Learning Styles – Facts, Fiction and Future

Have learning styles lost their shine?

Learning styles have been around for a long time, with the VAK model (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic) being created in 1920 and Kolb’s model in 1984. Whilst there have been many adaptations throughout the years, alongside personality identifiers such as Myres-Briggs, there is little empirical evidence that they are right. Despite this lack of evidence though, the chances are you’ve heard people say they are a ‘visual learner’, an ‘INFJ’ or alternative at least once in your life! I know I’ve been guilty of it before…but it’s time to actually look at whether or not these tests have a positive impact on our ability to train and learn. 

The truth is, we have all likely been through at least one personality or learning styles test in our lives. Recent studies have tried to understand whether or not these techniques are beneficial or detrimental to our ability to learn. We are going to look at 3 of these studies today to discover; what Learning Styles are, understand what the science says, take a look at Learning Strategies and how you can create effective learning content.

What are learning styles?

Learning styles were explored as a way for people to identify how they learn, so that trainers, teachers and coaches could provide a method of communication that best suited the individuals they were working with. Whilst there will be more styles than those I have listed below, these are the main ones; Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Verbal, Individual and Socio-Interpersonal.

For example, Visual learners learn by seeing, so in order to cater for this style, the trainer should provide visual stimuli such as a PowerPoint presentation, a video, simple images of the topic being discussed or provide handouts that the learner can take away from the session and look at.  Auditory Learners need to hear the trainer speak, listen to music, read out loud and may prefer audio recordings instead or making notes.

The table below highlights the major styles, how people use them to learn and examples on how you can cater to these styles in a training room.

The 6 main Learning styles are meant to help people digest information by working on their strengths…but what does the science say about it?

The Science

To get a broad understanding of the scientific studies, we break it down into 4 main categories; Abilities vs styles, Multi-sensory, Style Scale and Strategy over Style. You will be able to make an informed decision by the end of this article on the value you place on Learning Styles and how you could utilise them to succeed.

1) Abilities vs Styles

In Lili Kumari Padhi and Deepanjali Mishra’s paper Learning How to Learn: An Analysis Through Styles and Strategies, they touch on the importance of working towards a person’s ability instead of their preferred learning style. This is because a persons preferred way of learning doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to teach them – you need to take into account the person and what they are able to do.

For example, if you have a Kinaesthetic learner and you are training them on how to differentiate between different types of snow (yup, there are!) – you may not be able to just give them 4 variations and let them get to work. They may not have the ability or knowledge to differentiate yet (me neither) so whilst Kinaesthetic learners will want to touch the snow and get to grips with it,  unless they already have a sound understanding on the different types of snow, they will still need verbal and/or visual instruction on how to identify their differences. Despite being a Kinaesthetic learner, they do not have the ability to just be taught using this style, they will need to blend it with other styles. If however, they had a sound understanding of the types of snow, getting hands on straight away may be beneficial to them – it all depends on ability.

The other consideration about ability is to ask yourself “am I teaching and training my delegates the most effective skills to learn and develop or just catering to their style?” – If you are training people on the works of a specific artist for example, your styles will mainly be visual – what brush strokes are used? What colours? How do colours contrast and blend? What style of painting is the artist known for? – All of these will require visual training aids and potentially kinaesthetic if you wanted your trainees to learn how to paint like the artist themselves.

Alternatively, take it to the next level, are you just teaching subject matter or are you giving your trainees valuable problem solving skills and learning strategies that they can utilise outside of the training room?

The key take away from this part of the study questions the validity of catering to a person’s learning style. What is more important for you? Getting your single message across or giving people the skills, tools and strategies to continue learning, adapting and evolving? Do you really want to rely solely on giving people information in their preferred learning style or do you want to mix it up and find more appropriate styles and strategies that will help them develop long-term skills and strategies?

2) Multi-Sensory

The science of learning shows us that we retain more information the more senses it passes through. Relying on a single style does not therefore give us the best opportunity to learn. In the case of our snow example, it may be an idea to watch a video on the different types of snow (visual) with narration covering the important differentiators (auditory) whilst having the snow available to touch (Kinaesthetic). By blending the different senses, our learner has a better chance of embedding the information.

We also need to consider that we cannot simply cater for each learning style. If for example, we were training people on identifying different genres of music, you may struggle to cater for Visual and Kinaesthetic learners as the majority of what you would focus on would be auditory. You would play the music and discuss it, visuals may not play a big part in the learning and neither would getting hands on with it.

In ‘Make It Stick’ the author Peter Brown discussed that it is much more important for the style to match what is being taught instead of what people prefer. For example, visual instruction for film studies or geometry, verbal instruction for poetry, and kinaesthetic activities for crafting. When the delivery matches the topic, the information embeds better in the learners mind.

3) It’s a scale

One key criticism of learning styles and other personality tests is that all results are really on a scale instead of being a concrete answer. For example, you could be introverted at work but extroverted at home. You could be a visual learner for art but and auditory learner for music. Our personality and learning styles work as a scale, based on the situation at hand. Looking at a paper by An and Carr, they highlight the importance of using multiple styles when learning.

Further to mixing your styles up, when we think in absolute terms it can damage our ability to teach and take in different sources based on our beliefs.  If you believe that you cannot learn using Visual methods, only auditory and that belief is based on a questionnaire or ’what feels right’ to you, your belief will limit the amount of information you can actually take in. If you aren’t so sure about that, in a 2007 study about mind-set, exercise and the placebo effect, researchers found that when cleaners were told that their job satisfied exercise guidelines, they became fitter in just 4 weeks – whereas the control group that were not told this information did not see these benefits. The full study can be found online but here is an extract from it:

In fact, science argues that learning styles can be worked on, increasing your abilities in each style. If you limit yourself by putting your ability to learn in a pigeon hole, maybe its time to break free of this limiting belief. It’s important to work on your strengths – absolutely but balance this with working on your development areas as well to give yourself and others the best chance to learn.

