Situational Leadership® is, has been and will always be a task-specific model. It is the primary benefit associated with its appeal, as well as the primary source of its perceived limitations (“There’s a lot more to leadership than task-specific tactics.”). For the record, we acknowledge the critique (leadership is a multifaceted artform) but suggest an incremental focus (person you are attempting to influence for a specific task) provides all of us with a tangible starting point we can usually wrap our heads around.
Good news! There are many tasks that, by their very nature, are well-defined and lend themselves to an objective measure (e.g., painting a wall, using a sales aid during a call with a customer, drafting an agenda for next week’s team meeting, etc.).
Challenging news! All tasks are by no means created equal. Many, by their very nature, are loosely defined and far more subjective when it comes time to assess performance. Consider, for the sake of example, any number of tasks that fall under the umbrella of Emotional Intelligence (EI).
For instance, let’s say you have a direct report with tremendous potential who is unconsciously self-sabotaging their overall impact and effectiveness due to a profound lack of self-awareness, awareness of others and impulse control. This person needs (perhaps may not want, but most assuredly needs) EI training. What to do?
While there is certainly no “answer in the back of the book,” consider which of the following approaches would provide the highest probability of success with the individual described for the task of improving his/her EI:
- Leadership style S4 (low relationship/low task) Empowering/Delegating:
- Continue to monitor the EI-related impact this individual is having on others, but take no definite action at this point in time
- Leadership style S3 (high relationship/low task) Participating/Facilitating:
- Sit down with this individual and discuss the potential impact his/her behavior could be having on others, and suggest/further discuss developing increased awareness in EI
- Leadership style S2 (high task/high relationship) Selling/Clarifying:
- Inform this individual that you want them to attend EI training, and explain how you believe active participation will enhance their impact on team performance
- Leadership style S1 (high task/low relationship) Directing/Guiding:
- Sign this person up for EI training, provide specific objectives for attendance and communicate that you will meet with him/her post-training to discuss what was learned
If history is any indicator, you probably gravitated toward elements of more than one approach (which is fine by the way), but ask yourself this:
Why is using a structured approach (S1/S2) with a well-defined task usually less challenging than using a similar approach for a task like “improving awareness of your personal impact on others?”
Most of us would have little or no difficulty providing detailed instruction and/or close supervision with someone that didn’t know how to paint a wall. But many of us would struggle (at least a little bit) leveraging the same approach with someone who had an interpersonal blind spot that was adversely impacting their effectiveness.
At the end of the day, the more nebulous the task, the more the leader needs to “double down” on diagnosis (i.e., thoughtful approach) and have the courage to creatively create movement, even if the follower in question sees no immediate reason whatsoever to alter their course.
- For the scenario described previously, which approach made the most sense to you and why?
- Based on your direct experience, what distinguishes well-defined tasks from loosely defined or subjective tasks?