Situational leadership is not about you; it’s about the business’s needs and the people you serve.
This is the first and fundamental principle we shared in a Situational Leadership training session with functional heads and mid-level managers in a multinational corporation recently.
Here are some real world insights on applying situational leadership from this cohort!
What is situational leadership?
Situational leadership demands that leaders have a more expansive repertoire of styles, especially when constant agility and adaptability is essential.
Leaders who once depended on charisma, confidence and privilege have to accept that their role or title will diminish.
Transactional, patriarchal leadership is no longer effective with the unprecedented rate of change. In its place is a more collaborative, evolving approach.
Here are three key principles:
Situational leadership is not about you
It’s about the business’s needs and the people you serve. And if the situation is evolving and changing, so will your people, and so will your leadership styles.
Even Goldman Sachs’ chief executive David Solomon acknowledged that “people working today are facing a new set of challenges” in response to his junior banker’s frustrations on “inhumane” 100-hr weeks.
Now, that might be an appropriate response not to show indifference in the face of a leaked internal presentation.
We all know that pulling long hours and all-nighters are part and parcel of “character building” for young professionals starting in the world.
In the year-long pandemic, however, organisations went boom, bust or pivot.
Solomon’s “new set of challenges” are the management of people. Leadership needs to adapt and change in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
No matter what the industry, it’s not a stretch to say that we collectively went through a mental health stringer.
While the spotlight is on you, your leadership needs to reflect the organisation’s need for agility. Agility is not a strategy, it is a state of readiness. Agile organisations will demand situational leadership.
It is dynamic and will constantly evolve
Simply: situational leadership is different strokes for different folks.
A participant at our training session wondered if this approach is merely pandering to the whims of Millennials. Short answer – it is not.
Yet, one should consider that Millennials – born in the 1980s – are now approaching their 40s. They are not disruptive or emergent; they are the bulk of your middle management, your enablers.
Situational leadership is critical now, as your workforce’s competencies (and incompetencies) are more exposed to business realities, so will their commitment and motivation to stay on course. This applies across to all generations of workers.
In diagnosing your team’s capabilities, be mindful that the key leadership styles are to support, delegate, coach or direct, depending on the individual’s competency or commitment – and this too might decline or increase.
Managers and leaders need to make frequent and fair assessments of goals and embark on relentless course-correction and problem-solving as a mindset, and in action.
A participant in our session asked what support looked like for highly-competent individuals with low commitment.
Supporting is not about being a cheerleader; support is shown by listening, encouraging or giving the individual room to grow.
In short – put away the pompoms, and listen. The anxieties of the workforce are all real. Leaders need to recognise that emotions are natural responses, they do not define the individual, and that these emotions will change over time.
It will fail without trust and transparency
A participant commented that the person who had the most information had the most power in how senior managers withheld information about the company’s restructuring throughout the pandemic.
He shared that because most decisions happened behind closed doors, toxic gossip was allowed to fester, and employee morale and trust eroded rapidly.
As a result, the turnover rate increased even teams who survived, and even after senior management admitted that they could be more transparent with their decisions.
His comment is a reminder that authentic, genuine leadership fosters trust, even as we navigate more unknowns on the horizon. Not being transparent, even about the lack of answers, will not bode well for your team in the long-run.
How do you know if your team is disengaged? Here are three red flags all managers should look out for.