4) Strategy over style

Science is telling us that the best approach to learn is to adopt a strategy, not a style. In their 2016 paper titles “Learning strategies” Dr Yana Weinstein and Dr Megan Smith provide readers with multiple techniques and strategies to aid with learning. We will briefly touch on the following techniques from their paper: Spaced, Interleaving, Elaboration, Concrete examples, Dual coding, Retrieval. Alongside this, in Lili Kumari Padhi and Deepanjali Mishra’s paper, they also discussed Oxfords 1990 review, out of these we will explore Affective strategy, Social Strategy and Metacognitive strategy.


Spaced Practice

This is where you study the same material repeatedly but with gaps in between. For this to work, it’s a good idea to schedule in your practice. Make it frequent initially but as you become more familiar with the content, start to space it out slightly. For example, you may want to start with 4 times a week for an hour a day. It might look like this: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. You may then start creating longer times between the study sessions and potentially just using Monday and Thursday, then over time just Monday and then fortnightly and then monthly. What is important is to keep dipping into what you want to study over time. Research has found that studying on individual days commits to long term memory much more efficiently than cramming does.

Tip for yourself: Find the best time of the day for you to study and set yourself a schedule, use reminders on your phone. As recall becomes easier, begin to space out your practice more. For plus points, use Interleaving (discussed next) alongside Spaced practice. One tactic you can use is Flash cards with the topic on 1 side and on the other side, all of the key points you need to remember – this method falls into a subcategory called ‘memory strategy’.

Tip for training: Where possible, put your training into a journey. A month before training starts, email out an agenda for the training and key points / objectives. Include a quiz that makes people think – ask them questions they are unlikely to know the answer to yet but will after training (this falls into its own strategy called ‘Compensation’ and helps to embed learning through effortful thought). Use posters with quotes or key concepts around the office or via email. Consider small and bite sized elearning content that can explain a key point in a few slides. – Try to keep the words minimal and an image that connects the content. Build this strategy up until the training and deliver your amazing content. Consider how you could use Spaced Practice in the training room to recap. Post-delivery, email out a summary piece (think of a one page guide or similar) and resend the same quiz you sent out in the beginning. Ask your Leadership team to build the content into coaching sessions and so on.



This approach is where you look at different ideas within in a sequence, mixing up the practice instead of just focusing on 1 area such as with block studying. For example, if you had 10 maths problems, instead of doin 5 addition problems followed by 5 subtraction problems, it would be more effective to interleave the addition and subtraction like this:

  1. 1+2 =
  2. 3+1 =
  3. 2 – 5 =
  4. 6 + 8 =
  5. 3-9 =
  6. 7+2 =
  7. 10 – 6 =
  8. 4 – 3 =
  9. 2 + 6 =
  10. 1 – 3 =

In the above example, we have interleaved the subtraction and addition questions instead of blocking questions 1 – 5 as addition and 6 – 10 as subtraction. The theory behind this is that it challenges people to find the right method for each problem, it keeps them constantly thinking about the right approach and how to apply the right method rather than blocking out the same problem and just practicing and repeating the same approach. You can swap the order of your Interleaving practice to make it more varied and see if you can make connections between the different topics you are studying. You can interleave as many topics as you want.

Tip for yourself: Mix up different topics all together with your interleaving and change the order each time.

Tip for training: It may be difficult to verbally recap whilst jumping from 1 topic to another, so consider quizzes interlaced in the training that mix up different parts of the session.



This strategy involves explaining a topic in your own words, in as much detail as possible. It

is also where you connect new information to information you already know and experiences you have been through. This helps you to elaborate and connect with the material in new ways and can help you see it from different perspectives.

It is believed that the reason this works is that it helps you connect to the material on a deeper level and this in turn, helps your store and remember it:

One of the key techniques for Elaboration is covered in Weinstein, Madan and Sumeracki’s paper, it is called ‘Elaborative Interrogation’ and involves students questioning the material they are reading with ‘how’ and ‘why’ based questions. The next step is for the students to answer these questions, finding a deeper understanding than they would have got just by reading the material.

Tip for yourself: Write down the key concepts of the material you are learning, formulate questions about ‘how’ and ‘why’ the concept is there and works. Answer these questions and attempt to link it to your life experiences or other knowledge.

Tip for training: Get the team to brainstorm questions about the content and its main concepts. When they are done, get them to discuss each question and try to find the answers. Facilitate the discussion and where you can encourage the team to share experiences that are similar.


Concrete Examples

This strategy is used to give a tangible example of an abstract idea. Similar to elaboration in that you are connecting a theory or concept to help embed the learning. One of the best ways to do this is to provide multiple Concrete examples that vary on the surface but have the same guiding principles or structure on a deeper level. Having multiple examples allows you to recall the abstract idea or concept better than just having 1 concrete example. The issue with only using 1 concrete example is that you may remember the example better than the abstract idea, which isn’t the intention. The trick here is to make the concrete examples as clear and connected to the abstract idea as possible, leave out any irrelevant features.

Tip for yourself: Similar to Elaboration, think about how you can turn a key concept into a concrete example. Let’s take an abstract idea, such as Freedom, first we will look at what freedom can mean and then provide concrete examples.

Abstract: Freedom by definition is “the power to act, speak or think as one wants.”

Concrete example 1: The diversity and inclusion policy at work gave people the right to express themselves and work towards their strengths. This policy empowered Amber to utilise her differences effectively and complete project B to a high standard.

Concrete example 2: American president Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery.

Concrete example 3: In the film Croods 2 (spoiler alert!) Grug makes the decision to eat all of the bananas, despite the only rule being not to eat any of them. Perhaps if Phil had explained the issue to Greg and Guy in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened.

Concrete example 4: In the United Kingdom, the principle of Free Speech enables people to share ideas and opinions with others. Whilst freedom of speech exists, any communication that is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone is not allowed. If you decide to conduct yourself in this way, you may face the consequences such as fines or imprisonment.

Concrete example 5: Stephen Downing was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Concrete example 6: In 1215 the Magna Carter acknowledged that subjects of the crown were entitled to legal rights. It also made it so that the law applied to Kings and Queens as well.

