There’s one common mistake that scores of leaders make. Okay, so there is more than one standard mistake, but this post will address only one. And here it is:
LEADERS CAN’T MANAGE EVERY EMPLOYEE THE SAME WAY.
Two researchers, Hersey and Blanchard, outlined a leadership process called Situational Leadership Theory. The concept is worth reading about in Paul Hersey’s book The Situational Leader and on the Center for Leadership Studies website. I’ll break it down with a few hypothetical scenarios from a company we’ll call XYZ Marketing. Pretend you are the head of the public relations division for the company. How do you manage each of the following employees?
Alex is a recent college graduate with minimal work experience. He spent two summers as a social media intern for a large construction company, but in actuality, he only answered the phone and posted Facebook messages that were written by the company’s marketing manager. It’s hard to ignore Alex’s excitement about his new role as a marketing assistant. He asks a lot of questions and works hard, but his work product just does not always meet the standards you set for your department.
How do you manage Alex?
Deborah serves as an account manager with the agency. She has worked for the company for three years. Deborah consistently complains about her job to co-workers and her work product is average some days, but most days she is a subpar employee. You recognize her potential but wonder about her commitment to her work and the organization.
What approach do you take with Deborah?
Sebastian started with the company about a year ago as a copywriter. His writing is sharp and he gets along well with co-workers. Although Sebastian is good at his job, he’s sometimes uncertain about his skills and work quality. He has talked about looking for jobs at other agencies but wants to try to stick it out at XYZ.
How should you work with Sebastian?
Jayla works as the public relations strategist for the company. She is a highly motivated and highly skilled employee. Jayla often eagerly takes on challenging projects and seems to handle the work with ease. She is well respected by her peers and has gained the trust and respect of managers throughout the organization.
In what ways do you interact with Jayla?
Alex is what Situational Leadership describes as a D1 follower. While these employees might fall on the lower end of the competency spectrum, they are highly committed to their work. Managers should take an approach called Directing. Directing in a one-way communications process in which a leader provides a lot of direction to the employee. These employees are already motivated, so the leader can spend less time using supportive behaviors. NOTE: Less time, does not mean that these employees don’t need any support. They just need less because they excited about the challenges offered by their jobs and want to perform well. They just need a little more direction to get the job done in the way the manager expects.
Dealing with Deborah
Deborah is a D2 follower which means she has some competency (not a completely lost cause), but her commitment level is low. For these employees, leaders should take a Coaching approach. This approach incorporates both a directive style of communication and a focus on the individual follower’s socioemotional needs. Leaders essentially become the coach and the cheerleader, helping the employee to improve the quality of their work and feel better about their role in the organization.
Suggestions for Sebastian
According to the Situational Leadership model, Sebastian falls in the D3 category. D3 employees rank higher on the competency scale but may have inconsistent levels of commitment. While they have the skills, they sometimes question their ability to get the job done. Leaders should use a method called Supporting. When supporting, leaders focus less on the achievement of goals and more on using supportive behaviors such as listening, offering praise, and giving feedback. Again, the leader does not remove conversations about goals completely. The focus of interactions just shifts to include more relationship-oriented behaviors.
Jellying with Jayla
Finally, Jayla’s work style is D4. These employees are often your rock stars. They have reached a high level of competency and are also decidedly committed. They have the skills and motivation! Managers should incorporate the Delegating style of leadership. Delegating means leaders get out of the way of highly skilled, highly motivated employees by offering little direction (She knows how to get the job done) and less social support (She’s usually excited about the work). Again, this does not mean that a manager becomes completely divorced from the work of D4 employees. Consider this, highly competent and highly motivated employees do not need a micro-manager. Just someone who can support them when they need support and provide them direction when they need guidance.
The situational approach to leadership demands that leaders have extensive knowledge of their employees’ level of skill and commitment. If people need more direction, more support, or more freedom to get their jobs done, it is the manager’s job to provide them with the right balance of engagement to ensure people can reach their potential.
Now, go forth and LEAD!
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