We have 7 Articles on Situational Leadership, enabling you to develop your skills from start to finish or pin-point one key area of development for yourself. Each article includes its own resources at the bottom such as One Page Guides, Quizzes and Reflection templates.
The links to each article are below:
This brief article sets out to explore the what and how of this approach. We cover the basic terminology from Follower types to Leadership styles and summarise each style.
An introduction to Directive and Autocratic Leadership styles. Discover when to use it and when not to with our article on Telling Leadership.
We explore the Coaching Leadership style that bridges Directive Leadership and the Facilitation approach we see in Participating Leadership. We talk about the benefits and considerations of using this style in our article on Selling Leadership.
Facilitation can be a great tool when used effectively. In this article about Participating Leadership we guide ourselves through when to use this approach and how to get the most success from it.
Evolution of our Followers means we typically end up here, with Delegating Leadership. In this article we explore some of the risks and advantages of this style and how to get the most out of this approach.
Want to know all of the benefits of this model? Look no further than this article.
Want to know some of the risks and shortfalls of Situational Leadership? We explore them here and seek to give you the tools to get through these tough moments.
Discover one of the most popular leadership models of all time with us today as we look at the basics of Hersey and Blanchard’s well loved and heavily utilised model.
This is the first of 7 articles that explores this widely used model. Our release schedule for the Situational Leadership articles can be found below. Across our journey, we will explore the positives of the model, the negatives of the model and take a deeper look at each of the Leadership styles in more detail – concluding on the 20th of March 2022. Make sure you subscribe today so you don’t miss out on any of this content!
10/10/2021 – Telling Leadership Article
21/11/2021 – Selling Leadership Article
02/01/2022 – Participating Leadership Article
13/02/2022 – Delegating Leadership Article
13/03/2022 – Pros of Situational Leadership
20/03/2022 – Shortfalls of Situational Leadership
What is Situational Leadership?
Situational Leadership is a model created by Hersey and Blanchard that was initially named the “Life cycle theory of leadership” which puts forward the idea that a Leader should change their Leadership style based on the readiness (or maturity/ developmental) level of their Follower.
It is a structured style of leadership, based on the situation at hand instead of trait leadership which focuses on the Leaders behaviour, character and overall style.
Below is the Situational Leadership model. The 4 quadrants indicate Follower Readiness levels (R1, R2, R3 and R4) and the arrows moving their way through each quadrant represents the ideal leadership style for that readiness level.
The model comprises of 4 main styles of Leadership; Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating. Each leadership style matches the readiness level of your Followers, typically known as R1 (Readiness level 1), R2, R3 and R4.
- R1 Followers are described as: “Unable and Insecure or Unwilling”
- R2 Followers are described as: “Unable but Confident or Willing”
- R3 Followers are described as: “Able but Insecure of Unwilling”
- R4 Followers are described as: “Able and Willing or Motivated”
The horizontal axis focuses on directive or task orientated behaviour or how much “Telling” you need to do. The vertical axis places its focus on supportive or relationship focussed behaviour and how much time you need to invest in your Followers.
As you can see from the above image, R1 Followers need a Telling Leadership approach, R2 a Selling approach, R3 a Participating approach and R4 a Delegating approach. The model advises that you should change your Leadership style based on the Readiness level of your follower in order to provide them the leadership style that they will benefit from the most.
It’s important to understand that Follower Readiness level can move forward or backwards based on the situation at hand.
Why is it used?
Situational Leadership has been a popular Leadership style since its inception in 1969. Businesses use it to gain a consistent yet fluid approach to Leadership, whilst Learning and Development professionals have seen success when using this as part of a learning journey or embedding it into the learning cycle.
The Leadership model has been continually adapted by its authors (albeit separately) over the years, keeping it relevant and adjusting their model based on evidential research.
Whilst some models prefer Leaders to have specific traits or a key mentality, such as Servant Leadership, the Situational model calls for a combination of task and relationship focus, leading to an easy to assimilate and consistent formula for Leaders to use.
We go into more detail on the pros and cons of this model alongside each of the 4 styles in separate articles but one thing is clear, Situational Leadership has maintained its popularity amongst organisations since 1969.
How is it used?
For specifics, check out each individual article on the styles involved but we will give you a brief overview below of the Directing, Selling, Participating and Delegating styles, enabling you to grasp the high level theory behind the model.
Telling – or Directive Leadership
This autocratic or ‘Telling’ approach to Leadership is a method best used on R1 Followers. Here, you tell people what they need to do and why they need to do it. It works well when outlining a process or have new starters that are unable to perform the tasks required. It’s useful you’re your Follower lacks the confidence or desire to take necessary action.
This is a coaching centred approach where you “sell” your ideas and is best used with R2 Followers. The ideal time to use this style is when your Follower still lacks the skill to succeed but their confidence and/or enthusiasm overrides their skill level.
This is a facilitation style and is an ideal approach for an R3 follower. This style works well for people who have the skills but are lacking the motivation or will to do the job. It can be a time consuming approach as it requires little direction and lots of support, with a high focus on relationships. This approach is designed to engage your skilled Followers and help them see the value in themselves and their work.
This style of leadership is reserved for your R4 Followers. People who are motivated and have the skills to do the job to a high standard. It’s a hands off approach to leading, requiring little direction or support from the leader, this is where you want your Followers to be.
Situational Leadership is a model developed to aid a Leader in establishing an appropriate style to use, based on Follower readiness levels and the situation at hand. It outlines key attitudes and tools to use in each situation, giving the leader easy and quick reference on how to be effective at any given moment.
There are 4 Readiness levels and 4 accompanying Leadership styles – Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating. If you are ready to engage in the leadership styles in more detail, the individual guides and their accompanying courseware should give you everything you need to utilise this model effectively.
Thank you for spending time with us and getting a foundational understanding of this theory. Consider downloading the below resources, sharing them amongst your team and developing your own styles.
1) Situational Leadership one page guide
2) Situational Leadership quiz – what’s your natural style?
3) Situational Leadership quiz – how flexible a leader are you?
If you want to take your Leadership skills to the next level, book in your free consultation today:
Most days, we will all feel an element of stress in our lives so consider asking yourself this question:
“How would I feel if I could turn that stress into success?”
In this article we are going to explore what stress is, discover what we mean by optimal stress levels according to the Yerkes Dodson Law and discover ways to change how we harness stress so we can benefit both our performance and our lives. Before we get into this article – I want to reach out to you as one human to another. If you are feeling stressed or are concerned about your wellbeing, please feel free to send us a message, we would love to speak to you and hear your story. Whilst we are not counsellors or medical professionals, sometimes a chat and a virtual brew shared can go a long way. That said, whilst we love speaking to people and helping where we can, please consider speaking to your Doctor or medical professional if you have concerns about your wellbeing as they will likely be in the best position to help. If you do just fancy a chat, you can reach us on Social Media @DevelopTheEdge or via email at Connect@DevelopTheEdge.com – we aim to reply as quickly as we can but between coaching, leading and training – sometimes it can take us a while. If you are struggling, please reach out to your Doctor or local mental health charity/service to see what support is available to you. If you are from the UK, you can reach Samaritans for free, 24/7, 365 days a year on: 161 123.
Our DM’s are open and a brew is on standby if you need us. That said, let’s crack on with this article and see how utilising our optimal stress level can see us boosting performance.
What is stress?
According to the NHS website:
“Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure… Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.”
From this, we can understand that anytime we feel under pressure, in danger or threatened we can experience an element of stress. This feeling can have negative repercussions to both our physical and mental health…so how can we make this beneficial? Time to make this article practical with an exercise. Consider taking some time to rank the situations below from 1-5, with 1 being ‘no stress at all’, 3 being ‘some stress’ and 5 being ‘I can’t be anymore stressed’ – afterwards, we can reflect on our thoughts and take away a few key points:
- You have a project due in 3 months time and the only task you have yet to complete is to check punctuation.
- You receive a phone call that a loved one is in danger.
- Your probation review is coming up at work and you aren’t sure how it’s going to go.
- You are alone and a large group of loud people are making their way towards you.
- You have an exam tomorrow.
- You are late for an appointment and stuck in traffic.
- You have taken on too much at work.
- You need to leave the house to go shopping.
- You have a lot to do but if you keep to your plan, you know you can do it.
- You’re thirsty and need to go to the kitchen to get a drink.
What do you think the point of this exercise was?
Hopefully you found it a valuable one that you can share with others as part of a workshop or a way to build empathy/self awareness in your teams.
Our point? Well, considering that this article is about harnessing stress, there were 2 points of this exercise:
- Realise that everyone feels stress differently – something you’ve rated as a 5, could be a 1 to someone else.
- Not all stress is created equal – in the above list we may have felt lower and higher levels of stress. The level of stress we operate in determines how effective we are. Your reactions to the above stressors will have impacted how well you would have dealt with the situation.
Think about how each one will have made you feel, think and act. How would that have impacted your performance? How could we make ourselves more effective in those moments?
This leads us into the next part of our article – the Yerkes Dodson Law.
Your Optimal Stress Level – The Yerkes Dodson Law
The Yerkes Dodson law states that a person’s performance actually increases when an they are within a state of optimal stress arousal. We typically acknowledge stress as being a negative experience, so is it actually possible to harness a level of stress for our benefit? According to this, Yes. We need to be mindful though that this level of positive stress can become negative if the arousal level is too low or too high, decreasing productivity, engagement and memory. This indicates that there is a sweet spot for stress, a place where we can put ourselves for great results whilst avoiding the negative impacts of stress.
Below is the Yerkes Dodson diagram split into three sections:
- Low state of arousal where attention and interest are low (slate grey).
- Optimal arousal and performance (yellow), where it is best to operate and finally
- High arousal (dark blue) where stress impacts our performance due to levels of anxiety and burnout.
To put this into context, let’s ask ourselves these 2 questions:
- Reflective question 1 – Low arousal – how do you feel about completing a task when there isn’t a stressor attached to it? Where the task doesn’t feel important for you.
- Reflective question 2 – one such low arousal state from our above list could be: “You have a project due in 3 months time and you only have to check punctuation.” – how motivated are you to complete such a basic task right now in this moment when you have 3 months to do it?
The state of low arousal can be associated with lack of sleep or motivation. When we do not have a sense of purpose or mission, days can become long and tiring. In this state, we are not expecting to perform complex tasks or be in stressful situations. Due to this, we can lack motivation and attention to detail, potentially leading to poor performance, poor quality and a poor learning experience. We also know from Locke and Lathams research in goal setting theory that if a goal is too easy, we lack motivation to complete it. Do you think this could this be linked directly to the Yerkes Dodson Law? Let us know your thoughts – join the conversation on Social Media with #EdgeTalk
If you want to set challenging goals, consider checking out our article on the SMARTER model here which includes guides and templates to aid your journey to success.
To help us add more context to this theory, consider engaging with your experiences and answering the below 2 questions.
- Reflective question 3 – what situations have you been in where a low arousal state has impacted your performance?
- Reflective question 4 – optimal arousal – how do you feel when you have a challenging situation ahead but you are confident that you can achieve it? Consider a specific example if you have one.
The next part of the stress curve is the state of optimal arousal and it is where there is a balanced amount of stress, increasing motivation to complete the task at hand. Locke and Latham also discuss this in goal setting theory as the best place to set goals – something challenging but not too easy and not impossible, something that will stretch us if we work hard enough is typically something people find motivating. If you want to be more successful, this optimal arousal level is where you need to operate.
- Reflective question 5 – what situation have you been in where you achieved a goal through optimal arousal?
- Reflective question 6 – what was different for you here?
