you drive the same way on crowded city streets as you do on rural highways or suburban residential streets? Do you consume pizza and your favorite beverage the same way you would have lunch with a prospective employer? Of course, the answer is No to all of these questions. For each situation (communication, driving, and eating) you have a preferred or more comfortable style. But that preferred style is not always the best style. Leadership is the same way.
You have a preferred leadership style, but it isn’t always the best style.
You also have a way of leading that comes naturally. It is the most comfortable style. You don’t have to think about doing it. You just do it.
That’s not always best.
In my last post, I presented a mini-assessment to help you determine whether your preferred style is directive, collaborative, or facilitative. None is better than the other. None is most effective in most situations. They are just different, and what makes them effective is not their inherent qualities, but whether you master the ability to use the right style at the right time.
I first saw this model, loosely based on the work of Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, at Capella University. It is easy to remember and easy to teach to others. In fact, I know a leader who once had a conversation with someone we’ll call “Tom.” The two met to address an ongoing work performance problem and the conversation went something like this.
Leader: We’ve been struggling to get on top of this productivity problem for a while now. My normal mode of leading is to facilitate your success in the workplace. I clear barriers, help you be a stronger contributor, and get out of the way so that you can solve the problems. With this situation, though, it seems like you might need something else.
Tom: I think I might. What do you have in mind?
Leader: Besides facilitating as a leader, there are two other common approaches to leading: collaborating and directing. In collaborative leadership, we work side by side, developing solutions together. Directive leadership is telling you how to fix a problem. Does that make sense?
Tom: Yes, it does.
Leader: Which of these approaches do you think will be most effective in helping you deal with the current issues.
Tom: It would be great if we could collaborate–if we could work together. I think that would help me solve the current issues and learn some things along the way that would help me prevent the same problems down the road.
Leader: I agree. I think that the collaborative approach would be best, too. Let’s start working on a plan now.
Granted, it may not always be effective to lay the cards on the table and let the other person deal his own hand. However, this leader friend told me that in this case, the employee was actually a highly skilled professional who had had an uncharacteristic struggle with some things. In this situation, it was the right approach. In fact, that’s the whole point. The situation determines the best approach.
Here is more information about each of the three styles.
Definition: Directing others how to fulfill responsibilities.
Analogy: Directive leadership is like driving a car with passengers (your employees) along for the ride.
Uses: Onboarding new people. Dealing with tight deadlines or crises. Some performance problems. When action needs to be focused.
Potential downside: Can demotivate people. Can appear to be dismissive of perspectives and input.
Definition: Working alongside others to fulfill responsibilities, delegating tasks and often using a combination of one another’s talents and leadership skills.
Analogy: Collaborative leadership is like being the navigator for the trip while someone else drives.
Uses: Brainstorming. Change management. Delegation of responsibilities. When integrating skills of two or more individuals. Some mentoring situations. Some performance problems.
Potential downside: Can appear patronizing if not executed well. Most effective with good “chemistry” between leader and employee. Can create dependencies.
Definition: Helping others to be independent in their responsibilities by helping others to develop and use their own talents and leadership skills.
Analogy: Facilitative leadership is like being one of the passengers, letting others drive and navigate.
Uses: Mentoring. Coaching. Leading engaged and skilled professionals.
Potential downside: Can promote a selfish culture, especially if directive or collaborative approaches would have been more effective. Requires more time, trust, and investment for the long haul.
By now, you’re likely to have identified, with pretty good certainty, what your preferred or natural leadership style is. You’ve likely played through a few workplace scenarios in your head: “Yeah, in that meeting last week, I used a collaborative style and it worked well. That felt good.” Or, you might have thought, “I tried directive leadership with Jan yesterday. Wow! I blew it.” You’ve seen that a mismatch of leadership can cause trouble.
I’ll dig into the mismatch problem in more detail in my next post.
Here is a summary of the articles in this series:
- Introduction – What’s Your Style?
- Mini self-assessment and short definitions – What’s Your Style? Pt 2
- Detailed definitions and applications (this article) – What’s Your Style? Pt 3
- What the mismatch of styles looks like – What’s Your Style? Pt 4
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.