Much has been written about different styles of leadership. These writings praise or criticize respective leadership styles and make it seem as though the choice should be made based on the qualities of the person who will do the leading. Either a leader is autocratic or charismatic, serving or inspiring. But is it really a case of one-size-fits-all-employees, or should leadership styles be adaptable to different situations?
Efficient leadership needs to be a blend of styles, because different situations require a different approach. An effective leader needs to be able to adapt to the needs of a variety of employees, whose needs change over time as they develop new skills and flourish. Leadership is democratic when possible and directive where needed. Here are four examples of how leadership can be adapted to employees’ needs.
“I’m willing, but not yet able.”
New employees may be motivated and committed, but they often lack skills and knowledge. These employees want to be told what to do, so they need a directive leadership style. New employees feel better when they receive clear instructions, for example, a step-by-step explanation of how to accomplish a task. They also need a bar of quality to aim for. Moreover, they need supervision while performing tasks and feedback after tasks are finished.
While a leader may aim for an inspiring or charismatic leadership style, a good leader never lets this ambition stand in the way of effective leadership on the ground. Inexperienced employees need direction, because without it they feel lost.
“I lack competency, and I’m not sure if I’m willing.”
This type of employee has been there for a while, but still lacks basic skills and makes frequent mistakes. Furthermore, this employee is not highly committed or enthusiastic about the work. Sometimes employees have doubts about how they measure up. They may be conscious of underperforming in comparison to others. Such employees need to be told they are just the man or woman for the job. While they still need instruction and attention, they also need to be motivated to show initiative. Praise these employees when they show improvement.
The more improvement they show, the more freedom you can give them in designing their own workflow and evaluating their own results. This leadership style is both task- and relationship-oriented. It’s sometimes called the coaching leadership style.
“I’m able, but not always willing.”
Sometimes employees know they can do the job; they know exactly what is required of them, but they don’t feel motivated to perform. These employees don’t like to be told what to do or how to do it. They no longer need instruction, but they do need support. Don’t give them more responsibility than they can handle, but try sharing responsibility for certain tasks. You should ask them a lot of questions and listen actively to what they have to say.
The required leadership style here is mostly relationship-oriented and also a little serving. Compliment, engage and motivate these employees. In time, you may be able to develop a more inspirational or charismatic approach with these employees.
“I don’t need supervision.”
This competent and professional employee enjoys the job and delivers solid work. They can work independently, and you can delegate important tasks to them without worrying. The leadership style that best fits this type of employee is a serving leadership style.
Many leaders have trouble loosening the reins if they are used to a more directive style. It can be hard to take a step back and admit that you are no longer needed. Resist the urge to fuss over details with these employees.
Employees can require different leadership styles over time. Most employees, as they progress, can benefit from a leading-, guiding-, supporting- and finally delegating-oriented leadership style. It’s a dynamic process that requires attention and adaptability. Sometimes, when a competent employee is faced with a new task, he or she may require more direction than usual, so be alert to new situations and adapt your leadership style accordingly.