- Reflective question 7 – How do you feel when you have too much on and that you know the task ahead is impossible?
The third state, high arousal is where the stress level is over the optimal amount of stress and can be associated with anxiety, being tense, having low levels of concentration and focus. This can cause performance levels to decrease and lead to potentially dangerous impacts to your mental and physical health. We need to avoid this level of stress.
- Reflective question 8 – what situation have you been in where you have been impacted by high arousal?
- Reflective question 9 – how did this impact your performance?
Whist we know that stress changes from person to person, the theory also suggests that the optimal level of stress will vary based on the task at hand. For example, a higher level of arousal may be beneficial for an athlete rather than an office worker completing a daily task such as typing up minutes from a meeting. An athlete may also need to compose themselves in a high stress situation to bring themselves back to an optimal level such as a penalty kick, otherwise the level of stress they are under may impact their performance. England’s efforts at the 2018 world cup saw them focusing on taking their time for penalties and putting as much of the environment in their control as possible in order to focus on the task at hand and not feel rushed. The only stress they intended to feel was the optimal amount to do their best. With this in mind, it’s time we looked at some easy ways to take control and de-stress ourselves.
What causes stress?
Whilst there are many factors that lead to stress, there are a few key factors to consider as Leaders Coaches and Trainers: Skill level, mind-set, task complexity and confidence. In order to harness the power of stress, you need a moderate amount of stress for short periods of time. Extreme or chronic stress are generally unhealthy. This makes it important that we take time to understand our stress levels and identifying the reasons for stress, so we can work towards solutions.
Am I at my optimal level?
Whilst there are tools out there to help us establish our levels of stress such as the PSS-10 stress questionnaire, we may be able to identify our optimal stress level by reflecting on how effective we are in our actions and performance. What might a low stress level look like?
As we discussed earlier, we may seem:
- Lacking motivation
- Lacking enthusiasm
- Low attention to detail
- Not concerned with quality
How do you feel when you are too stressed?
Typically, we feel elements of:
- Anxiety or panic
- Tension in the body
- Low levels of concentration
- Inability to focus
- Racing thoughts
- Short temper
In contrast to low and high stress arousal, optimal stress may have us feeling:
Scan yourself now, which stress level have you been working at:
- This week?
- This month?
- Last month?
With the levels of stress understood, we can now discover how to get ourselves into the Optimal levels of stress.
Increasing low stress arousal
When we feel bored, unmotivated, drained and disconnected – we don’t feel great in ourselves. In order to feel more motivated, we may need to increase our level of stress in a productive way. With that in mind, here are 3 quick ways to positively increase our stress levels; challenge, align values and understand the importance.
Challenge – simply put, if you are on the low end of the stress spectrum, you are probably not challenging yourself enough. When was the last time you took on a challenge? If you are already working on something, consider upping the level of difficulty associated with it. Could you reduce the amount of time to get tasks completed? Could you look to accomplish the goal in a way that puts you out of your comfort zone?
- Reflective Question 10 – How can I increase the challenge level of a task I am currently unmotivated to achieve?
Align Values – When we align ourselves to our task, we are more determined to get good results. Let’s take a simple, boring and un-motivating task – taking out the rubbish. If you were a person who values their family, you could align taking out the rubbish with doing what’s right for your family. Maybe you could be setting a good example, maybe you could be ensuring the house is clean and tidy, maybe you are creating a nice and healthy environment for those you care about. If you are a person who values discipline, then consider aligning taking out the rubbish as a task to test that discipline. When we align ourselves to our task, we increase our motivation levels. A great way to tie aligning values and understanding importance within a team is to adopt a Participating Leadership style that you can read about here, that encourages your team to find their own answers, increasing engagement and motivation.
- Reflective Question 11 – How can we align our values to the task at hand?
Understand Importance – Even if a task we have to do can’t be aligned to our values, it can be beneficial to understand the importance of the task. Consider Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why’ movement. When people understand the importance of something, they are more likely to get involved. If you are not feeling motivated about a task, have you understood the importance of accomplishing it? If there is no importance to it after a lot of consideration…why is it on your task list?! Here is a quick video we put together on the Golden Circle and how to use it to engage with our goals on a deeper level:
- Reflective Question 12 – Have I understood the importance of the task? What is the real outcome of it?
Do you have any other tips for going from a low stress state to an optimal stress state? Join the conversation on social media with #EDGETalk
Reducing high stress arousal
The ability to recognize, label and manage stress can be extremely beneficial for being successful in life. To aid the management of stress, there are six easy de-stressing techniques you can utilize; deep breathing, visualisation, music, laughter, problem solving and segmentation. You can also utilize meditation and massage but they will not always be appropriate in work or a training environment.
The first technique, deep breathing uses something called diaphragmatic breathing, which uses you diaphragm muscle to breathe. Slow and deep breathing can help lower your blood pressure and relax your body. By counting to ten and not allowing yourself to get distracted by other thoughts, you can slow down your thoughts and refocus your mind. It increases the oxygen in your brain, can induce a calm state and being present helps to reduce anxiety. If you partake in wellbeing sessions with your team, these can form part of the session to help people become more present.
The second is visualisation, which can come in a few forms. First is to visualize the activity that is causing stress, such as facilitating a new session or having a difficult conversation. By visualizing yourself performing well, you can give yourself confidence and reduce stress levels. Athletes such as boxers use this to predict opponents moves in such a way, they can confidently predict the round they will the fight in alongside where they land their winning punch. As polarising a character as he can be, Conor McGregor has successfully predicted how and when he will win fights through visualisation. The other form is to visualize somewhere relaxing or safe in great detail, utilizing all of your senses such as touch, smell, sight, sound and taste to make it as realistic and vivid as possible. As a coach, visualisation techniques have been extremely beneficial in getting my Clients into the right state of mind and forms an integral part of our GURUS model.
The third technique is listening to music. Music has the ability to evoke a plethora of feelings based on what music is being listened to and your pre-disposition to what music you enjoy. When you walk into a gym, often high energy music is playing with a consistent beat. This encourages motivation and focus. Where people want to calm down, they can often listen to classical music and so on. Learning and Development teams have used music at key points of a learning experience as part of state elicitation and anchoring key learning points. What specific song helps you to feel calm? Join the conversation on social media with #EDGETalk
The fourth technique is laughter, as it releases endorphins and can reduce stress and anxiety levels. We know that information travels both ways between the body and the mind, meaning that the brain can impact you physiologically in regards to posture, breathing and so on but in turn, how you hold yourself, breathe and act can impact you mentally as well. You can laugh with friends, family and colleagues but need to be mindful on the types of humour you employ and how this can impact your reputation in the training environment. You can keep humorous images or videos on your desk or phone where possible to watch when stress levels get too high. People also participate in laughing yoga – have you tried this? How did it make you feel?
Fifth is to replace worry with problem solving. Dr Stephen Covey created the circle of concern and the circle of influence in order to help people focus on what they can impact (circle of influence) and ignore or limit the impact of things they cannot control (circle of concern).
By focusing on problem solving you are reducing the amount of worry as you are shifting your focus on being proactive and finding solutions. This will in time, make you more effective and resilient when faced with stressful circumstances. Once you have looked at the circles of concern and influence, you need to be proactive about the areas you can influence, do not waste time waiting for an opportunity, as it may never come. Another consideration is the Eisenhower Matrix, often referred to as the Urgent Important matrix in order to help you prioritise your workload – often having a plan in place is enough to help calm our minds. One key way to feel in control of your problem solving is to practice accountability – we have an article and free 40 page guide here to help you discover and improve your levels of Accountability.
Segmentation is a great approach to your workload, it can help you enter a state of flow and focus – enabling you to get more done. There are a few ways to work with segmentation, you could use something like a Pomodoro timer – press ‘go’ and start your activity, it times you for 25 minutes, an alarm sounds and you rest for 5 minutes. I wasn’t sure at first because it felt wrong leaving tasks unaccomplished but once I got in the swing of it, it was extremely valuable. Have you used the Pomodoro timer or alternative method? What works for you? Join the conversation with #EDGETalk
Other segmentation options are to set your day in tune with your natural circadian rhythm. What time of day are you better at different tasks? Use your rhythm to your benefit and chunk activities that compliment each other together.
We all experience an element of stress in our lives, sometimes the stress level is low and we may feel unmotivated, bored and restless. Sometimes the stress level is too high and we feel overwhelmed, anxious and irritable. By understanding our stress levels and how they impact how we feel, we are able to enter an Optimal Stress level that is beneficial for performance.
If you have identified a low stress state in yourself or your team and want to encourage engagement, you can challenge yourself or your team, align values and understand the importance of the tasks at hand. If stress levels are too high, it can be beneficial to reduce stress levels using one or multiple of these methods; deep breathing, visualisation, music, laughter, problem solving and segmentation.
As a bonus, you can research the 7 types of rest which include; Physical, Mental, Sensory, Creative, Emotional, Social and Spiritual. Realising the different types of rest were an absolute game changer for me, all I had considered previously was physical rest. Being able to recognise the type of rest you need can speed up recovery. At the bottom of this article we have created a one pay guide for you alongside a free Reflection guide to help you identify and move towards your Optimal arousal level.
How do you create an optimal level of stress?
If you’ve found this article valuable, consider sharing it and helping people develop their ability to be effective through stress management. If you want to help people manage stress whilst learning something new, our article on THE 5 STAGES OF LEARNING can help people avoid self doubt and limiting beliefs on their journey.
Book in your free, no obligation Coaching Session with us today:
Ever wanted to read minds? In order to be an effective coach we need to pay attention to the subtle cues all around us – our Coachee will tell us volumes about themselves without opening their mouth. So whilst we can’t give you an actual super power to read minds (yet, anyway) this article explores how to gets us as close as possible to using the unsaid for an impactful coaching session.
In this article we are going to discuss why sensory acuity is important, what it is and how we can utilise it to build better relationships with our Coachee and help them to get better outcomes as they strive to achieve their goals. Isn’t that really what we are here to do?
That said, before we continue with this article, we need to agree on something…
Would a Leader or Coach seek to motivate?
Would a Leader or Coach seek to inspire people to act?
Would a Leader or Coach seek to understand their Coachee in order to help them achieve?
You may have heard this before but due to the below content, it may be beneficial to give ourselves a reminder. – The tool kit of a Leader or Coach is the same tool kit as a Manipulator. It can be an uneasy realisation but it is an important one to make. There is one key difference between ourselves as Leaders and a manipulator however – and that is the intention behind the tool. A manipulator uses their tools for their own gain. A Leader or Coach uses their tools to help others grow, develop and achieve. The following article discusses how to utilise non-verbal cues to understand our Coachee and thus, if we are not careful can lead to manipulation. If you are a Coach or Leader that is purely there to develop people and help them achieve, read on, enjoy and utilise these valuable tools to help people grow. If you are planning on using this for your own gain here are 2 key reminders:
- Integrity is doing the right things when no-one is watching.
- People can sniff out a manipulator – your success will not last and neither will your legacy. Helping people on the other hand, will be remembered by those you develop – long after they have outgrown your support.
With that said, lets begin exploring the valuable tool known as Sensory Acuity.
Why is sensory acuity important?
Have you ever noticed that a sales person on the street extends one foot towards you? It’s a subtle gesture that says “I’m not in your way, I’ve actually got something else to do – so I’ll be quick!” They’re half in the conversation, ready to pivot out and leave you to it…giving you the perception of control and sending signals to your brain that they clearly have something else to do, so it won’t take up much time. They can hold that stance for hours and your brain will keep thinking “they’re going to leave any second now”. You see, you already use Sensory acuity to:
- Evaluate danger
- Make snap judgements
- Understand a situation
- Get an idea of someone’s intention
What we may not be doing is processing this data on a conscious level – meaning that we are constantly leaving this up to our subconscious to do and increasing our likelihood to be reactive in a situation rather than being purposeful. Consider Coaching or Leading – how valuable would it be to effectively and consciously assess our Coachee/Team members:
- Engagement level
- Stress level
- Motivation level
- Positive reaction
- Negative reaction
- Anxiety level
- Excitement Level
- Confidence level
Pretty valuable right?
