Examine your meetings for the past several days. Think about the people you interacted with in each case—followers, peers, leaders, customers, vendors,… Did you approach every conversation in the same way? The approach you took with your closest peer was much different than the approach you took with your lowest performing follower, as well as with your most senior leader. The style you used interacting with various customer contacts changed from person to person, too. Your style as a leader varied in each situation. Why? Because you intuitively understood that different situations call for different styles.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve explored a simplified approach to situational leadership theory. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard originated SLT in the 1970s, but many others have written about and expanded on their work since then. This is one of the approaches taught to leaders at Capella University, which is where I saw this model. The value of this model is that it is easy to remember and, with a little practice, easy to learn how to apply.
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 – What’s Your Style? Pt 3
- What the mismatch of styles looks like (this article) – What’s Your Style? Pt 4
Review the previous articles to get caught up to the current place in this discussion — what happens when a leader uses the wrong style.
What does happen when you use the wrong style? All leaders have experienced this. You may not realize what is happening in the midst of the mismatch being played out, but afterward you’ve likely said something like, “Well, I could have done that much better.”
I recall a time when I assumed a colleague had a good handle on solving a problem. I took a facilitative approach: “Jack, let me know if you need me to clear any hurdles for you, but I’m confident you can solve this problem.” Several days later, Jack was still in the muck. “Jack, is everything OK there?” He assured me it was. I thought, Sometimes it takes extended effort to solve a problem. This is one.
A few days later, another colleague gave me a “Heads Up!” Jack’s problem had expanded dramatically and was affecting several people in other teams, and across vendors and customers. Yikes! The problem had not been solved or even controlled. It was getting worse.
Eventually the problem was solved and actually resulted in some very good personal and organizational outcomes. My personal reflection is that Jack didn’t need my facilitative approach, he needed directive leadership. Lesson learned.
You can imagine that there are an infinite number of ways these mismatches can play out. Below, I have provided a summary of the general kinds of problems you might see when the wrong style is used. (I’ve limited these scenarios to the leader-follower relationship for space constraints.) Reading the descriptions, you might recall a leadership mismatch from your own experience.
Directive Style Needed
The situation calls for clear direction for any of several reasons: an unfamiliar situation, tight deadlines, crisis, performance problems.
Wrong Application: Collaborative or Facilitative
This yields confusion and ambiguity leading to further unresolved crisis or continued performance problems. The leader will likely appear to be weak to the follower because the follower essentially needed a firm hand of help that never appeared.
Collaborative Style Needed
The situation calls for brainstorming, change management, delegation of responsibilities, integration of skills, or possibly mentoring or addressing performance problems.
Wrong Application: Directive
This creates the appearance of being heavy handed and demotivating. There can be a perception that the follower isn’t trusted.
Wrong Application: Facilitative
The leader appears to be distant, unsupportive, or even disengaged.
Facilitative Style Needed
The situation calls for mentoring, coaching and supporting engaged and skilled professionals.
Wrong Application: Directive or Collaborative
Followers are demotivated; they feel they aren’t trusted and their ideas and expertise aren’t valued.
Using the wrong style can lead to some very serious issues, especially when the leader isn’t able to recognize the problem and make corrections. After I misapplied facilitative leadership when working with Jack, I stepped in with the directive style. The situation then settled down and all parties were able to work on real solutions, both short and long term. If I had continued to apply the facilitative style, the situation would have grown worse. Jack would have been in hot water, and I would have been in hotter water!
The correct application of leadership style helps people grow in their skills, be more effective in their work, and become stronger leaders themselves. Yes, your effective use of leadership styles builds leaders.
Keep in mind that everyone has a preferred, or default, leadership style. To determine your natural style, take the mini self-assessment at What’s Your Style? Pt 2. Your natural style will be useful in many situations. Most leaders, though, need to develop proficiency in detecting when to use the other two styles and how to exercise them.
Your commitment to better use of the styles will pay off for you and your leadership, and it will help others around you become stronger leaders, too!
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.