Most managers prefer to use a supportive leadership style that encourages direct reports to seek out their own solutions in accomplishing their tasks at work. But that style is only appropriate when the direct report has moderate to high levels of competence and mostly needs encouragement to develop the confidence to become self-sufficient. What about the other times when people are brand new to a task, disillusioned, or looking for new challenges? In these three cases, just being supportive will not provide people with the direction they need to succeed. In fact, just being supportive will often delay or frustrate performance.
The best managers learn how to tailor their management style to the needs of their employees. For example, if an employee is new to a task, a successful manager will use a highly directive style—clearly setting goals and deadlines. If an employee is struggling with a task, the manager will use equal measures of direction and support. If the employee is an expert at a task, a manager will use a delegating style on the current assignment and focus instead on coming up with new challenges and future growth projects.
Are your managers able to flex their style?
Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that leadership flexibility is a rare skill. In looking at the percentage of managers who can successfully use a Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating style as needed, Blanchard has found that 54 percent of leaders typically use only one leadership style, 25 percent use two leadership styles, 20 percent use three leadership styles, and only 1 percent use all four leadership styles.
Recommendations for managers
For managers looking to add some flexibility into the way they lead, here are four ways to get started:
- Create a written list of goals, and tasks for each direct report.
- Schedule a one-on-one meeting to identify current development levels for each task. What is the employee’s current level of competence and commitment?
- Come to agreement on the leadership style required of the manager. Does the direct report need direction, support, or a combination of the two?
- Check back at least every 90 days to see how things are going and if any changes are needed.
Don’t be a “one size fits all” manager
Leading people effectively requires adjusting your style to meet the needs of the situation. Learning to be flexible can be a challenge at first—especially if you have become accustomed to using a “one size fits all” approach. However, with a little training and some practice, you can learn how to accurately diagnose and flex your style to meet the needs of the people who report to you. And the best news is, even while you are learning, your people will notice the difference. Get started today!
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Leadership development training is a smart, prudent investment that drives economic value and bottom line results. But if senior executives don’t care about development then—guess what—development will not be a priority in the company.
That’s what Scott Blanchard, principal and EVP with The Ken Blanchard Companies, found out the hard way when his company lost a critical long-term account. An ongoing contract was terminated overnight when a new senior leader removed the entire learning and development department.
In a new article for Ignite! on Making the Business Case for Developing Your People Blanchard shares how that experience drove him to explore why some organizations see and believe the tangible value of investments in training while others don’t. He also shares how it provided the impetus to build a business case that would satisfy even the most hard-nosed of executives.
Understanding employee development
Blanchard discusses how the key was showing the correlation between leadership practices and employee development. He combines research that shows how strategic and operational leadership impacts organizational vitality together with some personal experience he’s had in making presentations to senior executives. In those presentations, Blanchard asks senior leaders to consider a typical employee in their organization and the key goals or critical tasks they are asked to perform as a part of their jobs.
In most healthy growing organizations, people are highly accomplished at some aspects of their job, decent in others, disillusioned with a few aspects, and just getting started with the new tasks.
Blanchard asks the group of leaders to self assess where their own people are at with the various tasks they are responsible for. Once that’s completed, Blanchard puts together a group composite. The senior executives are surprised to see that the distribution is generally stacked up at the Disillusioned Learner or Capable, But Cautious, Performer levels. (See Figure One: Typical Task Development Levels.)
Typical Task Development Levels (Blanchard Ignite! Newsletter June 2012)
Blanchard goes on to explain that, “If you operate with 75% of your people at a Disillusioned Learner or only a Capable, But Cautious, Performer level, you are going to have very anemic financial performance and low levels of passion and engagement.
“This is exactly what we are seeing in today’s work environment. The result is an organization operating at 65 to 70% of potential. In our research into The High Cost of Doing Nothing, the impact of this untapped potential is costing the average organization over $1 million per year.”
Leverage development levels effectively
For senior leaders looking to develop their people more effectively, Blanchard has some recommendations.
- “When people start off as Enthusiastic Beginners it’s important that you grab a hold of their momentum and enthusiasm and prepare them for the inevitable Disillusioned Learner stage. It will come, so it’s important to acknowledge it, make it OK, and help people push through it.”
- “When you get to the Capable, but Cautious, Performer stage remember that you can’t stop there—that will only get you lackluster financial performance. Instead, push through to a place where employees become Self-Reliant Achievers.”
What’s the development level of the people in your organization?
The best companies invest in their employees, supervisors, and managers. They know that people are the key to bringing plans to life and creating a sustainable advantage for your organization. Take time to develop your people. It’s one of the best investments you can make!
To learn more, check out Making the Business Case for Developing Your People
We’ve all been there. Do to some mix-up or poor communication we end up being either over or under dressed for an occasion. You’re wearing something too casual for a formal event (think shorts at a client meeting) or you find yourself wearing formal to a casual event (think a business suit to an after-work event.)