If we care about our people, their goals and ability to achieve them, these are definitely things we want to tune into. By consciously looking out for these factors, we can consciously gauge their commitment level and likelihood to succeed – giving us some amazing foundations for effective questions that get us to their core values and beliefs. Once we’re there, our ability to get our Coachee wherever they need to be skyrockets.
Take some time to think about what the benefits would be of instantly understanding your team members; motivation, engagement, commitment, anxiety or confidence levels. Write down your answers and we can compare our thoughts together.
This is our list, did we miss anything?
The benefits of Sensory Acuity are:
- Understand Coachees beliefs and values
- Get honest and instant reactions (the body won’t lie!)
- Establish what motivates them to increase performance
- Identify uncomfortable barriers and help overcome them
- Establish the best way forward
- Understand preferences, likes and dislikes
- Gauge your relationship level
- Understand your coachees state (mind set or emotion)
- Change and manage your coachees state
- Utilising these will help you become an effective and engaging coach.
Now we see the value of Sensory Acuity…let’s define what it means.
What is Sensory Acuity?
That’s a great question. Based on the above benefits and why we would want to use it, what do you think it is?
Take a moment to reflect before continuing.
Sensory Acuity is really just about paying attention to what is going on. It’s being present and monitoring your Coachee for their;
- Body language
- Facial expressions
- Skin tone changes
- Eye movements
- Vocal pitch, speed and volume
All of these can give us a strong indication to our Coachee’s state changes – an invaluable insight into how they think, feel and behave, enabling us to be more effective in our ability to coach and lead them to their goals. Now we understand why it’s important and what it is, let’s discover the foundations on how to use Sensory Acuity to help and support your Coachee.
How to use Sensory Acuity
There is a simple acronym to aid us with remembering what to look out for in Sensory Acuity; VIBES – Voice, Inclination (body language), Breathing, Eyes and Skin. To become effective at this, we will need to break each stage down and know what to look out for.
Whilst the 7%-38%-55% rule has since been debunked (by its author), we can still obtain a vast amount of information about a person’s state based on the words they use and the voice they say it in – for example:
If someone who normally talks with a steady tempo starts talking fast, what do you think this could indicate? Excitement? Fear? Nerves? What could it indicate if they slowed their voice down? Relaxed? Uncertain? Authority? – realistically, we will have to group various pieces of information together to get a complete picture, but a person’s voice and the words they use can help us identify our Coachee’s state.
When tuning in to our Coachee’s voice we need to consider: pitch, tone, tempo, timbre, words used and volume. Each of these factors can indicate what state our Coachee is in and enables us to be more effective coaches. The same goes for the words used, for example:
“I might do that” – indicates a lack of commitment and realistically, that they are unlikely to follow through with the plan.
“What will people think?” – indicates that this person is driven by external influences and will likely side with the majority.
“I can see it now.” – indicates a visual state.
“I did this and then this and then…” – indicates the person is in a process state.
Inclination of the spine
Simply put, this is looking at body language.
If someone is slumped in their chair, eyes at the floor, arms folded – What could their body language be telling us? – potentially disengaged? Bored? Frustrated? Closed off? Depressed? On the otherside if someone is leaving forward, almost ready to explode off of their chair, making eye contact with you – it may indicate a state of being ready, motivated and engaged.
When we look at body language, we need to take in as much information as possible. Take sometime and think about what the following could mean:
- Arms folded and legs crossed
- Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs
- Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back
- Sat down but spread out on a sofa
- Stood up, hands in pockets
- Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs
- Hand across their mouth
- Feet pointed towards the door
What did you get? Here are the general meanings to these:
- Arms folded and legs crossed – Closed off / defensive
- Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs – relaxed / open
- Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back – Authorative/threat (potentially concealing a weapon)
- Sat down but spread out on a sofa – Confident / Powerful / Comfortable
- Stood up, hands in pockets – Nervous
- Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs – Vulnerable / Closed / Low power and confidence
- Hand across their mouth – Trying not to speak
- Feet pointed towards the door – Wanting to leave
We need to look at a person’s gestures, movements and macro movements to understand our Coachee. Like with all aspects, we need to build a bigger picture by using all of the information available together.
Whilst breathing can difficult to assess sometimes, it can be a useful indicator for us. We need to think about what the breathing could indicate, consider the below and assess what is being said about our Coachee:
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Slow, deep breathing
- Top of their chest expanding on inhale
- Diaphragm expanding on inhale
- Lack of rhythm
Medical conditions aside, the above breathing may indicate:
- Rapid, shallow breathing – Panic / fight or flight
- Slow, deep breathing – relaxed / calm / focused
- Top of their chest expanding on inhale – distress /anxiety
- Diaphragm expanding on inhale – relaxed / calm
As we can see, our Coachee is giving us plenty of information about them already that we can utilise to get them to their goal effectively. We have covered Voice, Inclination of the spine and Breathing already, next up is Eyes.
Many NLP practitioners, coaches and investigators have historically used eye movements in order to detect congruency. Whilst there can be no definitive way to detect a lie, it used to be widely accepted that eye movements indicate accessing different areas of the brain. Ever heard that someone looking to the right as lying? This is based on a lie requiring us to create an event instead of recalling one. Whilst recent studies have debunked this theory for telling the truth, the jury is still out on NLP eye accessing cues and how they help us understand how our coachee processes their world. Here is an NLP eye accessing cues image to help us understand how our coachee is representing and processing their world:
Whilst eye accessing cues can be useful, there are other key indicators of the eyes that are widely accepted, what do these mean to you?
- Pupils dilation
- Pupil contraction
- Blink rate
- Eyes narrowing
- Eyes widening
As with above, we cannot account for medical conditions and it makes sense to utilise these as part of painting a larger picture, but generally speaking, this is what they can mean:
- Pupils dilation – typically indicates that you like what you see
- Pupil contraction – indicates focus
- Blink rate – fast Blink rate may indicate stress
- Eyes narrowing – disgust or distaste
- Eyes widening – surprise or fear
With eyes covered, we need to move onto the final consideration of VIBES.
Whilst skin colour and tone can change based on multiple factors and with some skin tones it can be difficult to track certain changes – this links back in with everything we have said previously, tie it into other factors and parts of the VIBES model to build a picture.
The first consideration is whether our coachee has any skin conditions that are impacted by stress such as dermatitis or psoriasis. Could an outbreak indicate that our coachee is stressed? With that said, what do you think the below could mean?
Ready to discuss what the above could indicate?
Lips pursed – tense, disapproval, irritation or disgust
Lips relaxed – calm and relaxed
Muscles tensed – angry, hostile or threatened.
Muscles relaxed – calm and relaxed
Goosebumps – Fear or excitement
Glossy skin – if caused by perspiration may indicate stress or anxiety
How do I use this when people are different?
As useful as all of this information can be, we know that everyone will have different baselines, some people may have a faster Blink rate or maybe they are shallow breathers. Perhaps their eyes move more or they naturally fidget. All of these factors may throw us off if we live by the 1 size fits all approach. Therefore it’s important that we calibrate with our coachee. By calibrating we can understand their baseline and therefore notice differences more clearly when using VIBES.
Calibrating with our Coachee enables us to see and hear how they process different emotions and states. Helping us to more effectively monitor our Coachee and bring them into a more beneficial mindset.
The calibration can be quite easy to do in theory but bear in mind that some people don’t like being read and will try to keep the impacts of their state hidden or even reversed if they know you are looking for it. This means we need to do one or both of the following.
- Bring state changes on naturally through the flow of conversation
- Explain to your coachee why you are eliciting states in them
When developing Leadership skills in others, I and many other Leadership Coaches will explain the same tactics and tools we use to our Coachee. We also let them know we will utilise these same tactics on them. You need to be mindful when sharing this information, you ideally will need a good relationship with them first. Why?
The tool kit of a Leader and a Manipulator are almost exactly the same, the reason we use these tools are what sets us apart. A Leader and Coach uses these tools to help people grow and achieve, a manipulator uses them to purely help themselves. You may benefit from demonstrating that you care deeply about your Coachee before sharing this information as without understanding your intention to help them grow, they may feel used.
Remember – purpose counts. When our Coachee truly knows every tool we utilise is for their benefit and each technique we use is carefully applied to help them get towards their outcome, they understand and accept it. Much the same as when someone I have shared a tool or technique with uses it on me, I feel a sense of pride because:
- I know they’ve learnt
- I know they are trying to help me
The calibration exercise goes as follows:
- Get your Coachee into a neutral state – ask them to think about something that isn’t overly stimulating such as the weather.
This will help you understand their baseline.
- Ask your Coachee to think about a time they were overjoyed. Ask them to really step back into that moment, hear, see and feel it like it was happening again.
Watch the changes in their face, body language, breathing – remember VIBES.
- Return your Coachee to a neutral state
- Elicit a different state, such as one of disgust and repeat step 2 and 3 until you have built up a good understanding on how your Coachee looks within each state – or at least the states that will be valuable for them.
If you are new to Coaching, consider checking out our article on building an effective coaching structure by clicking here.
If one of your Coachee’s isn’t benefitting from your coaching style – could it be the wrong time for them to be coached? We have an article here about when to utilise coaching for maximum impact.
Finally, before our summary – if you are struggling to find an effective coaching model, here are 3 great tools you can use:
- GURUS – Our 5 step model, available on Amazon for £4.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited users.
- The GROW model – A staple in organisational coaching
- SMARTER goals – how to make your goal tangible
Sensory Acuity is simply paying attention to what is going on. It’s being present and monitoring your Coachee for their; Body language, Facial expressions, Skin tone changes, Eye movements, Vocal pitch, speed and volume – and Breathing. Giving us a valuable insight into how they think, feel and behave. VIBES is an easy way to remember what to look out for when helping our Coachee achieve their goal. It stands for; Voice, Inclination of the spine, Breathing, Eyes and Skin.
How we use these tools and techniques matter. Remember – as a Leader, we need to ensure that everything we do serves our Coachee and not ourselves. At the bottom of the page are some activities we can use to cement our understanding of Sensory Acuity.
Thank you for reading our article on Sensory Acuity. If you have found it valuable, please consider sharing it with others. Simon Tickner is the Author of G.U.R.U.S – The 5 step Goal Getting approach for Leaders, Coaches and people who want to win. You can get your copy on Amazon today: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09PSPDK3W/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_ZX67GPS31TPVSPNF82RZ
Try our calibration exercises out with someone. Try to keep the conversation flowing naturally instead of just cutting and jumping from 1 state to another. Be persistent, the more you practice the better you get. Try with different people.
What does VIBES stand for?
Recall what these might mean:
- Fast pace when talking
- Quite voice
- Using words such as ‘Maybe’
- Arms folded and legs crossed
- Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs
- Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back
- Sat down but spread out on a sofa
- Stood up, hands in pockets
- Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs
- Hand across their mouth
- Feet pointed towards the door
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Slow, deep breathing
- Top of their chest expanding on inhale
- Diaphragm expanding on inhale
- Lack of rhythm
- Pupils dilation
- Pupil contraction
- Blink rate
- Eyes narrowing
- Eyes widening
- Lips pursed
- Lips relaxed
- Muscles tensed
- Muscles relaxed
- Glossy skin
If you are ready to take your coaching to the next level, consider booking in a free, no obligation session with us today:
Guest Article – What Makes Good Managers Great Business Leaders
A common debate is whether certain charismatic personalities are born leaders or is it just a matter of experience that brings them to this stage of excellence? Leadership is an art that not all can master; it differentiates people on the basis of their ability to lead rather than dominate over their subordinates.