Tip for yourself: As you study, search for cases or situations that can be explained through the concept you are learning.

Tip for training: Provide multiple concrete examples that are different on the surface but have the same underlying principles. Consider placing examples around the room and getting people to walk from one example to the next in order to find the abstract ideas behind the scenarios.


Dual Coding

This strategy utilises Multiple senses or formats to convey a message. You could include a draw a picture that illustrates the text beneath it for example or have an image on your PowerPoint which covers the abstract concept whilst you verbal deliver concrete examples. Dual coding can include touch, smell and feelings as well. Simply put, the more senses you can bring in, the better the information will be anchored. Obviously you can’t make every study or training session packed with sensory stimulation otherwise it may lost its impact or lead to overload but consider the different senses and formats you can bring in to drive key messages home.

Tip for yourself: Consider how you can anchor the key concepts by using a mixture of visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, emotions and so on. Try to connect what you are learning using a sensible format – you don’t want to evoke an emotion for every concept, its not always going to be possible to anchor a concept using a sense of smell – do what makes sense.

Tip for training: Use the space around the room or power point to include key images that will help people remember abstract concepts. Where possible and it makes sense, get people to recall memories and experiences and how they felt in those moments.


Affective Strategy

The focus point here is managing emotions and feelings, it looks at making learners feel comfortable, helps them regulate feelings, reduce anxiety and create a sense of motivation. Learning can cause anxiety in some learners, leading them to catastrophize, reach an Action Crisis (where you question whether the end result is worth the work you’re putting in) and potentially give up on their journey. Whilst we aren’t going into too much detail here, a good tactic consider is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In this pyramid, you need to ensure that as many of the levels are covered as possible, so that people can be comfortable in their environment and focus on what they are learning.

The bottom layers cover basic needs – such as food, shelter, security and so on. As we travel up the pyramid, we look at social acceptance, self-esteem and the top layer achieving your full potential. If you are satisfying all of the needs on the pyramid, the learning will feel easier and people will be less likely to suffer from anxiety or be distracted by the other areas of concern on the pyramid. Let’s face it, if you are hungry, need the toilet or are stressing about losing your home, it will be difficult to concentrate on learning. Put yourself in a good place physically and emotionally to learn.

Tip for yourself: Make the room comfortable, ensure water is at hand and that you are not hungry going into your studying. Remind yourself of the end result of your learning, what you hope to achieve and take a few moments to recognise how far you have already come by setting out on this journey.

Tip for training: Prep the room, put water, pens and paper out ready. Check the temperature, lighting and layout of the room – does it create a learning environment? When people come into the room, set expectations about it being a safe environment to share ideas and support each other. Go through the agenda with rough timings so people know when the next breaks are and understand the learning journey you are embarking on together. During group discussions, be positive in your facilitation and explore answers that initially appear to be wrong. Create psychological and physical safety to put people at ease.


Social Strategy

This technique involves learning through others, whether it is in a group discussion, with a mentor or by seeking out an expert. When we link this to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we see the importance of social strategies at both the love and belonging stage and esteem stage. Bring others in as a way to group learn or seek out the knowledge of an expert.

Tip for yourself: Seek out an expert in the field or local groups with similar interests.

Tip of training: Include group discussions and ensure that there are not any overly dominant people in the group. You could bring an expert in to talk or find videos of them online that you can share.


Metacognitive Strategy

This refers to the awareness the learner has on how they learn and the strategies they are using. Some examples of metacognitive strategies that you can use are: reflection, understanding and working towards your strengths / on your weaknesses, Mnemonic Aids such as rhymes or associations, visualisation strategies and so on.

Tip for yourself: Read up on different strategies (there are more than we have covered here!!!), try them out over a few months and find a few that work best for you.

Tip for training: Keep training varied, see if you can link key parts of the training to something people will see every day. In ‘Make it Stick’ the authors talk about a psychology professor that took his team to numerous coffee shops, it was there that they connected key parts of what they had learnt to the layouts of each coffee shop, including the ornaments, seating, menus, uniform and so on. When it was time for their exam, the students visualised walking into the coffee shop and instantly knew where to go mentally in the venue to retrieve information.


So what does this mean?

As most recent studies point out, there is no evidence to suggest that working towards your preferred learning style actually works. In An and Carr’s study, they quote Mckay to drive home this point:

It appears that focusing on learning strategies is a much better solution for learning than focusing on learning styles. That doesn’t mean ignore them altogether though. What we do know is that the more variety you can bring into the training, the more engaging it is. Try to match the content with the learning style, it may not make much sense to cater for auditory styles when looking at images of cars to differentiate makes and models based solely on appearance.

Whilst I wouldn’t suggest catering your training or studying to preferred learning styles, it does make sense to use a variety of resources and techniques to increase engagement and help people remember key points on multiple sensory levels.

To add to this, some people fully identify with a specific learning style and they believe this to their core. It is incredibly difficult to educate people effectively when their identity is being called into question. In fact, you may be reading this and still thinking “Well, I still know I’m an Auditory learner! The science isn’t right for me.” – and that’s okay too. What’s important for people to acknowledge is that it is through hard work, that we learn the best. So if you have a learner who is adamant that they need to be taught in a specific style, help them understand that using a range of styles will help embed the material better because how hard they will have to work to assimilate the information. You can always use their (or your) preferred style of learning as a reward for going through the other learning styles.

We have discussed what learning styles are, looked at some more effective strategies to use both on ourselves and in the training room and briefly covered what that means for us going forward as Learning and Development professionals in the training room. At the bottom of this article you will find some resources that may help you plan and deliver engaging workshops based on scientifically proven learning strategies and ensuring your training is varied.

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Situational Leadership – Summary

Situational Leadership – Summary

Welcome to our Summary article on Situational Leadership, this is the first of 7 articles that explores this widely used model. Our release schedule for the Situational Leadership articles is below. Together, we will explore the positives of the model, the negatives of the model and each of the Leadership styles in more detail – concluding on the 20th of March 2022.


