Leadership is complex, dynamic and often controversial, both in theory and in practice. (Given the constantly shifting and mysterious nature of human emotions and relationships, is it any wonder?) The Situational Leadership theory, developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the mid-70’s, is one of many mental models that can help us get our heads around the concept of varying our styles of leadership. It is based on the simple notion that different situations call for different styles of leadership; there is no single best style for all situations. Before explaining the model, here are the underlying assumptions:
• People (or teams) can vary in their readiness to take on a task, job or responsibility and this is based on two sets of factors: their ability (i.e., skills, knowledge) and their willingness (motivation, confidence, commitment) with respect to that specific task.
• Ability and willingness can be developed.
• A goal of leadership is to develop a team’s ability and willingness so it can take on more and more responsibility for its work (i.e., delegation). It is about developing high performance teams.
• Leadership is best when it adapts to meet the changing needs of the developing team through, in this case, 4 distinct styles.
• The leader meets the team’s lack of ability by providing a lot of directive behaviours (e.g., explanations of the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the task).
• The leader addresses the lack of willingness with supportive behaviours such as encouragement, discussion and listening.
Situational leadership theory proposes that, presented with a new task, a team’s main limiting factor is usually a lack of knowledge and skill. This is best met with a high degree of directive behaviour from the leader. This directive style is often called “Telling” or “Directing”. This assumes the group is motivated to begin with.
As the team begins to develop ability, the leader provides less (but still significant) direction. However, as challenges surface, the team starts to experience a lack of confidence, low motivation and low commitment. The leader now continues to provide a fairly high level of direction, but begins to also provide greater support by increasing encouragement, building confidence, coaching, etc. This style is called “Selling” or “Coaching”.
When the team’s ability is reaching a high level, they will need less and less direction from the leader. They will still need high support from the leader in the form of allowing mistakes, coaching, providing feedback, and in simply knowing the leader is nearby and on their side. This style is called “Participating” or “Supporting”.
Finally, the team reaches high performance in the task. They have the ability to do it well and they are highly motivated. The leader should reduce directive and overtly supportive behaviours, otherwise it would feel like micromanaging and being overbearing. This style is called “Delegating”. Delegating is often where we want to end up but, remember, appropriate use of the style considers the appropriate use of the other styles in the lead-up.
Situational Leadership theory presents one simple framework that can help you, as leader, determine people’s current state and what they need from you to move forward. Regardless which leadership model you prefer, you will usually be more effective at helping people reach their full potential if you first “meet them where they are at”.
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Teams, whether they are well-established work teams or temporary project teams, function best when all members have clarity around their purpose and their procedures. As simple as this sounds, we are continually surprised how few teams spend any time at all on this important aspect of their work together.
A ‘Team Charter’ will help a team get off to a good start by describing briefly and clearly the team’s purpose, what outcomes they expect to achieve, leadership expectations, decision methods to be used, roles and responsibilities of the members and expected behaviours. If you spend a few hours removing ambiguity at the beginning of the team’s work (while heads are cool and objective), you can often avoid time-consuming and painful conflicts that become magnified by heated emotional states.
Often, the Charter will include a set of expected behaviours or ‘ground rules’ for participation called ‘Group Norms’. For a well-established group that is clear on its purpose and responsibilities, sometimes it is enough to just clarify the expected Norms. They, more than anything else, describe the culture the team would like to create. They keep the team members’ interactions positive and productive.
Here are a few tips for establishing a Team Charter and/or set of Group Norms:
1. Get the right people involved at the right time. If you have a small team of, say, 10 people, you might include everyone. If you have a large group or department that is being formed, it will be difficult to get everyone involved at all times. Get up to five or so key people with the knowledge, authority and broad perspectives of the organization to set the main framework around the purpose and expectations of the team. Then report the ‘givens’ to the larger group.
2. Involve everyone in establishing the Group Norms, and strive for consensus. Encourage questions and discussions that clarify meanings of simple concepts such as effective communications, respect, trust, etc. Don’t assume people know how to behave productively in a team setting. Our experience tells us this is not the case.
3. Consider bringing in a professional facilitator. Or, consider integrating this work with a focused team development session that will bring the concept of high performance teamwork to life.
4. Schedule time to revisit your Charter and your Norms. As the group progresses, some expectations may change, decision methods may require a different approach and behavioural guidelines may need to be revised or reinforced.
5. Enforce your Norms. Ideally, all team members will feel responsible for calling out transgressions. However, the leader must take on this role if no one else does.
Creating a Team Charter or set of Group Norms is a simple yet essential step for a team. It will clarify expectations, promote trust and position you for successful interactions.
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We’ve all been there – hectic work schedules and changing priorities and growing demands on our time, talents and resources can make us feel stretched pretty thin sometimes. Part of us realizes that times like these leave us focused on just keeping our heads above water yet another part knows instinctively that there has got to be a way to be proactive and get ahead of the curve. It’s not easy to get into the habit of action planning but once it becomes part of our approach it’s hard to understand how we ever got ahead without them. Here are some simple tips to get started.
1. Start with the end in mind. (Thank you Steven Covey for this one.) Ask yourself, “what is the ultimate goal here? This project/ plan/ idea I have may have an impact on me as well as others I work with. How do I want people to see, experience and talk about it once all is said and done?”
2. Start small. If you’re new to action planning a goal like “Let’s triple our profits by next year” or I want to have 10,000 new twitter followers by Christmas” may seem a little daunting. Choose a small goal you want to work on – one that makes you stretch outside of your comfort zone a little but is definitely attainable.
3. Create a short vision statement – one that can easily be remembered and repeated. This statement should sum up in a few words what it is you want to accomplish. Write it on a post-it note and stick it to your computer or somewhere else you will see it all the time. This little message can act as a yardstick by which you can easily assess whether your daily activities are in line with your vision. If they are, great! Keep going. If not, ask why not?
4. Give yourself a timeline. Whether it is a week or a month it should be a reasonable amount of time to get done what you want to get done. Don’t be too easy on yourself here – the idea is to put words into action and if you leave too much time to accomplish your tasks procrastination and loss of interest or focus can become your greatest enemies.
5. Develop a list of Actionable Items. Think it through – when you are creating a plan of attack your actions should be specific and all possess a role in reaching your goal. When you are creating this list of activities ensure you have resources and time to execute them effectively. Share your goal and action items with a trusted colleague and have them commit to keeping you accountable throughout process.
6. Do check-ins – ask yourself, are my actions helping me reach my goal? Do I need to change anything? Am I getting closer to my goal or farther away? Small adjustments along the way are normal and can tap into that creative side of your brain where all the best ideas come from. Ask your colleague for feedback. Sometimes a different perspective can shine new light on a situation.
7. Celebrate. Most of us generally don’t do enough of this. Once you have done what you set out to do it’s OK to do a little happy dance or skip that low-fat latte for something with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Enjoy– you deserve it.
At Summit Team Building all our development programs include a custom designed action planning module to help the participants take their learning back to the work place..;/
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