We all know the difference between high and average-performing managers; however, for certain job levels, it depends upon productivity, efficiency and the ability to execute complex jobs.
Leaders don’t just appear. They were once managers, subordinates and peers who turned out to be great leaders with the ability to perform desirable business operations and achieve profits for the company.
The Undeniable Link between a Manager and a Leader
Not all managers are good leaders. In fact, there is a very thin line between a good manager and a leader. Leaders compel people to follow them, as they are in an authoritative position, whereas managers work with and through people. Successful businesses need to have both effective leaders and managers to get the team working towards a particular goal. Students can learn to be effective managers during group projects, but as they enter the corporate world, it’s important for them to start adopting leadership roles that will drive them toward success.
As organisations are beginning to place more and more importance on teamwork, managers are expected to strategically plan how to articulate their own vision and work with employees to attain it. The competitive marketplace has urged managers to assume the role of responsible leaders as unprecedented levels of performance are needed to gain a competitive advantage in a talent-hungry market.
Set a precedent.
It is a common misconception that leaders need to dominate and rule over their employees or subordinates to get the job done. In fact, a good leader is one who is followed by example. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and if managers want their subordinates to implement what they preach, it’s important that they practice it too.
Leaders set their organisations’ tone and culture, which automatically trickle down the hierarchy and establish the acceptable norms and practices. All great leaders have operational discipline. They are talented people who sustain high performance to inspire motivation and loyalty in employees and make them want to be part of their team.
People are what drive you.
A leader is not a leader until he or she is accepted by everyone as the leader. Just like respect cannot be demanded, but rather earned, to be seen as source of inspiration and example, managers need to have excellent interpersonal skills. For people to place their indispensable trust in a leader, the leader’s personality must be approachable. Leaders are always mindful of what their subordinates want, as they strongly believe that it is the employees who drive results and are the company’s most prized assets.
Being the risk bearer to achieve the desired result.
Leaders are daring and fearless. They have the habit of taking risks and not giving up at any cost. They are often able to bring out the best in themselves through their relentless efforts. They are used to dealing with uncertainty and are often plunged into situations where they have to improvise. This situation is the true test of emotional intelligence and the ability to leverage creativity and innovation to achieve the desired results.
Communicating and Celebrating
Managers execute tireless leadership skills throughout their professional careers with consistent communication with their employees and by celebrating victories and successes, whether large or small. With continuous encouragement for improvement, they pride themselves and their teams on their responsiveness and willingness to outperform and make achievement their top priority.
These leadership characteristics drive better results, delivering excellence and productivity for the organisation.
This guest article was written by Guest Article by:
Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model was originally called the ‘Life Cycle Theory of Leadership’ in their 1969 book ‘Management of Organisational Behaviour’. This model has seen many revisions from 1980 and onwards to present day. It is an adaptive leadership style that encourages Leaders to review their Followers readiness levels alongside variables in the workplace to provide the most effective leadership style at any time.
This leadership style can help to develop followers, build rapport amongst the team and get the best out of people. Whilst it has varied styles of leadership available, having an organisation use this approach can actually see a common Leadership model being used and therefore have consistency across the business.
Throughout this article, we will discuss the advantages and successes of this approach, with the disadvantages and short falls of this model being in the next article.
We have created multiple articles on each stage of the model so if you want to see a particular style in more detail, check out these links:
13/02/2022 – Delegating Leadership – Disected and Discussed
13/03/2022 – Sharing the Successes of Situational Leadership
20/03/2022 – The Shortfalls and Limitations of Situational Leadership
We have identified 8 key successes of the Situational Leadership model, they are: Consistency, Flexibility, Development, Support, Team Knowledge, Humility, Reflection and Learning and Development. Grab a brew, get comfortable and let’s explore the benefits to this much utilised model.
Situational Leadership model encourages a consistent Leadership approach throughout an operation. This seems strange as the model actually utilises 4 different leadership styles but the consistency here, lies in how the styles are used.
The styles are matched to Follower Readiness levels meaning that no matter where the team member goes, they will receive a similar level or support and autonomy. By using this model, Followers are more likely to improve and the business is more likely to achieve. Imagine a leader that only coaches or only directs – both styles would eventually cause friction, frustration and fissures within working relationships. A Leader who adapts their approach based on the situation however, may find more success due to their adaptability.
When the model is used throughout the business, Leadership teams will approach their Followers in the same way, based on their Follower and the situation at hand. This creates consistency across the Organisation, helping to build psychological safety amongst teams.
One of the major benefits to Situational Leadership is that it utilises four very different techniques, allowing the leader to evaluate the situation alongside their Followers readiness level to find the most effective way to lead.
It acknowledges that different people and situations will benefit from different types of interactions and encourages the leader to be both reflective and detached from the situation in order to pick the best style.
Your team are highly skilled but lack the motivation to achieve their highest possible standard of work. Typically, you would use Participating leadership to help create buy-in and increased levels of commitment. However, a new project has just landed as priority, client are being very specific about what needs to be done and within tight time scales.
Participating leadership would take too long here, there wouldn’t be time for lengthy facilitation sessions where your team come up with the how and what of the project.
As a leader you would need to consider Directive Leadership to get people moving or if you felt the team were ready, a Delegating Leadership style may be best.
Of course, when changing your style, it is important that we explain to our teams why they don’t have their normal freedom and autonomy – if we don’t, resentment will likely begin to stew as they think:
- “They have lost faith in us.”
- “Why are we being punished? We hit all deadlines on the last project!”
- “They clearly don’t trust us.”
- “I’ve been doing this role for years, who do they think they are?”
Consider our people and their egos before changing a leadership style, think about setting expectations on why its occurring, such as:
- “Team, client have sent us a new project. It has very tight deadlines and strict guidelines. Due to this, we wont get our usual flexibility to tackle this how we want to. I’m going to deliver the gameplan I think will work best, feel free to make suggestions but due to time constraints, we need to keep it simple and can’t get carried away with discussion.”
- “You guys did such a phenomenal job with the last project, client have trusted us with a high priority task. This is great for us as a team and a chance to further our relationship with client. Due to the time constraints of this project, we need to work towards more specific guidelines, it’s a chance to show our ability to achieve on client terms instead of your usual freedom to find the best way forward. Happy to hear any tweaks but this is the plan.”
- “Last project went well and client have commented on how happy they were with the end result. I am trusting you to complete this with limited guidance from myself. Due to time constraints on the project, we cant spend much time in the planning. I’ll tell you what client are looking for, when it needs to be done by and the rest is up to you. If you need support, my door is open.”
Here, the situation called for the Leader to move their Followers through Readiness levels, which ties into our next key success of the Situational Leadership model.
It develops Followers
When utilised appropriately, the model can guide your Followers through their Readiness levels in order to make them effective members of the team. Followers may revert to previous Readiness levels based on many different factors such as a change in process, difficulties in their personal life, conflict at work or unforeseen circumstances – the list is not exhaustive. Due to this, it is essential the Leader reflects on their Followers readiness level alongside the situation to get the best results.
Readiness level 1 Followers are typically new to the role and don’t know anything about the operation to allow coaching to be effective. By using Directive Leadership, you are preparing your Follower to move to Readiness level 2.
Here, the Coaching leadership style is best utilised. This method focuses on improving performance as typically, the Follower is quite self-motivated here to want to be effective, they just don’t really know how. This coaching style helps the Follower get to grips with their purpose and role, which will move them into Readiness level 3.
At this stage, Followers are skilled but unwilling or unmotivated. Perhaps the work is not stimulating enough, equipment doesn’t work, they feel stuck, bored or unrecognised for their contributions. The Participating leadership style focuses on engagement by facilitating solutions and allowing your team to find and execute on their ideas. As their motivation grows, they move to Readiness level 4.
At level 4, the Follower is extremely capable and motivated to get the job done. This is where you want your Followers to be, autonomous, capable and effective. Here you need to delegate.
Followers feel supported
As this model is focused on adapting your style to suit your Followers Readiness level, your team will likely feel supported by your efforts.
As earlier, it’s best to signpost the reason behind your style change so your Followers won’t get confused or frustrated by the sudden fluctuations in your approach. When you are invested in leading your people and helping them grow, the genuine focus on supporting your people will be felt by them, which in turn will build trust and commitment towards your teams cause.
Consider having a leader that adapted their style to suit your needs and also invested their time and energy into your development. How engaged would you feel at work? We know that engaged employees are more productive, satisfied and reliable at work. Focusing your efforts on supporting your team should be an easy choice to make.
Know your team
It goes without saying that if you are utilising Situational Leadership, then you should have a good grasp on your team, their abilities, development areas and mind-set. To get the most out of this model, you need to invest heavily in understanding who you are working with.
Knowing your team can provide the following benefits:
- We can lead our Followers as they want to be or need to be lead
- We build trust
- We foster a connection
- We create engagement, increasing productivity and job satisfaction
- Job stress reduces
- We strengthen our ability to predict and prepare for conversations
- We are better placed to treat a core problem instead of surface symptom
Situational Leadership can be considered a very humble approach to leading. One of the key critiques of an Autocratic or Directive approach is that the leader needs to have skills that surpass the team (or at least they think they do). The Situational Leader acknowledges that they don’t in fact know the best way forward and that the strength of the team needs to be utilised to get the most effective outcome. This mind-set means the Leader needs to be both humble in nature and able to detach from their ego in order to critically analyse the best approach and person to do the job.
Especially as we move into the Participating and Delegating styles, the leader needs to trust in their team and be willing to try ideas that may go against what they think is best. Of course, the leader cannot take on a bad idea! They are still responsible for the outcome but if a solution put forward by the team will work (even if you think your way is better), let your team run with their idea rather than overrule with your own. Giving them the reigns here will boost confidence, trust and help them develop as they think critically of their actions.
Linked to being humble, Situational Leadership requires you to have a firm grasp on yourself, team and situational reflection in order to utilise it effectively.
Taking time to reflect helps embed learning, development and change, making it an extremely useful tool for self-development. Thinking critically about a situation can increase your emotional intelligence and help with the future communication with others.
Further, reflection can be linked to creative thought and strategic thinking making it a great tool for your own development, relationship management and making sound strategic decisions.
Learning and Development
Hersey, Angelim, and Carakushansky (1982) found that when managers were trained using the Situational Leadership approach in the classroom, starting with Directive and then moving through the individual stages, that they performed significantly better in their final exams than the control group that did not receive this style. This indicates that the model is a great tool to use when training and mentoring people.
If you work in Learning and Development, consider using the stages of Situational Leadership when planning your Sessions. Have you provided Direction at the start? Does your session include Coaching, Participating and Delegating towards the end? In the experiment, a different Trainer was used at each stage of the learning journey. When we think about the 5 stages of Learning it can make sense – When we don’t know how much there is to learn, Direction is important. When we are gaining confidence but still need more work on our skills, Coaching works well. As we begin to move into Conscious Competence, a Participating approach allows us room to experiment and embed what we are learning. When we are Unconsciously Competent, we can have work delegated to us.