10/10/2021 – Telling Leadership Article

21/11/2021 – Selling Leadership Article

19/12/2021 – 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 it?

Situational Leadership is a model created by Hersey and Blanchard that was initially named the “Life cycle theory of leadership”. The idea of the model is 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. This style differs from 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 ideal Leadership style is represented by the arrows moving through each quadrant.

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. This will provide them with the leadership style 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. For example, an R4 Follower (someone who is able and confident in their role), may turn into an R1 Follower (Someone unable and insecure) in the event of an urgent situation they felt unable to deal with.


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 it as part of a learning journey.

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; Telling, 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. 


When we think about a Follower that is unskilled and lacking confidence or desire, we can think about a new starter. Whilst most of the time, we expect new starters to demonstrate a desire to do a good job, they may be lacking in confidence. They wont know the policies or processes and will need direction early on to build both their skill and confidence levels. We cover this in more detail in our Telling / Directive Leadership article due for release on the 10th of October 2021.



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.

The Selling approach seeks to help your Follower come to their own conclusions about what they need to do and why it is important. There is still an element of ‘Telling’ in here if your Follower gets stuck but the majority of the answers should be coming from them. This helps to foster their enthusiasm into skill based practice and help them become R3 or R4 Followers. The Selling Leadership Article is due for release on the 21st of November 2021.



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.

A Follower that has the skills but not the will to do their job can be both challenging and rewarding. Whilst the Leader will still have the final say on the way forward, putting your trust in your Followers and letting them experiment with their ideas (even if you think yours is better) is key to developing them further. Participating Leadership can be done 1 on 1 but works really well for group work – especially if your team are in the Storming Stage (more on that another time)!

The Participating Leadership article is due for release on the 2nd of January 2022.




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.

Whilst it is amazing to have a team of R4 Followers, remember that you are still accountable for your team and the projects success. Delegating a project or workload isn’t the same as passing ownership of the blame if things go wrong. Make sure your team knows the outcome needed, have a clear understanding of the values and mission your team subscribe to and that you have built up a trusting relationship with them to know if they struggle, you will be the first to know.


The Delegating Leadership article is due for release on the 13th of February 2022.


To conclude

Situational Leadership helps you establish which leadership 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 an easy and quick reference on how to be effective at any given moment.


There are 4 Readiness levels: 

  • 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”

With 4 accompanying Leadership styles:

  • Telling – For R1 Followers (Directive / Autocratic approach)
  • Selling – For R2 Followers (Coaching approach)
  • Participating – For R3 Followers (Facilitation approach)
  • Delegating for R4 Followers (Entrusting approach)

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. If you subscribe via email at the bottom of the article, you will get these delivered directly into your inbox.

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. At the bottom of the page you will find:


1) Situational Leadership quiz – what’s your natural style?

2) Situational Leadership one page guide

3) Situational Leadership Reflection Template


If you want to take your Leadership skills to the next level, book in your free consultation today:


File Name: Situational-Leadership-Quiz-by-Develop-The-Edge-2.xlsx


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Transform Accusations into Achievements with the Accountability Ladder

How would you like to become a:

  • More vigilant problem solver?
  • Better decision maker?
  • Continually high performer?
  • Highly motivated person?
  • Highly satisfied person?

Well, together we are about to explore how accountability can drastically change the way you live your life, lead others and achieve your goals. We are going to Discover an amazing tool called the Ladder of Accountability and how it can transform your mind-set to make you unstoppable.

If you are thinking:

We’ve got you covered. Here’s the funny thing about accountability…when done correctly; it encourages others to take ownership, it gives you more time back, it feels empowering, you are more in control of your life and find more satisfaction in your choices. Not to mention that accountable people are more successful and are more positively viewed by their peers. The benefits of accountability are huge.


Accountability is about being responsible for success and silencing the voice in your head that wants you to be a victim. Don’t worry, we all have that Victim mind-set within our head from time to time and the temptation to listen to it can be strong because it gives people an excuse not to try. This article aims to help you fight the Victim mind-set by using an Accountable mind-set that aims to cut out the voices of “It’s not my fault”, “I don’t have the time” and any other thought you have about life happening TO you instead of happening BECAUSE of you.



Let’s begin to embrace accountability and take a look at how we can push back against the Victim mind-set and embrace freedom, success and empowerment through the Accountable mind-set


Why accountability matters

We hear people talk about accountability and we know that it’s important for getting things done – but the benefits of accountability are far greater than that. We are going to look at how accountability impacts; motivation, results, others, stress levels, time and fulfilment.


That’s right! Being accountable puts you in a motivational state. Think about anytime you have set a goal you are passionate about. You will know what actions you need to take, when to take them and you carry out these actions because you understand the purpose behind them.

Take a moment to consider the difference that these 2 options have on the way you feel:


  1. “Someone needs to help that person.”
  2. “I am going to help that person.”

Did the 1st one make you feel like a bystander, a victim or generally uninterested and detached?

Did the 2nd one make you feel more empowered, helpful, motivated and in control?


When you look around your house and see job after job, piling on top of each other – consider the difference in these 2 statements:

  1. “There is so much to do, why am I the only one that does anything around here?”
  2. “I’m going to make a list, get it done, ask for help and set a game-plan so we stay on top of things next time.”

Did the 1st one make you feel like a victim and that bad things in life happen to you? That there was so much to do because no one else pulled their weight? Did you feel overwhelmed and stressed?

Did the 2nd one make you feel empowered, resourceful, motivated and relieved?


This is the power of accountability. It’s a skill, one that comes with time and lots of practice. Fortunately, there is a simple tool you can use to help you identify whether you are in a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set and take appropriate steps to take back control, feel more motivated, energised and calm.

Let’s get right into the Ladder of Accountability so we can create a much more useful and powerful Accountable mind-set.