The same thing can happen when it comes to matching your leadership style to the needs of the people you’re leading. In this case, leaders often overdress by over-supervising (providing too much direction and support) or under-dress by delegating (providing too little direction and support) when their help is most needed.
How do you make sure that you’re always in style in both instances? Here are a few tips:
Make sure that you understand the situation. Being in style starts with information. What can you find out about the event that would give you clues to what would be most appropriate? When it comes to clothing choices, ask yourself: Who is going to be there? What is the situation? Where is it being held?
When it comes to leadership style, the same questions, slightly altered, can help in a management situation.
In this case, ask yourself: Who am I meeting with today? What are their specific needs in this situation? Where are they at in terms of competence and commitment for the goal or task? Find out as much as you can about the situation so you can match your style to the needs of the person you are working with.
Develop some flexibility—give yourself some options. Knowing that you need a certain style doesn’t help you if you don’t have that available in your wardrobe. The same is true when it comes to your leadership style. You need a variety of options that you are comfortable wearing. Most leaders play only one note—in essence, they wear the same style regardless of the situation. As a result, they are only in style a portion of the time.
This means that they might be on track when it comes to delivering a high direction style to someone new to a task, but completely off-track when they try using that same style with a highly-experienced, long time employee.
The best leaders have a full wardrobe at their disposal and are comfortable suiting up in a variety of styles to match the occasion.
Double-check that you’re on track. Once you’ve identified what you think is the perfect choice for the situation, be sure to double-check. Ask others, “Here is what I’m thinking would be appropriate in this situation, how does that sound to you?” Watch for a positive response. It might be subtle, so watch carefully. Some visible signs such as a release of tension, return of a confident look, or even a smile will tell you that you are moving in the right direction. If you don’t see that, return to step one—maybe you need some additional information to understand the situation more completely.
Creating a comfortable, natural leadership style takes work. But if you focus on the situation, develop your skills, and work together with people to make the right choices, you’ll find that you can develop an authentic, lasting style that will serve you well in any situation.
She’s been struggling to learn all of the different components of the new role and she hit a low point this past Wednesday. With the training coming to an end, she felt she had only mastered 40% of the required skills. As a result, she was thinking of turning down the advancement and asking to remain in her previous role. Even worse, she was reconsidering her decision to take the job in the first place. Maybe it wasn’t a good fit for her, she told me.
I was surprised at her reaction. I knew my wife had been struggling to pick up the new skills, but I also knew that she was a bright, capable, woman who had mastered much tougher content in the past. I did my best to offer a word of encouragement as I left for a 2-day business trip, but it didn’t seem to help much. I could see the concern on her face as I kissed her goodbye.
Normal, but still painful
I thought about what she was experiencing as I travelled. I knew that her reaction was normal and something that all people experienced when they were learning a new skill. At Blanchard, our Situational Leadership II model called this Development Level 2: Disillusioned Learner. It’s when people go from being enthusiastic about a task when they first start, to disillusioned when the task is more difficult than they anticipated. However, with encouragement, and as they begin to apply their new skills and gain confidence, they finally move on to mastery. It all sounds so neat in theory, but as my wife demonstrated, it doesn’t make it any easier for the person going through the process. Still, reconsidering whether to stay with the company seemed an especially strong reaction.
That’s why I was so surprised when I returned home and she told me that she was moving forward with the new role and was even looking forward to the next position beyond that.
“What happened,” I asked, amazed at the complete change in her attitude in less than 48 hours.
What she told me next were two important actions that all managers need to add to their skill set when asking employees to stretch and try something new.
- She received some positive feedback. After two weeks of practicing her new skills (badly, in her mind) she received some outside feedback on how she was doing. She was surprised to find out that she had received a 97 and a 98 rating on her two recent evaluations. These scores were consistent with the scores she had been receiving in her previous role. She was shocked that her work was so good. She was sure that she was going to receive bad scores. The lack of feedback up to this point had caused her mind to imagine the worst. A little bit of positive feedback provided a different perspective and dispelled that fear.
- She talked to her manager about her concerns. She shared with her manager that she felt that she had only mastered about 40% of the material. She also expressed her concern that maybe she wasn’t a good fit for the role. Her manager reassured her that she was right on track and even shared a personal story that she remembered only being 20% confident of the material when she had completed the class years before. The manager also shared that my wife was doing great, was one of the best people on the team, and that she had a bright future with the company. A little bit of encouragement and my wife’s confidence was restored. In fact, she now had a “just watch me grow” attitude I hadn’t seen since she first started.
Is it time to check in with your people?
How are your people doing? Are they knee deep in learning new skills? Have you checked in with them lately? It never hurts to ask.
Disillusionment is a normal stage of development. By responding appropriately with encouragement and support, managers can help their people get through this difficult stage and move on to confident performance. Don’t risk losing any of your best people to an extended period of disillusionment. Don’t let a drop in confidence and perceived skill keep your people from moving forward. Check in and see how they are doing. Offer a word of encouragement if appropriate. It can work wonders!