Overall, Situational Leadership has seen success in organisations throughout the world. Whilst in part 2, we discuss some of its limitations, there are some real benefits to utilising the model. Situational Leadership can provide both consistency and flexibility within your organisation, creating effective leadership teams. The model focuses on understanding and developing people – adding value to your operations whilst increasing engagement, satisfaction and productivity. The model requires reflection activity, keeping your skills sharp whilst ensuring you remain humble and it has proven strengths within the Training and Development field.
Click here for Part 2: The Limitations of Situational Leadership
Have you ever had a boss who took on too much work and as a result, piled project after project on to you? Did they do so without understanding your skills, ability and motivations in work? Did they take your success as their own and blame you for any shortcomings? – All of those things? They aren’t what Delegating Leadership is about, in fact – they’re all great ways to show that you are an ineffective Leader that’s in it for themselves instead of being in it for your team. If you want to know how to Delegate effectively, so it benefits you, your team and your organisation, this article has been built for you. We break this article down into 2 sections; Delivering Greatness where we cover 6 Must-do’s for this style to work and the second section Dodge Greatness where we cover 4 things you need to avoid to be successful.
Before we being, your Follower should be Able and Motivated before you use this Leadership style, if they are Able but lacking motivation, consider Participating Leadership, if they aren’t skilled but they are motivated, consider Selling Leadership and if they are neither skilled or motivated, consider Directive Leadership. These 4 styles are part of Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model, where they believed that the most effective way to lead is to change your style based on your Followers Readiness level (a combination of skill and will). Delegating Leadership is the last style within this model.
Delegating Leadership can be tricky, some people see it as a way to just reduce their workload and whilst this is a benefit of the style, it can also be a risk. To ensure you are Delegating appropriately, you need to cover these 6 key points; Knowing yourself, Knowing your team, Team Development, Creating time, Job satisfaction and Motivation and Creativity and Innovation.
Leadership is about achieving the mission, it’s about putting your ego in check and utilizing the best tools you have to get the job done. Delegation requires you to be humble, to admit that you cannot do it all by yourself and that there are likely people who will do it better than you, even if you could do it on your own. It means you have to keep your ego in check and trust that your team will deliver and that you don’t always have the best way forward (even if you think you do).
Be mindful that delegating leadership isn’t about micro management. It is a method of leadership which requires you to provide very little support to your Follower as they will already have the skill, will and understanding of the mission to accomplish the task with a high level overview.
Knowing yourself is an important part of this leadership style, understanding your limitations and ability to give others control will impact how successful this style will be for you. You will need to provide your Followers with the necessary power and room to complete their tasks whilst still being personally responsible for the outcome.
Consider asking yourself these questions:
- What can I do to be confident in giving others full control?
- How can I communicate the outcome clearly and concisely?
- How can I balance being hands off and knowing if the project is on track?
- How can I be aware of the difference between ‘must-haves’ and what I ‘think’ is the best way forward?
- What can I do to celebrate my Followers success and take ownership of the short-comings?
Knowing your team
When your Follower is at Readiness level 4, they have the skill and will to do their tasks to a high standard. The first thing to acknowledge here, is that if you are delegating to someone, they should be an R4 Follower – someone who is both skilled and motivated to do the task you are giving them.
It is therefore on you to be able to understand your teams skillsets and levels of motivation. A great leader will continuously understand where their Followers are in relation to their skill, will and motivation levels. If you want to start off on the right foot when Delegating, ensure your Follower is at the right level with their skill sets and their focus for achieving the teams goals. If they aren’t then you will likely cause chaos for the project, your relationship with your Follower, their confidence levels and your perceived competence.
- Do I trust this person to deliver to the expected standard? If not, how could I get there?
- Will they come to me if they are stuck?
- Do they have access to all of the resources (internal and external) they need to get the job done?
- What skills will they need to achieve this task?
- What might motivate them to complete this task?
- What support will I need to give them to make this successful?
Consider these questions before delegating any work, otherwise you could be setting your Follower, the project and your relationship up to fail. That said Delegation is an investment in your Follower that has benefits for them, the organisation and yourself, so don’t just write them off on your current assessment. Instead, shift your focus on how to get your Follower to Readiness level 4 as you will both likely benefit from this initial invested time.
One of the main benefits of this Leadership style, is that providing your Follower is at Readiness level 4, this is a great way to develop their skill sets further.
Delegation should stretch your people, whether that’s upskilling their Leadership capabilities, Project Management skills, honing their relationship management and levels of influence, working on their time management or even their confidence. By being given the reigns and responsibility, your followers have the opportunity to learn many lessons, become future leaders and assets to your organisation.
Consider these questions:
- How will this project benefit my Follower?
- What skills could this teach them?
- What strengths could they utilise?
- How can I empower them to succeed?
- How am I going to ensure my Follower looks at any failure as opportunities for growth?
This is probably the main reason people delegate and one of the major benefits. When we pass tasks to someone else, we create space in our day (…probably for more tasks – yeah, no such thing as a break for Leaders – haha). This is one of the amazing benefits of having an R4 follower to share our objectives with. This Leadership style is very hands off, providing your Follower shares your vision and understands why the mission is in place, you shouldn’t need to spend much time clarifying what needs doing or how actions should be carried out. When you have a true R4 Follower, you have not only saved yourself time by delegating the task but also removed the need lengthy briefings and progress meetings. A check in meeting is important every now and again but if your Follower tracks their project in a Gantt chart or similar, all you need to do is have access to that sheet and occasionally touch base to see if they are okay.
This will allow you to spend time where you are able to add more value to the mission. You will likely be less stressed and thus, be more effective in your own work. Delegation isn’t about passing your work off to have free time, it’s about creating space so you can better achieve the mission.
Questions to consider:
- How will I use this spare time?
- Is this the best use of my resources?
- How much time will I need to put aside for project updates?
Job satisfaction and motivation
When you are trusted to take the reigns on a project, especially for the first time, it feels pretty good. It tells you that your manager respects your skills and trusts you to deliver to a high standard.
When people feel responsible and trusted in their role, their levels of engagement, accountability and motivation increases. Where job satisfaction is high, people are more effective in their roles and become more productive. We can see then that by placing our trust in our Follower, their job satisfaction will increase and they will become more effective in their role. You need to demonstrate trust and psychological safety for your Followers here, so they feel motivated and safe to both succeed and fail.
Questions to consider:
- How can I show my Follower I trust them to deliver?
- What will I need to do to ensure they are not overwhelemed?
- How will I ensure they have the resources they need?
- How can I keep this satisfaction and motivation high once the project ends?
Creativity and innovation
Delegation leads to innovation. The world is full of different personalities, with different life experiences, passions and motivators. Two people, experiencing the exact same event may have completely different views and memories on what happened during that shared experience. That is because we see the world through our own beliefs and values.
For example if two people were made redundant at work, one may ask ‘why do bad things always happen to me? I don’t know what to to.’ Where as the other may think ‘This is the nudge I needed, it’s time to start something new and exciting.’
By handing the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of a project to your Follower, you are giving them permission to create what they think is the best way forward. Providing you haven’t surrounded yourself with yes-people or people exactly like you, there’s a good chance they will be able to innovate new ways of completing tasks or even streamline processes to become more efficient.
This is still something I am amazed by today having been in Leadership for such a long time, it still inspires me when someone comes up with an idea I hadn’t seen before or wants to try something I’ve already seen fail – sometimes the different twist someone puts on a tried technique can create absolute magic results for the team, the project and their confidence levels. You just have to trust them and evaluate risk levels. If you think the idea has an 80% chance of success with minimal impact if it goes wrong – let them run with it, you’ll both likely learn if it goes wrong and the benefits can be huge if it goes right.
Consider these questions:
- What are the chances of this succeeding?
- What are the impacts of it’s failure?
- What could the benefits be?
- How can I give them room to experiment?
- How much of my ego is stifling their creativity?
Now we have looked at how to Deliver Greatness with this Leadership style, it’s time to look at what to Dodge to ensure you use it effectively to support your team, organisation and self with Delegating.
There is a real risk when delegating work that your Follower will get disconnected from the team and the wider business objectives. One of the positives we discussed earlier was the accountability and ownership that comes from being given control of a project. For some Followers, this becomes the sole focus for them and they begin to work in silo. If you have multiple people working on their own projects and they all end up in their own silos, they lose sight of the wider picture and the bigger objective their project feeds into.
It is vital that during delegation, you keep your Follower involved with the wider team and mission. The danger of working in silo and wanting to complete your workload before all else, is that you can become selfish to the rest of your teams needs. There is no point being proud in getting all of your work done on time if the team failed their mission, worse would be if by putting the team after your own workload, you caused this failure. Ensure that your team know what each other are doing and any risks or opportunities they are currently facing.
Consider these questions:
- How can I help my Follower see this project links to a wider objective?
- What can we do to keep communication high?
- How can we keep the team spirit and mentality?
Delegation will always have an element of risk and it can be both a daunting and stressful experience wondering if you have made the right choice. First of all – you need to ask if you have have correctly evaluated your Followers Readiness level. Do they have the necessary skills and motivation to complete the task to its desired standard? If not, what is the risk to the project, your reputation and potentially the overall mission should something go wrong?
The next risk comes from the low supportive nature and hands off approach of delegating leadership. Unfortunately, some people may take advantage of this approach and inflate the amount of time they have spent on the project. It may even go so far that people will mark off that they were in work but never bothered showing up. We hope that this risk is low but it is a gamble we take when putting our trust into people. At the end of the day, a good leader takes accountability, so if this has happened to you, ask yourself what could you have done differently to get a better result?
One great way to reduce the risk is to reinforce the importance of the project, the team and the organisation. Link your Followers values to the operation as much as possible to help mitigate this risk. The deeper you can connect the task to the person on an identity level, the easier it becomes to motivate them. Building great relationships with your Followers will help reduced the odds of someone letting you down.
We can see that there is an element of gambling when delegating to someone else, so it’s important that you stack the deck as much as reasonably possible to mitigate the risks and ensure that the Follower and their delegated task have the best chance of success.
Consider these questions:
- What can I do to link this project to their values and sense of identity?
- How did I honestly evaluate their ability and motivation levels?
- How have I fostered an adult and honest culture amongst the team?
- What could I do to give this project the best chance of success?
One misconception about delegation is that it removes all responsibility and ownership from the person delegating out the task. It couldn’t be further from the truth – you still own the task, you are still responsible for delivering the outcome on time and to the required standard.
It is up to you to provide the high level vision of what the task will look like once complete, why the task needs to be accomplished and what objectives it needs to achieve. The more you get to know your Follower and they get to know your intentions and expectations, the less time you will likely spend here. Ensure you are open for questions and available to support when needed.
I’m sure we’ve all met one person who delegates just to pass on work. They are neither giving out the task to develop their follower or wanting to take responsibility if the task doesn’t meet expectations. Don’t be that Leader.
People can see through a Leader who is out for themselves and this behaviour may lead to resentment from colleagues as they just see you as shirking responsibility. Even where this isn’t the case, there is the risk that this hands off leadership style will give people the impression that you are disinterested in the mission. Ownership here is all about balance, know that you own the delegated work and are responsible for the end result but trust your Follower to deliver. Give your follower the knowledge that if they need further support or clarification that your door is open. Consider asking for meetings to discuss the tasks progress or just casually checking in as part of a normal conversation, showing interest without stepping on toes.
Consider these questions:
- How can I balance accountability and empowerment?
- What can I do to take ownership of any issues or short-falls?
- How can I demonstrate interest whilst being detached from the day-to-day tasks?
