Quest for leadership

Situational leadership allows personnel to be responsive to any situation, even a pandemic.

While scrolling through Facebook during quarantine, I stumbled on a meme that read “The world has slowed so you can rediscover yourself.” I have revisited the meme a few times, as it serves as a bright reminder during a dark time that we can use a “pause” to reflect on the type of person, worker, and leader we truly want to be.

For me, this slowdown provided a vital reminder of the incredible opportunity, and the significant responsibility, we have in leading our teams. Not just in good times when it feels easy and upbeat, but, most importantly, in the hardest of times when decisions are tough and the needs of your team are pressing. Interestingly, this pandemic solidified my beliefs in my leadership “style.” It also allowed me time to reflect on my more than 10-year quest for the leadership qualities, skills, and experiences I was able to turn to, and depend on, during COVID-19.

In this article, I discuss how this pandemic reignited my passion for, and profound belief in, this responsive and agile leadership approach. Also, I detail how to implement such an approach where leaders can continue learning, growing, and developing to be what their teams need in the moments their teams need them the most. And, to be clear, this opportunity to lead can be seized by anyone, regardless of their title.

My personal quest

In March, the frantic pace I’d been keeping came to a screeching halt with conferences cancelled, travel postponed, and my schedule now eerily bare. In those initial moments of unnerving stillness, I made the decision to pause and reflect on the needs of my team. I asked myself:

  • What does my team need from me right now?
  • What am I able to do right now to help them feel secure during these unsettling times?
  • How can we think/plan/act responsively now to turn this challenge from tragic to transformational?

These are questions leaders at every level should be asking as the challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic continue to influence how we maneuver through these disconcerting times. And, whether you are new to leadership, at a leadership crossroads, or you are a seasoned leader who has historically employed a one-size-fits-all leadership style, now is the time to grow and develop your skills to be more responsive to the needs of your team. So, lean in, and we can send you off on your quarantine quest before we fully settle into a “new normal.”

This method of assessing the situation and leading based on the needs of that situation is called “situational leadership,” which Ken Blanchard discusses in his book “Leading at a Higher Level.” Mr. Blanchard’s theory on situational leadership allows leaders, with or without positional power, to analyze where their team members are in terms of their professional development and personality and then adapt their leadership style to fit each individual, with the ultimate goal of accomplishing the task at hand.

Start your quest today

To employ a situational leadership concept, rather than defer to your go-to or preferred leadership style, you must first evaluate the priorities of your practice or department. This is where you revisit your strategic plan to determine how you’ll prioritize assignments and tasks.

Then, assess your team members’ readiness, or development level, as termed by the book. Here, you’ll consider each team member’s skills, confidence level, and individual qualities, such as application of feedback and desire to grow, then group the person into one of four categories. The four development levels in Mr. Blanchard’s model are:

  1. Enthusiastic beginner
  2. Disillusioned learner
  3. Capable, but cautious, contributor
  4. Self-reliant achiever

To illustrate these development levels, think back to the time you were learning to roller skate/blade as a kid. Maybe you committed to learning because of an invitation to a roller rink skating party, or perhaps you were planning to join your siblings on a neighborhood adventure. Either way, remember the initial excitement you felt at the mere thought of learning to roller skate like the big kids. You were an enthusiastic beginner in that moment, eager to tackle the task at hand!

Now, think about your first wipeout. Remember your skinned knees, scraped palms, and bruised ego? It may have left you questioning why roller skating was something you wanted to pursue in the first place. Could you master it? Was it really worth it? Here, you were a disillusioned learner.

Thankfully, you had a support system that picked you up and dusted you off so you could keep on trying. Your persistence eventually paid off, and you were soon skating around your driveway. Now, you could start and stop without flailing arms or scary tumbles. So, you decided to venture out of the driveway. Your confidence was tested on every rock and bump you encountered. Think about that flutter in your belly when you feared falling to the asphalt without help close by. Here, you were a capable, but cautious, performer.

Eventually, you reached the point where your roller skates were as natural to you as your sneakers. You moved with ease around the neighborhood, and you could even skate backwards and spin in circles. You could glide around without even thinking about it. Finally, you were a self-reliant achiever.

These development levels can be applied to any task we learn in life, and knowing where each of your team members are will ultimately help you determine what their leadership needs are. Mr. Blanchard sums it up with this common phrase: employ “different strokes for different folks.”

In your practice, determine where every team member is on each skill you expect them to perform.

Determine a leadership style

Once this assessment is complete, identify the appropriate leadership style to employ for each team member. In Mr. Blanchard’s framework, there are four styles:

  1. Directing: Hands-on learning and support
  2. Coaching: Skill development and feedback
  3. Supporting: Assess and encourage
  4. Delegating: Autonomy and appreciation

Here’s what the development level and corresponding leadership style look like in action: The enthusiastic beginner requires a hands-on approach that’s highly directive and supportive. The disillusioned learner needs coaching, lots of positive feedback, and encouragement. The capable, but cautious, contributor requires less direction, but needs ongoing support and encouragement. The self-reliant achiever needs almost no direction but should be appreciated (which everybody needs at times) and empowered!

With this approach, you will now be able to bring out the best in others by assisting them in a way that matches their development level, thereby increasing your chances for successful outcomes for the tasks at hand.

To assist your quest, consider taking time to reflect on the leaders you’ve had and the methods they employed to develop you. Were your leaders what you needed at the time? Do you wish they’d tailored their approach to your needs? Most say they wished for more. So, pledge to avoid the shortcomings of leaders’ past.

Invest to be the best

A situational leadership approach takes some time and effort on the front end, but I assure you, the work will pay off immensely and is worth your investment on the back end. By responding to each of your team member’s needs, you will be the best leader no matter the situation you face (i.e. day-to-day operations, tense situations, or even a global pandemic). You’ll also garner trust, respect, and renewed commitment. Your team will inherently feel more valued as a result of your investment in them and, therefore, will naturally want to invest in you and your practice more as well.

It’s important to note no matter where you are in your career, even if you don’t have an official leadership “title” right now, you may be a leader in your office. In my opinion, a responsive leadership approach signifies when a leader truly begins to lead others. After all, if you’re not meeting the needs of those you’re tasked with leading, can you honestly say you’re leading them? Or are you simply directing/managing them? There’s undoubtedly a difference, so if leading others is truly your goal, I encourage you to adopt a situational leadership approach moving forward.

Get going on your quest

As practices across the country have reopened and we all begin to adjust to the “new normal,” I hope you take time to pause and reflect. I urge you to slow down so you can rediscover the type of leader you truly want to be moving forward. Just know, it’s never too early or too late to change, learn, grow, and develop, particularly when you have people (team members, patients, and a community) who depend on you to be your very best for them in every situation. OP