The Ladder of Accountability was shown to me by my first Leadership mentor when I told him that operations wanted to see improvements in both the Quality and Productivity of my team but were not giving me adequate time to coach them to success. He immediately got out a printed image of the Ladder of Accountability and asked me if I was in a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set. The answer was painfully obvious, I was in a victim mind-set. THEY wouldn’t give me the time, therefore my mission wasn’t possible. I was wrong, it was possible and with accountability, I took control and we smashed it.


The Ladder of Accountability has 8 rungs, 4 of which are Victim mind-sets; “I don’t know”, “Blame others”, “Excuses” and “Wait & hope.” The last 4 are Accountable mind-sets; “Acknowledge reality”, “Own it”, “Find solutions” and “Make it happen”. As you climb up the ladder, you become more accountable and begin to power your way through to success.

To understand the Ladder in more detail, we will need to explore each rung and discover how to climb to the top in order to achieve accountability and set ourselves up for success.

At the bottom rung of accountability is ‘I don’t know!” at this stage people simply don’t know that there is a problem. They are completely unaware that the problem exists or that something needs attention. We are surrounded by topics and situations we don’t know about – if we knew about them all we would likely have information overload. It makes sense then that we are all at this rung in some aspect of our lives – it’s up to you to identify it and decide if you want to take action.


This stage could be something simple as using an old process at work and saying “I did it because it’s what we’ve always done!” – when in reality the process is no longer fit for purpose. You may not have known it was an issue at the time, because you simply hadn’t taken a step back to consider the risks of taking the actions you did.


How many times have couples said to each other “How am I meant to know unless you tell me?” – A mix here of the stage “I don’t know” and our next stage “Blame Others.”


Before we move on to the next stage though, lets look at 3 quick ways that we can become more aware of the world around us and our levels of accountability:


    1. Mindfulness and reflection
    2. Risk assessments
    3. Conversations

1. Mindfulness is the state of being in the present and paying attention to the moment. When you are in the moment, you feel calmer and pay more attention to yourself and the world around you. This, alongside reflection may help you become more aware of the situations and problems you have been overlooking such as a partners body language, troubling situations or habit changes.


2. Risk assessments aren’t just for businesses. Have you thought about what would happen if giant ants from space came to enslave the earth? What would your emergency plans be for yourself and your loved ones? Yes – we got a bit crazy there but there is nothing wrong with creating an emergency plan in case of; natural disasters, burglaries, redundancy and so on. These are all things people can have a Victim Mind-Set about with questions such as “How was I meant to know?” or “What can I do about it?”


In reality though, there’s a simple answer: Risk assess and plan. Ideally do this proactively and before the event occurs but occasionally things happen and we have to react. The best way forward once you have a plan in place is to figure out how to stop similar situations occurring in the future.

Consider a simple 9 point Risk Assessment – Impact /Probability grid that may help you identify what risks you are best placed to focus on.

For example, if you were assessing the risk of being made redundant and you are in a secure job where it is unlikely you will be let go, you would start at the ‘Low Probability’ row in the above image. If that job was well paying and you have lots of financial commitments, we can agree that the impact of redundancy would be high and so you would need to go to the grid point: Low Probability/High Impact. This Grid axis takes us to a “Medium” risk level as outlined below:

Something to create a plan for but not immediately stress over. If however, you didn’t have financial commitments and had lots of savings then the impact could be considered “Low” making this a Low Probability/Low Impact event, taking us to a “Low” risk level. It’s a good idea to have something in place still but even just to be aware of it and the potential impacts is a start.


 3. Conversations are essential in life, they work wonders for accountability too. By talking to others, you are understanding their perspectives and they will likely talk to you about potential situations you were not aware of. You will also be able to pick up where you both are on the Accountability Ladder by the words being used.


Next time you hear yourself say: “I had no idea!” or “How was I supposed to know?” – recognise where you are and figure out WHY you didn’t know and how you could ensure you positioned yourself in a place of knowledge going forward.

With a good understanding on how to combat the ‘I don’t know’ rung of the ladder, we can begin to climb the ladder and get to the next Victim stage: Rung 2 – Blame Others.

This is the phase where people want to shift the uncomfortable spotlight from themselves onto someone else. Whilst this can temporarily ease the pressure, it doesn’t make you feel better in the long run, it doesn’t get us to a solution faster, it damages relationships and it can make us feel guilty and ashamed later on.

This stage is a bit like the Stanford Marshmallow experiment – where children were given the choice between 1 immediate marshmallow or 2 marshmallows if they waited for a period of time. The study was to test instant gratification or delayed gratification. Like the experiment, you have 2 choices:


1. Cast blame for the immediate spotlight to be off of you (1 immediate ‘reward’)


2. Be accountable, explain what you could have done differently and find solutions going forward (2 much more satisfying rewards).


So before you go to cast blame on someone else, ask yourself whether you are choosing to take 1 or 2 marshmallows today?

To drive the importance home, here are 2 further points to consider:


  1. In follow up studies, they found that the children who had waited and taken 2 marshmallows were more successful in life.
  2. Blaming others in no way guarantees you that the spotlight will come off of you. In fact, you will likely develop a reputation for it, be considered untrustworthy, lose relationships and be even more likely to be considered responsible for the failure. People catch on quickly so don’t be known as the person that blames the world, make it known that you own issues and take action to get results.

In the words of Extreme Ownership Authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin:

So how do we stop blaming others and start being more accountable?

Here are the 6R’s that we formulated based on research and over a decade of experience as coaches:

Step 1: Recognise

You have to be aware of yourself when you are mentally or verbally placing the blame on someone else. Catch yourself doing it, stop the behaviour and move on to step 2.

Step 2: Refocus

You are now aware that you were about to cast blame on someone else. Take a breath and quickly scan why you were about to do that, you might find the reason you are responsible for the issue. Don’t dwell too much here right now, we need to refocus on the next step – Review.

Step 3: Review

What were you or are you accountable for? Find a way to be accountable for what’s happened.

For example:

  • A colleague had 100% responsibility for a project but didn’t deliver? How could you have changed that? What support could you have offered? Could you have offered support in a different way? There are countless ways to make yourself accountable for something that at first doesn’t seem like it should be your responsibility.