Misreading Follower Readiness
As with all of the styles within the Situational Leadership model, their effectiveness depends on your assessment of your Followers Readiness level. For example, if your Follower is either Readiness levels 2 or 3, they will not have the appropriate skills or knowledge to complete the work effectively. This may lead to:
- Impacts on your Followers confidence levels and morale
- Frustration for your Follower, yourself and any others that are impacted by the work
- The project failing or falling below standard
- Reputational damage for yourself, your team, your organisation and your Follower
The other alternative is that your Follower has the skills but not the motivation or will to do the task. This may mean they will lack the level of ownership and autonomy required to work on a delegated task. There have been instances where this can actually move a Follower to Readiness level 4 as it gives them the will and motivation knowing that others are relying on them. If you misjudge here though, your Follower may take advantage of the hands off approach as discussed earlier, which can:
- Impact team morale (why am I doing ‘x’ when they aren’t?!)
- Risk of the project not being completed on time or to the required standard
- Reputational risks
Questions to consider:
- What skills do they have for this project?
- What skills will they need?
- Can these skills be developed as part of the project or do they need them first?
- Are they motivated for this?
As you can see, the Delegating style of Leadership is a really powerful tool providing that you deliver on the following:
- Knowing yourself – can you put your ego to the side and be the leader your team needs you to be to get the job done?
- Knowing your team – are they at Readiness Level 4 – Able and willing or motivated?
- Development – consider how this style will help develop your Follower(s).
- Creating time – How can you use your newly acquired time to help your business win?
- Job satisfaction – one of the main drivers for engagement is having responsibility and opportunities.
- Innovation – encourage Followers to create, not replicate.
Whilst delegating, we also need to dodge:
- Disconnection – keep your followers connected to the team and wider purpose
- Gambling – stack the deck, limit the risk.
- Lack of ownership – remember, you are still responsible for the outcome.
- Misreading Readiness levels – make sure you know your Followers.
Delegating is an extremely useful leadership style that when utilised correctly will develop your team, allow you to efficiently meet objectives, increase job satisfaction and add more value to the organisation. Thankyou for reading this article, click the below links to utilise our resources on this leadership style:
Delegating Leadership one page guide
Situational Leadership reflective guide
Conflict can often have a bad reputation but in this article we are going to look at changing that perspective and demonstrate how you can harness conflict to build better relationships, teams and achieve your goals. When people think about conflict, they may feel; uneasy, fearful, defensive, anxious, victimised, awkward and a whole host of other seemingly negative emotions or mind-sets. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Let’s talk about the positives of conflict, where it comes from and how to manage it, to get all parties into a better position. To do this, we will break the article down into 3 sections; The benefits of conflict, where it comes from and how to conquer it.
When you saw an article about managing conflict, what kind of imagery formed inside your mind? I’ll hazard a guess that for most people, it conjured up negative images, negative thoughts, feelings and memories. Conflict doesn’t need to be like this, in fact, one powerful tool you can use for managing conflict is to change the way you perceive it. We can attach unhelpful thoughts and feelings to situations which can hinder how effectively we handle them, if you change the way you see conflict to focus on its benefits, you may have an easier time managing it. We aren’t saying that conflict should be continually sought out but it can be beneficial to see, understand and embrace the benefits of conflict, to help make it seem less daunting and reduce any anxiety that may come with the thought of conflict.
Take a few moments to think about and write down the benefits of conflict, once done read on and see if we got the same answers.
We believe that there are 7 main benefits to conflict;
Improved mental health
Conflict can create new solutions, ideas and improve situations. When people disagree, there is often a call for a new approach. Most people see compromise as a lose-lose scenario as neither side fully gets what they wanted. This mindset can help people work together to find a better solution for everyone involved. It may lead to entirely new ideas and solutions that wouldn’t have previously been thought of. Think of a time you were arguing with someone you cared about, did you seek to find a solution? Did you put something in place or agree to something you hadn’t previously been doing? Conflict can lead to innovation.
- Trust and Support
When done right, conflict creates psychological safety which fosters trust and support between people. If through conflict you can demonstrate that you want what’s best for the other parties and can both agree on the same mission or goal, you will begin to remove ego from the conflict and build on psychological safety. There is a huge difference in how the other parties will feel if they can see the difference between conflict over wanting something for yourself and conflict because you want to achieve the same objective in a different way.
When people realise you have the same mission or you want what’s best for them, conflict can turn the situation into one that fosters growth and strong relationships.
- Creates Understanding
If you let your ego take over in conflict, the chances are you aren’t going to get anywhere productive. We will look over the 6 main causes of conflict later in the article but one of them stems from a lack of understanding. Steven Covey is known for saying “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you try to understand the other parties view instead of just trying to get your point across, you create understanding. What’s better?
- Win a conflict and potentially damage relationships
- Reach an understanding of another person, situation and outcome, broadening your horizons and growing as a person whilst at the same time, finding the best solution for the situation.
- Relationship building
Linked to the first 3 points, if you use conflict correctly you will build trust, show support, create understanding and instigate healthy change. All of these points will help you to build relationships with people as they will know that throughout the conflict, your focus wasn’t on winning but creating an understanding and seeking to work together.
If we don’t manage our differences effectively, it may lead to internalised resentment, people wouldn’t set expectations and situations would spiral out of control. Your ego can be your biggest enemy here so try to keep it in the backseat to forge strong relationships with others.
- Effective teams
Directly born out of building relationships is creating effective teams. An effective team is one that has been through the stages of team development and through the notorious Storming stages. It is here where values and norms are tested and challenged, where people argue over who is pulling their weight and where if not dealt with correctly, resentment grows and the team breaks down. On the other side of this though, where conflict is dealt with productively and from a place of trust and respect, the team moves into the norming and performing stages of team development. Once you are here, your team is an effective, objective accomplishing force.
Just like with innovation, conflict can push you to progress. Think about the person who wants to cling to processes because “it’s what we’ve always done!” and think about the disruptor that comes in to find a new way. This conflict can lead to progress on multiple accounts. On a personal level, it can encourage personal growth and development and on a professional and solutions focused level, it can see people move past stagnated processes in order to move forwards.
- Improved mental health
Imagine a situation where every time you went into work, you were expecting pent up tensions. How would you feel day to day? Our guess is likely anxious. You can use effective conflict and conflict management to remove tensions and get into a healthier frame of mind. Effectively airing out the issues can alleviate tension, help all parties feel heard and valued and provide peace of mind.
With these 7 benefits of healthy conflict covered, it’s time we explored the 5 main factors of conflict before we look at effectively managing it. The main factors are; Values, Paradigms, Motivation, Communication skills and Understanding.
- Beliefs and Values
A major cause of conflict are beliefs and values. We develop beliefs and values from a young age and they form as our conscious and subconscious drivers for our behaviours. The values and beliefs we hold change the way we think, feel and act. Where we expect others to live to our values and beliefs instead of their own, conflict can often arise.
Examples of beliefs and values causing conflict may be the value concept that “It’s important to be on time.” By holding this value, you may see people who are late as rude, thoughtless or lazy. Holding onto this view of people can lead to conflict even though the person who was late may not be rude, thoughtless or lazy. They may simply have other commitments, had a late night or don’t particularly see the value in being on time for this particular event.
Here are some examples of beliefs and values that may cause conflict:
A paradigm is the way we see the world and it closely links into our beliefs and assumptions. When we change our paradigms, we change our experiences in life. Some examples of Paradigms include:
- No-one respects me
- This team cannot win
- That person is ignorant
- I am an expert in this field
Each of these Paradigms may impact how you interact with others and cause conflict. If you have it in your head that no-one respects you, the likelihood is you will see the actions of others as disrespectful, even when this isn’t the case. If you feel like you are an expert in a field, you may be less likely to take on new ideas and even be insulted when someone suggests something that differs from what you want to do.
Check out this video by Stephen Covey that looks into examples of paradigms:
Personal motivators can cause conflict amongst people. If your team need to work together to achieve a bonus, it’s likely that if one person is motivated by money, another is motivated by personal satisfaction and another isn’t motivated at all, conflicts may arise in how they wish to tackle a problem and about the commitments of other team members. Lets have a look at what each differently motivated team member may think about the other members of the team:
Money motivated: “Why don’t they just meet their KPIs? I want this bonus and they will stop me from achieving it!”
Personal satisfaction: “I want to do the right thing on this project, why can’t they see that by just meeting KPIs, we are not focusing on the right outcome for our customers?”
No motivation: “This is just a job. I don’t need the bonus and I’m not paid to go above and beyond. I clock in, do my job and clock off.”
You may be able to see how these different motivators may cause conflict between the team members, especially if they fail to spend time understanding how and why the other person thinks the way they do.
- Communication skills
If you look into our Situational Leadership articles, you will quickly see how using the wrong style of leadership can create tensions, barriers and conflicts between people. The same goes for communication skills. If you lack empathy and the ability to convey this in your interactions, you may inadvertently cause conflict as the other person doesn’t feel understood. We also see communication clashes between people when their styles mismatch. Think about a direct communicator, they want to deliver the message quickly and concisely. They won’t beat around the Bush or necessarily consider feelings when talking. If they communicate with someone who cares more about the details in a message or someone who is overly considerate in how their message lands, there will likely be a mismatch and possibly conflict.
Consider the following conversations about someone not meeting expectations and think about how quickly a conflict may arise:
- A direct communicator delivering a message to someone who bases their language on relationships and feelings.
- The relationship based communicator may get upset by the lack of empathy and blunt delivery from the direct communicator. On the other way round, the direct communicator may get frustrated by the emotional response and the inability by the other person to get to the point.
- A detail orientated communicator delivering a message to someone who prefers listening to high level, abstract ideas.
- The person who prefers listening to abstract ideas will likely get bored of the details and get frustrated with the focus at the granular level. The detail oriented person may get frustrated by the other persons inability to see the specifics and say things like “Get your head out of the clouds!” or “tell me what exactly you need to do!”
Just like leadership, a clash in communication styles can lead to conflict.
- A lack of understanding
A lack of understanding can encompass a wide range of issues, from not understanding another person to not understanding a process. A lack of understanding can cover the rest of the causes of conflict as well. If we don’t spend time trying to understand other people’s values and beliefs, there may be conflict. Don’t spend time understanding how other people’s paradigms or motivations impact their lives? The likely result is conflict. Dont invest time in understanding how to effectively communicate with others? Can you guess it may lead to conflict?
We all make assumptions – it’s necessary to do so. If we had to know the specifics of everything we did, we would get nothing done, argue about the fine details and probably overload our minds with endless possibilities. Assumptions and Presuppositions help us to understand information quickly. Often times, when we ask questions to understand, we end up in a much more effective place. How many times have you argued about something or pushed back against an idea but once you understood more about it felt much more at ease with the idea?
With the 5 main factors of conflict discussed, we need to decide on how we will manage this conflict effectively. To do this, we can use a simple 3 stage technique; Research, Presentation and Take action.
This phase stops you from rushing into the conflict and having unproductive conversations. By researching the issue at hand you are able to:
- Evaluate the impact of the other parties actions
- Understand the frequency it happens
- See a different perspective
- Decide if it is worth your effort
This step can be worked through using the 3F’s technique: Facts, Frequency and Fractured relationships.
At this stage, we collate as much relevant data as possible. This is important as if you bring in your feelings and assumptions, you are increasing the chance of unhelpful conflict. This is due to you seeing behaviours that may not be there or the other person being insulted by your assumption. Facts are concrete evidence that allows you to specifically address behavioural concerns instead of generic accusations such as “You don’t get your work done!”, which is a generalisation that may cause offence.
