Want to see a sure-fire sign of a leadership disaster? Try leading everybody the same way. Fairness is one thing. Crafting organizations with a cookie cutter is another. And if you are going to get the best out of the most, you won’t accomplish it with a one-dimensional approach. It doesn’t work with kids; why in the world do you think it would work with young adults.
Different situations, different people, and different teams and organizations require leaders who can flex their approach. As examples, here are different situations that call for different styles or messages from leaders.
1. When followers increase or decrease their competence.
If you have a team of highly-skilled professionals with lots of experience, give them the bottom lines, deadlines and boundaries, and leave them alone.
Do that with a group of untrained or unskilled rookies, however, and you have a recipe for disaster. You can empower them and appeal to their sense of autonomy when they know what the heck they’re doing. In the meantime, tell them what to do and don’t apologize for it.
2. When followers increase or decrease their commitment.
Sometimes the issue isn’t ability, but attitude. Nobody in the realm of your influence shows up in a vacuum. They all bring their baggage and aspirations, relationships and history with them. And without fail, that affects short-term and long-term commitment to the task. Add to that the stresses and uncertainties that come with business life, and you find different people with different levels of commitment.
Remember this: Commitment is a byproduct of support and encouragement. And that doesn’t happen behind a desk or inside a policy manual. If commitment is low, show up. Be there. Listen. Encourage. On the other hand, if you’re harnessing a team of motivated, driven world-changers, you can afford to turn ‘em loose with the right communication and clarity.
3. When the relationship between the leader and follower(s) varies between good and poor.
Good relationships in a high-trust environment allow leaders to be more task-oriented and bottom-line. But if the relationships are strained, a wise leader will use more people skills like empathy, encouragement, and concern. That may mean applying different approaches to different people on the same team in order to keep them on the same team.
4. When the work to be done varies between repetitive and non-repetitive.
Feel free to “be the boss” when the job to be done is pretty much the same as yesterday. But when you gather a team of creative problem solvers, visionaries, or specialists, you’d better be prepared to empower, delegate, and stand back. Nothing is more unleader-like than somebody imposing and enforcing all of their thoughts & opinions (in an authority fashion) around in a team-based environment.
5. When the climate varies between anticipation and anxiety.
One kind of leader designs and builds the building; the other manages the situation when the building is on fire. Vision and expectation call for people skills. People respond to a message that inspires them, encourages them, or makes them feel important. Anxiety calls for clarity and decisive action. It is not enough for leaders to analyze the possibilities or give everybody a hug. Somebody has to point the way out of the burning building.
If you’re the same leader you were 10 years ago – or even 10 days ago – you may want to check to make sure people are still following. Times change. People change. Situations vary. And if you think you’re leading and nobody’s following – you’re just taking a walk.