Find out what you were accountable for, own it and be vocal about it. Chances are, this mind-set and mentality will help others become accountable too.

Step 4: Rescue

There is no point in placing the blame anywhere, even on yourself if you are not going to do anything about it. Work on fixing the immediate issue at hand. This level of ownership and responsibility will likely be admired by your peers and people up the chain of command as well.

Step 5: Reflect

We have fixed the issue at hand, all that’s left to do is reflect on why mistakes were made, how to improve ourselves, processes and teams to make us more efficient in the future.

Step 6: Recommend

All that’s left now is to make recommendations so that this doesn’t happen again. Up your accountability here and take some time to do a wider risk analysis to see if there is anything else that could benefit from being reviewed. This is where great learning opportunities come from, put processes in place to ensure your success in the future. Working with a team here helps build future accountability so consider facilitating a session on the best way forward.

Here are 3 common reasons people pass blame, why they don’t work and what you can do about it:

With the realisation that blame is actually our enemy other than our friend, it’s time to take the next step up the ladder. This rung is called Excuses.

As coaches, we hear excuses all of the time, such as:


  • “I can’t!”
  • “I don’t have the time!”
  • “No one is supporting me! What if I fail?”
  • “I cannot do this on my own!”
  • “This is too difficult, nobody could do this!”
  • “Of course THEY did it, they had support!”

People that say these kinds of things don’t tend to recognise them as excuses, they think they’re legitimately unmovable obstacles. As coaches we tend to call them ‘Limiting Beliefs’ and it’s something we are very good at challenging, reframing and helping people overcome.

A limiting belief is an assumption you hold about yourself or your situation that isn’t actually true. It’s our job as coaches to challenge this thought process through questioning and curiosity. We know that Limiting Beliefs often come from 3 main places: fear, uncertainty and self-doubt.


Once you have identified where these excuses or limiting beliefs are coming from, you can start to question your thought process on them. Taking a few of the above examples, we will identify where the limiting belief has come from and then look at some sample questions you can use to challenge them.


“I can’t!”

Where does this come from?

  • Self-doubt.

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “Really?” Followed by silence.
  • “What’s the specific reason you can’t do it?”
  • “Is there anybody that could do it?” followed by “How would they do it?”

“I don’t have the time!”

Where does this come from?

  • Uncertainty

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “How could you make the time?”
  • “What is stopping you from making the time?”
  • “How much time do you think it would take?” Followed by “Could you split this into smaller chunks?”
  • “Who would have the time?”
  • “Why isn’t this important enough for you to make the time?”

“No one is supporting me! What if I fail?”

Where does this come from?

  • Self-doubt and fear

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “What makes you think you need support?”
  • “What support do you think you need?”
  • “Could you ask for help?”
  • “What makes you think you will fail?”
  • “If you do fail, what then?”

It’s important to listen out for limiting beliefs and excuses. By effectively challenging them you open up the door to accountability and success. Once we have successfully navigated the excuses and limiting beliefs, the next rung on the ladder is Wait and hope.

This is the last of the Victim mind-sets on the Ladder of Accountability. Whilst it isn’t blaming others, making excuses or being unaware of the situation, there is still a clear lack of accountability that needs addressing.

At this stage, the person simply waits and hopes someone else will do it. If we are being honest with ourselves here, there is at least one thing that you have left and hoped someone else would do. The problem here is that if everyone waits for someone else to do it, no one would do it! Here is a short video that explains the story: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, Nobody:

Wait and Hope in work can be seen as a cultural lack of accountability. Everybody assumed somebody would do it, because anybody could do it but nobody does! This can push us right back down to the Blame game on rung 2 as we start pointing fingers at other people who should have done it.

Do not waste your time and energy falling back down the ladder. Here are 3 quick and simple ways to get passed Wait and Hope:

  • Do it yourself.
  • Explain to someone why you cannot do it and ask for help.
  • Offer to take work from someone else so they will have the time to do it.

Just like that, we have taken accountability and either taken control of the situation ourselves of empowered someone else to complete the task. Of course, ownership is about owning the task completely, so even if someone else says they will do it, find a way to be accountable for the task still – check in on the person, see if they are getting on okay or if they need support. Delegating work doesn’t make you less accountable, you should still be responsible for the end result.

With strategies in place to deal with the 4 Victim mind-sets, it’s time to begin the climb into the Accountable mind-set. Give yourself a pat on the back here, celebrate and enjoy the moment. Accountability is hard but it is worth it. Ensure you celebrate and reward yourself for taking accountable actions.

Acknowledging reality is where we are able to put all of the petty and unhelpful Victim mind-sets to one side. This can be a difficult step for our ego to take but it’s a necessary one to become an accountable and successful person. When you acknowledge reality you strip away all of the noise, beliefs and assumptions that were gathering on the first 4 rungs. You look at the facts of the situation, where you are, the facts that led to the problem and understand that something needs to change.


Let’s understand why acknowledging reality is important:

  • Reality gives you an honest view on what’s happened and why
  • This lets you get to the root cause of the problem instead of fixing symptoms
  • Often the sting of acknowledging short comings can stop you from making the same mistake twice
  • People around you will see you truly want to understand and fix the problem

Once we understand how important acknowledging reality is, we need to establish how much of what we are seeing is raw factual data and how much of it has been interpreted by ourselves through our beliefs and assumptions.

For example, if we revisit the scenario where jobs are piling up around the house, our view will be distorted by our beliefs and assumptions:


“The other person doesn’t do anything around here.” – Belief

“They are just lazy!” – Assumption

“They don’t care about me or the house.” – Assumption

“I am not valued here.” – Belief


Wow, that spiralled quickly out of control! We need to break away from these beliefs and assumptions and get to the facts. Here are some questions that may help you dive down into the concrete evidence:

  • Which of my beliefs are impacting these thoughts?
  • What assumptions am I making and why?
  • Am I using all of the available data or am I being selective with it?
  • What are the core facts of the situation?