The truth is, they probably do get their work done, you only notice what doesn’t happen. The likely response to this accusation is to go on the offence and blame you for why the work has not been done – such as not providing adequate resources or changing your mind too much. A better way would be to use facts such as “The deadline for the project was the 15th of Feb, it was handed in on the 20th of Feb.” There is no argument to be made here, as only factual information has been stated. Similarly in a KPI driven environment, you could present your team member with the average calls met from the team and then themselves to give perspective on expectations. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to create a list, allowing you to be methodological, thorough and keep on track with a structure. The list will discourage you from bringing up unrelated issues and keep emotional out of it which may make the other person feel under attack instead of working towards a solution. Remember the benefits of handling conflict positively when preparing the facts.
This stage takes into consideration how often the situation occurs along side the impacts of the situation. As above, this information needs to be factual. For example, if someone is late once, you will likely just want a conversation with the person to see if they are okay and if necessary, discuss why being on time is important and the impacts of them being late to the business, team, you and their reputation.
That said, where they are late multiple times, we need to think if there is a deeper issue and question them further to understand the situation. Some situations may not need multiple occurrences before taking formal action such as gross misconduct in the workplace or where you need to set expectations in your personal life.
This stage looks to develop a bridge between the two parties. Here, you need to explain what’s important to you and how their behaviour is impacting your relationship in order to discuss a way forward. This isn’t about placing blame, you need to take ownership here but its important to find common ground and work towards a solution.
The Ladder of abstraction can help you build a bridge with someone and find common ground. For example, 2 people may disagree on the right leadership style to use in a certain situation. That level of detail might be quite granular, so climb the ladder of abstraction to build common ground- what is the purpose of each style? – to lead effectively and achieve the right outcome. With this bridge being built and a common ground established, the conversation can become more productive.
With the research or preparation phase done, we can move to the presentation stage of your conflict management technique.
The first thing you want to do is create a safe space. Set a meeting room with natural light and bring refreshments. Use open body language and set the room out to be less confrontational. The below image sets out some of the room layouts I use when having conversations with people. The majority of the time I use the co-operative layout as you still have the table for notes but from a body language perspective, you have full visibility of each other and are working together in a formal way. The opposing sides is rarely a layout I will use. Working together is something I use when facilitating and the no barriers approach is great for interviews where notes are not needed and you want to utilise body language.
It is a good idea to visualise yourself in control prior to the meeting as a confidence boost but it may also be necessary to have Union or HR in the room due to policy or safeguarding reasons. As the meeting begins, you should set expectations and outline the purpose of the meeting, keeping in mind that the conversation is there to support and find a way forward – not to judge and accuse.
When presenting, you should lay out your research, go over the three F;s and stick to the facts of the case, staying away from assumptions or leading questions.
We need to understand why the behaviour happened, set expectations and work towards a solution to remove barriers and make it easy for the people involved. Below is a sample lead-in statement followed by some sample questions:
The third step is to take action on the back of your discussion. Just like with coaching, people will be more committed to a plan when it is their own idea. Let them tell you what is realistic for them but remember to guide where needed. For example, if they say they will never be on time on a Monday ask these questions:
- Why is this the case?
- What can you do to make it happen?
- Could you finish later?
- What do you think are my concerns about this?
- Do you understand why I cannot commit to this?
- What can we support with?
- I should have approached you sooner regarding this but what do you want out of today?
It’s important that as a leader you take ownership of the issues – what did you do or not do to let this person think their behavior was okay? Show you are listening to them by summarizing and clarifying their points and remain calm and repetitive throughout with your expectations and the purpose of the meeting. Remember that one of the major causes of conflict is a lack of understanding, so ask yourself these 2 questions:
- Is this meeting for me to understand the situation?
- Am I staying out of judgement?
This is the final phase of conflict management. As people are more engaged in a solution they come up with themselves, put the ownership on the other person in regards to setting a goal. There are 2 useful models that may help with this: the SMART or SPIRIT models as below:
Where required, you may still need to issue warnings according to policy but you can present this positively as a record of support and development and utilize it as a consequence if the behavior isn’t fixed.
Here are two great articles that can accompany this guide. The first is how to understand the unsaid – when in the middle of conflict, reading the environment can be key to successfully navigating the situation. Here is an article on how to Understand the Unsaid.
The second article is about accountability. When in conflict, our ego can often take over and we may push back and blame others. Utilising the Ladder of Accountability can help us maintain control and lead us out of the conflict positively. Read our article here: Accountability.
Finally, if you are still struggling and need some help overcoming your barriers to turning conflict into a positive experience, book in your free coaching session with us via: www.Calendly.com/DevelopTheEdge
Whilst conflict can have negative connotations, it can be a positive and productive way for people and teams to grow and innovate. It can be a great relationship builder, providing the patties are involved seek to understand, connect and work towards a solution together.
The main causes of conflict are; Beliefs and values, Paradigms, communication skills, motivation and a lack of understanding. You can overcome most of these by setting your ego and emotions aside and approaching the situation with a desire to understand and reach consensus.
A useful process for conflict management is: research, present and take action. At the research stage, you are dealing with the 3 F’s, facts, frequency and Fractured relationships. During presentation, try to stay out of judgement and stick with the facts. Seek to find a solution. At the take action stage, we need to put our plan in place.
Do you approach conflict differently? Let us know your thoughts by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn @DevelopTheEdge
“Why can small talk be the enemy of a good coaching conversation?” I hear you say…
This article looks to explore the power of an effectively structured coaching conversation. It isn’t about how to coach, when to coach or even why to coach. Today we are exploring an overlooked part of the coaching skill set – structure. If you are a coach and have never spent time looking for an effective way to structure your conversation, this article may be valuable for you.
We are going to look at why structuring a session is important, the barriers to maintaining a structure and how you can create an engaging coaching structure, cutting out the risk of small talk disrupting quality conversations.
Why a structure is important
To people who just love to get stuck in and help people, a structure may seem like a strange notion for a coaching session. They may think it will feel too rigid and unnatural but with time and practice, a structure can be a natural, flexible and effective way to conduct your coaching conversations.
Think about how you would feel if you decided to pay for a coach and they seemed unprepared. Would you feel valued? Engaged? Like you got your money’s worth?
Consider how having a structure may benefit you as a coach and once you have done this, let’s compare lists.
Have you done it? Our main benefits to having a structure are below, did they match yours or did we miss something?
- It can create psychological safety
- It provides a clear journey
- It increases focus
- It sets expectations
- It can increase buy in
- It can increase motivation
- It can improve confidence
- It can improve your credibility
Now we have hit a few key points, let’s explore each of these benefits in more detail:
- It can create psychological safety
In 1943 Maslow published a paper called ‘A theory of human motivation’ where he discussed that people have 5 layers of needs. This is often shown as a pyramid where the lower level needs to be fulfilled before a person seeks the next level to be fulfilled. The 5 layers are; Physiological, Safety, Love and Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualisation.
What has this got to do with coaching? Well, let’s take the first level as an example – Physiological needs such as; air, water, food, shelter, warmth and clothing. Now tell me how likely you are to be focused on someone trying to hold a conversation with you when you are hungry, thirsty, too cold, being drenched in the rain and needing the toilet. My guess is, unless you have a ridiculously high discipline level, you wouldn’t be able to maintain a good level of concentration. We’ve all been sat in a meeting when we needed to go to the toilet and instead of paying attention to what was being said we were thinking “how long can they talk for? I’m desperate!” – The same goes for your coaching. No matter how engaging you are, if someone’s needs aren’t met, they won’t be taking in the valuable conversation.
I’m not saying you have to climb the pyramid every time you have a coaching session with someone but if you have a clear structure laid out with your coachee, this will stop thoughts of “When are we going for a break?”, “When do we actually start the coaching” or “what’s the purpose of this session?” – laying the structure out in a clear format at the start of the session (or ideally before) will help you both focus on the actual coaching conversation at hand. If you can demonstrate that you care about your coachee and their outcomes, you are also ticking off the higher levels of the pyramid and creating psychological safety – which is key to an effective coaching conversation.
A final word on psychological safety comes from Jones et all 2016:
TIP: Send out the intended structure beforehand, have pens, paper and a drink ready in the room. Try your best to make the lighting and temperature of the room suitable for you both. Ensure the coachee knows that you respect them and want what is best for them.
- Journeys work best with a map
Maps make journeys easier. I don’t know about you but if I don’t have my sat-nav on, I’m useless driving somewhere unknown. The same can be true of a coaching conversation. If you both know where you are going and have an outline on how you will get there, it gives you both a logical and methodical feeling to your conversation. You will be able to see when you are on and off track, keeping the conversation to the point without sounding rude. Should you plan every question? No but you can break your session down into sections such as:
- Problem discussion
- Possible solutions
- Best solution
- Action plan
This rough structure will help you both understand where you are up to and what you have left to cover. It can be an extremely useful tool for someone who gets stuck on the problem.
“We’ve discussed the problem already but we keep revisiting it. I know this is a focus for you but what would be more valuable right now: talking about the problem or moving on to find the best solution?”
Tip: Get agreement on the structure early on to create a sense of commitment from your coachee. This will make it easier to get back on track if they keep revisiting a problem when you are trying to find a solution.
- Sets expectations and focus
When we create a structure, we are able to set expectations on what will take place in the coaching session. It also enables us to fully focus on the section we are on (remember Maslow’s Hierarchy). By setting expectations, people understand that the coaching conversation is there for a reason. It isn’t a social event where we discuss the events on the weekend, it is a focused conversation that is typically geared towards removing limiting beliefs, enabling success and enhancing performance.
Asking “how was your weekend?” could be the nail in the coffin for your coachee’s performance. How many hours have you wasted asking your coachee these clichéd questions? How much of your effective coaching time has been eaten up with small talk that doesn’t add value or get your coachee closer to their goals? It might seem polite to warm into the conversation but is it effective? Is it your purpose to help someone understand their potential?… or is it to have a casual chat with them that makes you both feel warm and fuzzy inside?
I’m not saying be anti-social or ignorant, what I’m saying is do this outside of your coaching session. If you are a Leader – first thing Monday morning, ask your team how they are, what they did on their weekend etc. Do it naturally, build your relationships but do it outside of coaching time. If you are a coach that deals with clients, fire off emails, texts, phone calls outside of your sessions if it is suitable. When you book in time for coaching, it’s there for development conversations. Look into quick ways to build rapport if you are struggling finding this balance.
TIP: A structured coaching session needs to be focused on your coachee. Use time outside of the session to build relationships and set the expectation that because you really value your coachee and their time, your focus will be solely on helping them, which leaves little room for small talk.
- Urgency motivates
Time limits are a powerful way to structure your coaching session and can create a sense of urgency with your coachee. This again, ties into Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs by allowing people to know when the session will be over and can help people put the structure into a sensible time limit.
We know that when we set a goal with too long a time frame, people give up faster than someone with a shorter time frame. This is because without a sense of urgency, people don’t focus as hard as they would in a time critical situation.
TIP: Set a time limit for your coaching session and don’t get caught up in the ‘coaching lasts an hour’ mind-set. An effective coaching session could take less than 10 minutes. Why waste yours and your coachee’s time by booking out an hour if you believe your coachee will have discovered their way forward in 20 minutes? Use your experience and judgement to get these timings right.
- Credibility and confidence
Coaching models are tried and true ways of guiding a coaching conversation. Whether you want to look at GROW, SMART, CLEAR, GURUS (the DTE model), the Reflective Cycle or any other model you love, they all provide a structure for you to work through. Using a model can build credibility in your coaching session as people realise you have an effective and reliable toolkit to support them with.
These methods are successfully utilised by leaders and coaches across the world, so you know that when you are using these to structure your conversation, that you have a great chance of achieving what you set out to. By using a model that already exists, it is saving you from reinventing the wheel and wasting time on trial and error.
For your own confidence as well, using a model can guide you through conversations until you are confident and comfortable to work within your own process.
