4 Situational Leadership Styles

to help develop your teams

Posted by Alexander Todorov on Sat 11 November 2017

At SEETEST this year I visited only tracks related to management and leadership. The presentation How good leadership makes you a great team player by Jeroen Rosink was of particular interest to me. He talked about situational leadership.

Leadership styles Image by Penn State University

According to Hersey & Blanchard each situation/person is different and it requires a leader or manager to adjust their style in order to be successful. In particular as a leader you have to approach each team, person and skill differently based on how developed they are. In this context a skill can be any technical or non-technical skill, a particular competence level required or anything really. The idea is that for ever item that we would like to develop we would go through the cycle shown on the image above.

Directing

Every new employee, team member, junior IT specialist starts with some directing. This is the phase where you tell people what they have to do and how to do it exactly. This is the phase of the almighty boss who provides the what, how, why, when and where!

In this phase an inexperienced(or new) person will figure out what is required of them and give them detailed steps of how to achieve it. Experienced team members will quickly find their bearings and transition out of this phase.

Coaching

In this phase the individual has already acquired some skills but they are not fully developed. In addition to tasks here we also focus at supporting the individual to improve their skills and deepen the connection and trust between them and the leader. This is the basis of creating strong commitment in the future.

Think about coaches of sport teams. What they do is give direction in order to create the best players/teams.

Supporting

This phase comes naturally after coaching. Here we can also make the parallel with sport teams. In this phase team members are already competent in their skills but somewhat inconsistent in their performance and not very committed to the end goal of the team (e.g. winning, testing all bugs, delivering software on time).

This is the phase in which shared decisions are taken (what to test, how we should test, how to split the tasks between team members) and in which teams are formed. Here a leader must focus less on the particular tasks and much more on the relationships within the group (don't forget the leader is also part of the group).

Delegating

This is the end phase in which we have individuals with strong skills and strong commitment. They are able to work and progress on their own. The job of the leader here is to monitor progress and still be part of some decisions. What I've seen people who I believe were delegating do is mostly reaffirm the decisions taken by the team.

In this phase there's no need for the leader to focus on tasks and relationship but rather high level goals and IMO providing opportunities for growth of each individual team member. This is the phase where future leaders will come from.

What that means for the team ?

Notice the smaller section in the image above titled Development Level! While an individual or a team is going through the different phases of leadership they also go through various stages of development. At the end of the cycle we get individuals with very strong skills and very strong commitment and work ethics.

What that means for the leader ?

(stats from presentation at the conference)

  1. 54% of leaders can use only 1 style
  2. 34% of leaders can use 2 styles
  3. 11% of leaders can use 3 styles
  4. 1% of leaders can use 4 styles

This means as leaders we have a lot to learn if we want to become effective. We have to learn to recognize at what stage of development an organization and/or a team is and what are the various stages of development of individual team members. Then apply this model as appropriate.

A side note: I am currently working with a group of young developers on an open source project where all of them are pretty much at the beginning of their journey. They lack almost all necessary technical skills that are needed to work on the project and their profiles, including age are very similar to one another. I believe this is an ideal situation to apply this model and see how it goes (expect results in a year or so).

Note2: I will have 2 more developers joining the same project a bit later and I expect one of them to be able to get up to speed faster (so far I have observed very impressive self-development in them) so that will spice things up a bit :)

Bonus question

Do you remember The 4 Basic Communication Styles post from last year? I have the feeling that these styles are very much related to the leadership strategies described above. For example Director is using the directing style, Expresser sounds a lot like a coach to me and Harmonizer is using the supporting style. Only a Thinker doesn't quite fit but on the other hand they can be quite self-driven and not need supervision.

I don't know if there's something here or I'm totally making things up. I'd love to get some insights from psychologists, leadership experts and communication experts.

Further reading

Here are a few basic articles to get you started

Thanks for reading and happy testing (your leaderhip skills)!

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