After thinking about these questions, we may come to the below conclusions:

There are lots of jobs that need to be done.

The jobs I do are X, Y & Z.

I don’t know what jobs the other person does, I should probably find out.

I do not factually know why the house has so many outstanding jobs right now.

I do not have any proof that says they do not value me or the house, it’s just the way I felt.

What I do know is that we have a lot to do, we need a game plan to fix the problem and have a strategy for the future.


With these simple questions, we have moved from quite an emotional state to one of a rational and calm mind that is now able to take ownership and find solutions. Living in the facts and acknowledging reality is a powerful skill to develop. Keep working on it every time you feel your emotions getting the better of you.

Here are 3 more great questions we have highlighted in our previous article on the GROW model. They use a method called ‘Chunking down’, which is when you take an emotive statement and ask a question designed to break the emotional pattern and focus on a factual and logical answer.

If you want to know more about the Grow model, our article on it is here: https://www.developtheedge.com/get-up-and-go-with-the-grow-model/

With an honest view on the situation, it’s time to climb to the next rung of the ladder –Embrace it.

This is the stage that can be quite difficult as you now have the facts, it’s time to embrace your responsibility for what happened. When you own the mistake or problem. You are more determined to solve it.  This stage is a constant battle with your ego as it pushes back from taking blame and wants to shout about all the things it has done not the 1 thing it hasn’t. The problem is, the 1 thing you didn’t do is the cause of the problem. There is no point running a 100m race and stopping at the 99th meter.

As Whitmore said, ownership leads to motivation and thus results. If you take ownership of the problem, you will be driven to find a solution.

We are going to give you a scenario that may be difficult for you to take ownership of.

Work out how you could make yourself accountable for the problem, what mistakes did you make here that lead to the failure of the project?

  • A project came in to the team from your client, one of your colleagues eagerly put themselves forward for the task and your manager happily gave it to them. In your weekly meeting your manager checked the progress of every team member’s projects and your colleague always said everything was going great. Whenever you caught up with your colleague in meetings or the breakroom, they seemed confident in their work and abilities. They always seem on top of everything. On the day of the deadline your colleague told you that they were nowhere near completion and that they had been lying when they said everything was great. Due to the project not being completed on time, client ended up cancelling all contracts with your team, losing the company a lot of money and damaging its reputation.
  • List all of the ways you can take ownership of the projects failure before continuing with the article.

If you are struggling with this one, watch this 15 minute video by Jocko that may give you a few ideas.

Once you have answered the questions, the article continues below the video.

Once you have worked out how you can take ownership of the situation, think back to a time where you felt like there was no-way you could have been accountable for a problem or situation – when it was 100% someone else’s fault. Take a different perspective on it now and think about what you could do to change that – what could you make yourself accountable for in that situation?


Now that we have embraced our accountability of the problem, the next step is vital – Find a Solution.

It’s pointless just taking ownership of a mistake, you have to learn from it and try to fix it. Consider the immediate way forward for the problem or situation and how you will take responsibility for it.


We also need to learn from our mistakes, so with your clear view on what went wrong from the Embrace it stage, start to come up with solutions that will stop it happening again.

Consider the last scenario we went through together, where you colleague took on a project which failed and cost the company both income and reputation. Review your list of mistakes that you are accountable for and write down what you will do differently next time to ensure that future missions will be a success.


You can also do this with your personal scenario.

Ariana Glantz has a TED talk about finding solutions where she acknowledges how scary it can be to start looking for solutions, especially if we don’t initially think we have the tools or confidence to do it. To help overcome this, she has created a simple 5 step process for generating the way forward. We have broken this down for you below but the video is here:

  • Mindset

Make being solutions minded part of your identity. Before sitting down, remind yourself that you are a person that is focused on finding solutions. If you brain keeps drifting back to the problem, redirect it to the solution.

  • Structure

Create your own process for problem solving, whether it’s a start to finish approach or is more about idea generation, know what works for you and make tweaks to it along the way.

  • Question

Clarify the problem by asking questions about it – there’s no point creating a solution if you haven’t explored the problem – your solution may be wrong! Question colleagues, friends and subject matter experts for their opinions and ideas.

  • Practice

Finding Solutions is a skill that takes time and practice, so use every problem as an opportunity to try out your new process.

  • Patience

Be kind to yourself and others, learning a new skill or just navigating through problems can be a challenging time. Support yourself and others.

With a Solution in mind, it’s time to climb up to the final rung of the ladder Make it happen.

You’ve done the hard work, you have put your ego to the side, admitted accountability, embraced the feelings and consequences that come with making mistakes and you have generated a way forward. Now all you need to do, is take action.

As you have made the decision to be accountable, this step should be fairly easy. People who feel accountable are much more likely to take appropriate action to get the desired results. Take time to celebrate what you have achieved here, taking ownership is not an easy road but it is one that will see you succeed, it is one where you will become a leader and inspire others to be more accountable.

The next time you make a statement or have a thought about a problem or situation, take a minute to consider where you are on the Ladder of Accountability. Think about what steps you need to take to move from a Victim Mind-set to an Accountable-Mind-set in order to succeed.


There are 8 rungs on the ladder of accountability; “I don’t know”, “Blame others”, “Excuses”, “Wait & hope”, “Acknowledge reality”, “Own it”, “Find solutions” and “Make it happen”. You have the choice on whether you want to have a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set. Being a Victim is easy in the short term but can cause long term damage to your mentality, relationships, skills and abilities. Being accountable may be difficult in the short-term but the long-term pay offs are massive. You become more passionate, more dedicated, more solutions focused, more satisfied, better at solving problems and inspirational to others. In fact, Arti Trivedi in his paper A Study of Literature Review on Individual Accountability, said this:

That brings our article on the Ladder of Accountability to a close. We have added the following resources to the bottom of the page:

  • A FREE 40 Page Guidebook to help you and others become a Victor instead of a Victim
  • 2 x Ladder of Accountability Hand Outs
  • Ladder of Accountability 1 page guide

 If you have found the article valuable, consider sharing it with others by clicking the Social Media icons below.


