How does a leader know when to shift their leadership style?

In my early years as a leader, I assumed that my favorite style (delegating) was what everyone wanted and needed from me as a leader. It seemed like my success with this approach varied widely depending on the person and the situation I was in. I can recall times when delegating led to cohesion and amazing results, and other times it was painful for me, as well as the person I was delegating to, and would ultimately affect the organization I was working with.

When this happened, I would tell myself that a delegating style did not work for me, so I would pick from the three other styles, directing, coaching, or supporting, and use that approach. I would then experience the same thing. Sometimes it worked with amazing results and other times it was painful to everyone involved. I could not understand why this was happening. I knew something was wrong, and I questioned both myself and the people I was leading.

I wish that I could tell you that I figured this out early in my career, but unfortunately it was not until I was working on my Ken Blanchard Executive MBA at Grand Canyon University that I finally understood what was happening. It was in this program that I learned about Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model. This model posits that leaders need to shift the kind of leadership they are giving based on the needs, experience, and tasks of those they lead.

As leaders, we need to be competent in being flexible in how we lead. We need to be able to use the leadership styles of directing, supporting, coaching, and delegating to be able to deliver to those we are leading. This will be dependent on the person, the situation, and the task at hand. Leaders do well when they can properly diagnose the type of leadership that is most helpful to the person and the situation. To do otherwise is inviting difficulty and conflict. It is a painful mismatch that consumes everyone’s emotional energy and feels like we are pouring “grit into the gears”

A leader who is providing directive leadership to someone who is a competent performer may come off as being bossy because they will have already mastered the set of skills at hand. While the same leader who provides directive leadership to someone doing a task for the first time will be a leader who is building trust with that person. A leader who tries to delegate to someone who is new at a task, or a job may feel like they are showing trust, but most likely that person needs more support and will feel inadequate to accomplish what has been given to them.

If you are experiencing, what feels like, random difficulties in leading others, perhaps you are not providing the best type of leadership for the person and the situation at hand. Consider the idea of being able to deliver the type of leadership that your team’s individual members need to problem solve and start to establish their independence as a Self Leader. Becoming A Leader Worth Following is all about being self-aware, having empathy, and understanding what it is like to be in your own wake. Understanding when to shift your leadership style to better serve those you are working with is an important step in becoming A Leader Worth Following.