The Critical Role of Situational Leadership® in the Employee Experience

There is an undeniable advantage to working for a company that has been around for over 50 years. If nothing else, the fact that you are still standing demonstrates some sort of generational appeal and/or resiliency. In our case, at The Center for Leadership Studies, when we contemplate the reasons behind our endurance, the answer is simple:

The practical appeal of our flagship product, the Situational Leadership® Model.

On the flip side of the positive emotion that comes from working for an organization that has withstood the test of time (so far!), is a nagging, two-part question:

  1. Is Situational Leadership® still relevant?
  2. If so, how?

There can be no denying that effectively influencing people today is a far cry from what it was in the 1970s. By today’s standards, the pace of change when our model was introduced is unrecognizable. Back then, information (and as such functional expertise) was in the hands of the few. Organizations were structured to reflect that reality. Communication flowed almost exclusively from the top of the organization to its base. Responsiveness migrated almost exclusively in the opposite direction. Metaphorically, leaders were the people who “descended from their elevated perch” when things needed to be done, and the rest of us were conditioned to hear what they had to say, then act.

Leadership training in the 1970s was very different as well. First off, it was almost exclusively reserved for those who had been promoted into a formal people-management role. in the context of Situational Leadership®, those participants learned how to:

  1. Identify the tasks that needed to be performed.
  2. Assess the readiness of the individual or team performing them.
  3. Employ a leadership approach that matched the assessment.
  4. Manage the movement.

So, what’s different about leadership five decades later? In a nutshell, so very much! Ongoing, never-ending, disruptive change! Daunting tasks! Exponentially increasing complexity! Rampant uncertainty! Because we have been so conditioned for so long to look for answers from the upper levels of the organization when we hit a stumbling block, by force of habit, we continue to do so.

What they arrive with instead are shared challenges. Challenges so complex they are forcing us to fundamentally rethink what leadership is, where it comes from and how it works. In many situations leaders currently face, it’s like the flow of both communication and responsiveness have been effectively reversed.

Amid all this, and with bias duly noted, I would argue that Situational Leadership® has never been more relevant! In the next few weeks, I will attempt to substantiate that claim by discussing the role Situational Leaders can play in the here and now to enrich engagement, enhance workplace dignity and positively contribute to the employee experience. As evidenced by recent research from The Josh Bersin Company, the employee experience is a complicated integration of strategic, tactical and interpersonal dynamics. In combination, they represent components of the “irresistible organization” described below. Situational Leaders can, and do, impact these dynamics each and every day.

Meaningful Work

The organization has a noble purpose, and the dreams, aspirations and values of the people that work there are connected to, and aligned with, that purpose. Work matters because the mission of the organization matters, and the people who have committed to fulfill that mission matter even more!

Strong Management

Performance goals and expectations are clear. People know what they are supposed to do and how that activity connects to the achievement of the noble purpose. They also know how those contributions will be measured and calibrated accordingly. They know because they probably played an active role in establishing those goals and mechanisms for measurement themselves.

Positive Workplace

People feel safe. They can speak candidly and openly about the work they do, how they do it and how it might be done better in the future. There are consequences—accountability and (at a minimum) timely feedback—for anyone at any level in the organization that impedes that vibe in any way.

Health and Well-Being

The organization intentionally encourages employees to pursue personal fitness, health and physical well-being. Beyond that, really, the organization removes barriers so that employees can make personal fitness a priority for themselves. The same goes for psychological and emotional well-being and support.

Growth Opportunity

Career development is actively supported, facilitated and personalized. These discussions are open, ongoing and iterative (because things change, priorities shift, and adjustments are a normal part of any career journey). Above all else, the organization emphasizes the importance of learning and the role learning how to learn plays in both employee satisfaction and organizational success, regardless of the chosen career path.

Trust in the Organization

The organization, as represented by its executive stewards, has a track record of both transparency and credibility. There is sincere alignment between the stated mission, the articulated strategy in place to achieve that mission and the tactical priorities that drive day-to-day operations.

For leadership training to be useful, it has to be relevant. In that regard, I encourage you to stay with this series and actively consider the points of connection offered on Situational Leadership® and the employee experience. Agree or disagree, we’d love to hear from you!

Next up: Situational Leadership® and Meaningful Work!