Taking a Top-Down, Bottom-Up Approach to Leadership

Leadership works best as a partnership, with managers and direct reports working together toward achievement of company goals. It requires strong skills in goal setting, diagnosis, and matching for both manager and direct report.

But most organizations only focus on one half of that partnering equation, says Susan Fowler, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

“Managing the performance of two or three direct reports is challenging enough,” says Fowler. “But for managers who have seven or more people reporting to them, it becomes critical to have direct reports skilled in asking for what they need to succeed.”

Goal setting, identifying the amount of direction and support needed, and learning how to ask for a certain leadership style are key components built into the new Self Leadership training program Fowler helped design for The Ken Blanchard Companies. The new program teaches the skills of Situational Leadership® II (SLII®)—the company’s world-renowned leadership model—from a self leader’s perspective.

“Our intent is to equip the self leader with a parallel understanding of the same SLII® model their manager uses, so that true partnering can happen between them. The energy that gets sparked when people are speaking the same language leads to real results,” says Fowler.

“With a top-down only approach, even leaders with the best of intentions are sharing the SLII® model from their own perspective. While helpful, the opportunity that’s lost is teaching individual contributors the mindset or the skillset required to put it into action. If the leader is the only one who knows the model, how do the manager and individual come to agreement on development level? Armed with the skill of self-diagnosis, individuals can effectively reflect their interpretation of their own competence and commitment. A manager may diagnose me being at the self-reliant achiever level of development, not realizing that I’ve regressed to the capable but cautious level of development. But, if I know the language and have the skill to proactively conduct a conversation about how my needs have changed, everyone wins.”

Organizations invest a substantial amount of time and money teaching their leaders the Situational Leadership® II model. From Fowler’s perspective, it only makes sense to leverage that investment by investing in the other half of the equation.

“Leadership is a two-sided coin. When you invest in both sides, you create something truly valuable. Most HR professionals and leaders would admit that training individual contributors makes sense, but only recently has academic research validated the wisdom of not neglecting individual contributors. Hopefully the C-suite is waking up to the opportunity losses that come from investing in a one-sided coin.”

Fowler is confident that as more and more organizations adopt this dual approach, others will see the benefits—and training in self leadership will spread from early adopters to become commonplace in every industry.

“The research shows that self leadership matters. The proactive behavior of individual contributors is the essential ingredient in the success or failure of organizational initiatives. The research also concludes that self leadership skills are teachable.

“We want to help organizations leverage the money, time, and effort that they have already put into leadership training by extending training to individual contributors. Blanchard’s own impact studies have proven that when organizations train self leaders, they experience measurable increases in retention, productivity, and customer satisfaction scores. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do. The only way your organization succeeds if when your people succeed.”

PS: Would you like to learn more about taking a dual approach to leadership development?  Fowler is conducting a webinar on June 21, Taking a Top-Down, Bottom-Up Approach to Leadership. The event is free courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies!

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