TIP: Researching coaching models can be your best friend, find out which ones work for you and your coachees. A good coach is always learning.
With those 5 key reasons to structure a coaching conversation, it makes sense to explore some of the barriers to creating and maintaining an effective coaching structure. By highlighting these threats to your success, we can look at strategies to mitigate their risk.
Barriers to an effective coaching structure
There are 5 main barriers we as coaches can face when structuring our conversation, these are; time constraints, lack of preparation, lack of focus, lack of engagement and lack of outcome.
One of the more frustrating things as a coach are external factors limiting your time to support someone. If someone’s ever interrupt your coaching session because calls are queueing or coaching time is reduced as targets aren’t being met (crazy right?!) – you may be nodding your head in agreement as you read this. Time constraints can make you feel like a structure is pointless but actually, it makes even more sense. If you structure your time, you end up having more of it because you cut out the wasted time. Just structure smarter.
TIP: Plan out a 60 minute coaching session, then cut it down to 30 minutes, then to 15 minutes and finally to 10 minutes. See how much you can actually get out of a short 10 minute session. When you find yourself panicking about not having enough time, it’s a good time to stop worrying and start planning how to spend your time effectively.
When I was complaining early on in my career about not having enough time to effectively coach people, my first Leadership mentor asked me “Well Simon, what CAN you do?” – This reframed the whole situation for me to focus on what was possible. It all boils down to accountability and what you can choose to take ownership of. Want to know more? We have an article on accountability here.
Lack of preparation
This is often linked to a lack of time! A lack of preparation can mean you end up ‘winging’ your coaching session. Before you put yourself in a victim mind-set of saying “I just didn’t have time to prepare!” ask yourself these questions:
- Why don’t I value this person enough to prepare for them?
- How does this lack of preparation impact my effectiveness?
- If I was the coachee, what would I want to see?
A lack of preparation can impact how effective your structure is. Remember the benefits of a good structure:
- It can create psychological safety
- It provides a clear journey
- It increases focus
- It sets expectations
- It can increase buy in
- It can increase motivation
- It can improve confidence
- It can improve your credibility
TIP: Where possible, understand what you will be discussing in the coaching session. Schedule time between meetings to get the room, yourself and your session ready.
Lack of focus
You can create the best structure known to the world but if you lack the focus to follow it, it is redundant. This goes for yourself and your coachee, so ensure that you keep to your structure. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy – by taking care of your own and your coachee’s needs, you will both be able to focus on the coaching itself.
TIP: Remove distractions and cover the basics in Maslow’s Hierarchy. Where possible, coach away from any screens unless they are an important part of the session itself. It can be tempting when notifications pop up, so make it easier for yourself and your coachee – switch off distractions.
Lack of engagement
Directly linked to a lack of focus is a lack of engagement. Sometimes coachees are just not engaged in the coaching. This will quickly see your valuable coaching go to waste. Put yourself in your coachees shoes, if you don’t see the benefit in something, would you want to spend your time doing it?
Questions to ask yourself or your coachee:
- “Why are they distracted?”
- “What could I do to make this more engaging?”
- “Have I demonstrated the value in this?”
- “Is there a better way forward?”
TIP: Keep your mind-set accountable. Blaming your coachee for their lack of engagement isn’t a smart choice. As a Coach, it’s your job to demonstrate value, as a Leader, it’s your job to make the mission so compelling that people are engaged in it.
Lack of outcome
Moving in line with a lack of engagement is the lack of an outcome. If your coaching session doesn’t have an objective, how can you effectively structure a coaching conversation towards it? For coaching to take place, you and your coachee should have an outcome in mind. Coaching isn’t just for a catch up.
TIP: Engage with an outcome as soon as possible in the process. This gives you both something to work towards within your structure.
Armed with ways to overcome the barriers to an effective structure, let’s discover how we can create an engaging coaching structure.
How to create an engaging structure
We have looked at the benefits of creating an engaging structure, understood some of the barriers and how to overcome them. Now it is time to plan out our engaging structure. We do this by;
- Preparing your session
Preparation is a really basic and effective step but one that can often be overlooked. We can break this down into 4 main sections that form the acronym MEET; Method, Environment, Engagement and Time.
As above, have a good idea on the method you want to use for your coaching. This could be something simple such as:
You could use a method or model that is already available, such as:
- Goal (what do they want to achieve?)
- Reality (where are they now?)
- Options (how can they get there?)
- Way forward (the action plan)
For more details check out our article HERE
Or maybe you could use Ferdinand Fournies’ Coaching Discussion Plan:
- Gain agreement that there is a problem
- Discuss alternative options
- Agree action
- Follow up to measure success
- Reinforce success
Whether you use one of these approaches, another one or your own, a structure like this can help guide your conversation and keep you both on track.
Prepare the room or environment you will be coaching in.
Consider how the chairs are positioned, facing each other can create a confrontational atmosphere so consider a 90 degree angle or side by side. Think about lighting, temperature, drinks and stationary. Remove distractions.
Refresh yourself on previous notes. What did you discuss last time? Have you asked ahead of the session what they want to cover this time? Did anything happen in your last session that has made you think about a different approach this time? How does your coachee like to communicate?
How long have you got to coach? What questions, tools or activities could you plan in to use this time effectively? Is there any ‘pre-work’ your coachee could do to prepare for the session?
- Engaging with the coachee
The first step in engagement is to take yourself out of the equation, even if you have a plan on what to coach them on, they may have their own objectives. Even if you have an agenda, open the floor up with something like: “We’ve booked today in as I want to see what support I can offer for you to achieve our objectives as we seem off track. Before we get started, what is your goal for this session?”
This let’s your coachee know that whilst you need to cover certain topics, you do genuinely care about them and what they want to achieve. It builds psychological safety as they realise you are there to support them, not manage them out of the business. If you are coaching a client, the likelihood is they will be bringing the objectives to the session full stop, so this is an essential part of your opening conversation.
Another way to engage with your coachee is to ask them for progress updates. “Last time we spoke you said you would do X, how did that go?” This shows engagement and a good understanding of past coaching conversations. It demonstrates that you are invested in your coachee and will likely give you some great indicators on what you can coach on.
A well known tool for building Rapport quickly is to use the Matching and Mirroring technique. You can match and mirror body language as well as words used, doing either of these can create an emotional connection on a subconscious level with your coachee as their brain is telling them that you are both alike.
When we match in body language, we copy what the other person is doing. Do they have their arms folded? Do the same. Are they tilting their head to the right hand side? Do the same. You can also be more subtle by using a cross matching technique, so if they have their arms folded, you can cross your legs. If you notice their breathing pattern, you can subtly move your finger up and down in the same rhythm. Mirroring is the same as matching but your body position is opposite, as if they were looking in a mirror. So if they tilt their head to the right, you tilt yours to the left.
In language, we can mirror by repeating key words in the sentence such as:
Coachee: “I’m having a hard time meeting my goals.”
Coach: “You’re having a hard time?”
This simple technique enables your coachee to give you more information about their thoughts and feelings.
Matching language can be a useful tool for developing Rapport quickly. It is more subtle than mirroring and requires focus to pick out the right words. For example, if someone says “I see the value in that.” – they are in a visual state as they “see” something. Your language can now use visual cues such as “bigger picture”, “look at the details”, “watch this” and so on. “I hear that!” indicates an auditory state, so “music to my ears”, “that sounds great” and so on will help you build rapport. If someone is driven by an internal compass, use phrases like “you might consider” – which will be seen as an invitation and not a suggestion to be ignored. On the other side, if they are driven by others and care about what other people think, you could say “most people would…” or “it’s common that.. “ – these are tools to build relationships quickly. Be mindful how you use them as the difference between a leader and manipulator is the intent in which you use these tools. Using these tools to build a relationship to help someone? That’s leadership. Using words to get your own way? That’s manipulation. Coaching is about supporting your coachee to overcome barriers and perform effectively, to have an honest and open conversation, you need rapport first.
P’s & Q’s (presence and questions)
Be present with your coachee.
Being an effective coaching means that you are in the moment with your coachee, paying attention to their body language, facial expressions, words used and tonality. You need to be aware of what isn’t being said as much as what is being said. If you are thinking about what you are going to cook later, another client or needing to go to the toilet, you won’t be present, could miss vital information and break rapport with your coachee. Try to remove distractions such as phones, computers and other people.
The other part of this section is using effective questions.
I have been in numerous businesses where ‘coaching’ consists of telling someone what they did well and what they need to improve on (often more of that latter)! This isn’t really coaching, telling someone what they did or didn’t do well is feedback. Coaching uses questions to get your coachee to think about a problem, their response to it and their own solution. As Michael Bungay Stanier says in his Book “The Coaching Habit” – say less, listen more. Don’t become the advice monster, coaching isn’t about stroking your ego and thinking you know best, it’s about being curious and questioning someone else to greatness.
Being present will likely mean you are in a great position to ask a better quality of question than if you weren’t paying attention. Whilst there are some questions that are great go-to questions, the best way to be effective is to be present, listen to your coachee and ask questions to help uncover and overcome limiting beliefs.
Here are a few examples of good go-to questions but remain present to really take your questioning to the next level:
- What does that mean to you?
- Why do you think that?
- What do you want it to look like?
- What makes that compelling for you?
- What’s stopping you?
- What’s the way forward?
The next step is creating an engaging coaching conversation is the use of accountability.
Does your coachee feel accountable for their results?
Do they feel accountable for their actions and inaction?
Who is walking away from the conversation with the action plan?
When people feel accountable, they begin to pay attention and focus on what they are able to do instead of focusing on the barriers that are holding them back. Accountability is one of the most important skills to develop in people as it empowers your coachee to succeed by their own standards.
One of the best ways to create accountability is to demonstrate it yourself. The next time someone misunderstands your question, instead of blaming them say “I’m sorry, perhaps I didn’t word that right…” or next time someone starts blaming others for their lack of progress say “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I wasn’t clear when we last spoke. The only way to give ourselves the best chance of success, is to take ownership. What can we work on together to improve this?” If you weave accountability into your coaching conversation, you will begin to embed its importance.
Finally, we need to think about our next steps. This keeps your coachee engaged not only during the coaching session but also after it and into the next coaching session. There are many goals setting models to choose from, such as our GURUS method, GROW model or the SMARTER method. These tools give you a solid framework to base the cachees next steps on.
Like the rest of the coaching conversation, real value comes from pulling the answers from your coachee, not providing the answers for them. For commitment and accountability, your coachee should set their goals.
One final word on goal setting comes from Jones et all 2016:
Whilst coaching is great and should happen daily and organically outside of formal coaching sessions, when you need that formal session, it makes sense to have a structure to your conversation. A well structured session can lead to the following benefits:
- It can create psychological safety
- It provides a clear journey
- It increases focus
- It sets expectations
- It can increase buy in
- It can increase motivation
- It can improve confidence
- It can improve your credibility
Whilst we know there are some fantastic benefits to a good coaching structure, there are some barriers that we need to look out for: Time constraints, lack of preparation, lack of focus, lack of engagement and lack of outcome.
Spend some time thinking about how you can overcome these barriers so you are prepared for them when they show up. Once you’ve looked at how to overcome these barriers, it’s time to structure your session. We do this by; preparing our session, engaging with the coachee (which includes understanding objectives), P’s & Q’s (presence and questions), accountability & next steps.
There are plenty of great models out there that you can use to structure your coaching conversation, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, focus on how you can best support your coachee and the rest will come with practice.
- 1 Page guide for creating a coaching structure
- Coaching session template
- Structure Reflection sheet
- From an hour to 10 minutes question sheet