If you want to become a more vigilant problem solver, better decision maker, continually high performer, a highly motivated person and a highly satisfied person – Book in your FREE no commitment consultation session with us today:

Get up and go with the GROW model

If you:

  • Feel like you aren’t progressing when it comes to planning and achieving your goals
  • Get lost when structuring a coaching conversation
  • Want to help people achieve their potential but you just aren’t sure where to start

This article should be packed with value for you.

Based on John Whitmore’ book ‘Coaching for Performance 5th Edition’, we discuss WHAT the model is and HOW to use it. If you want to learn more about the benefits of the GROW model, consider subscribing to our blog as we will be discussing this with you soon!

For now though, let us begin to explore this widely used model and discover what it could do for you.

What is the GROW model?

The GROW model was created by John Whitmore as a tool to help coaches and leaders have effective conversations with their colleagues. Whitmore advised that the model should be used similar to a journey planner – find out where you want to go, understand where you are and plot the best path to get there.

The acronym GROW is broken down in to 4 easy to follow steps which stand for; Goal, Reality, Options and Will.

How to use the GROW model

The GROW model is a fantastic tool you can use alongside your coaching and facilitation skills, it gives you a framework to base your conversations around so that they follow a sensible structure. It isn’t a replacement for interactive coaching, so it’s important to stay engaged as you work your way through the model, being flexible in your approach will help the conversation flow and allows you to avoid an awkward and rigid tick box exercise.

Before you launch into understanding your coachees goal, it makes sense to set the scene. We don’t mean brief your coachee on the model but we definitely should explore the purpose of the coaching session. What is the end goal of the session and why is it important? Whether you have a specific agenda for the coaching sessions or not, it’s always a good idea to ask your coachee what they would like to get out of the time you are spending together.

Consider these simple, thought provoking introduction questions:

Do you have any impactful questions that you like to open a session with? Connect with us @DevelopTheEdge on Twitter or LinkedIn and let us know how you start your sessions off powerfully!

With the scene set, we can look at how we can use the model to guide our coaching conversations. The first part of the model we are going to engage with is Goal.

The first part of the model is extremely important as it focuses on what is to be achieved. Much like with Locke and Latham’ research, Whitmore advises that the goal needs to be stretching for the coachee. When we look at goal motivation, we see that when a goal is too easy or too hard, we give up on it because it is either not valuable (too easy) or not worth the effort (too hard).

If you only have a short amount of time to coach with, consider asking your coachee to have a goal in mind before the session.

Whitmore identifies 4 different types of goals:

  1. Dream Goals
  2. End Goals
  3. Performance Goals
  4. Process Goals. 

The different types of goals can impact motivation levels, goal success and accountability in your coachee so it is important to know which goal we are dealing with at any one point. If for example, your coachee is missing a Dream Goal, they may lack motivation and the inspiration to do their best. If they are missing Process goals, they may lose accountability and lose track of their next steps. Missing a goal type may not bode well for their goals success. With that in mind, let’s explore the 4 types in more detail:

This is the inspiring vision of the future, something that is not yet possible but in time and after a lot of focused effort, will be. This is real big picture thinking, it is a focus on who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.

This is your driving force of the goal and it needs to be exciting, compelling and inspiring. This can take a lot of exploring and reflection – you will likely need to revisit the Goal stage of the GROW model later as you refine your purpose.

Here are some valuable questions to identify and probe further into a Dream Goal:

  • Why do you want to do this?
  • What is it that you really want?
  • Why do you really want that?
  • What is the purpose of achieving this?
  • How will your life be different after you achieve this?
  • What will it mean to you once you have achieved it?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • Why do you want to be that future self?
  • What will achieving this allow you to do?
  • Why is this important for you in the long run?
  • How does this link to business goals (where coaching in the workplace)
  • What excites you about this goal?

Remember: this Dream Goal needs to be inspiring and motivating.

Similar to the Dream Goal, is the End Goal. The main different here is that we are looking for something a more tangible. We are looking less at the abstract dream goal and more at the measurable results we can achieve.

  • Consider framing the goal in the SMARTER format, more on that can be found here: https://www.developtheedge.com/securing-success-by-setting-smarter-goals/
  • How will you measure the goal?
  • What are the conditions for success?
  • When do you need to do this by?
  • How does this link into the Dream Goal?
  • How does this link into your values and mission?
  • Could you be more specific on what you want to achieve?
  • At this stage is this an achievable goal?
  • What would you need to do to make it achievable?

Whilst End Goals are important, they are not 100% in your control, there is typically an element that will be out of your control. For example:

Your End Goal maybe to win a 100m race – Which is measurable as the condition for success is clear. The goal isn’t entirely in your control, think about:

  • How hard the other competitors train
  • Any inherent skills or abilities they have
  • Who will sponsor you
  • The weather conditions on the day
  • An injury from overtraining

The list isn’t exhaustive but you can already see that this end goal of yours doesn’t just lie in your hands. Instead, you need to figure out how to position yourself to win regardless. What you need then, is a Performance Goal linked to your End Goal.

Performance Goals are part of your End goal. These are the goals that you believe will put you in the best possible position to achieve your end goal. They are more specific and more focused on the short term wins that get you to your longer-term End goal.

Your Performance Goals may look like:

  • By next week I will be running 100m in 25 seconds
  • I will ensure my brand is positive and engaging, by posting about my training, key related topics and speaking to people. This will help Sponsors see value in supporting me.
  • I am going to increase my leg strength by 10% over the next 3 months to aid in the 100m sprint
  • I am going to look after my body to prevent over training and injury

These goals are all within your control and will put you in the best position to achieve your End Goal. We can still drive to one more area of detail, if we think about the End and Performance Goals as the ‘What’, the ‘How’ outlines the actions we take to achieve it. These goals are called Process Goals as they outline the process you need to go through to achieve your Performance Goals.

These goals are the specific actions you are going to take to achieve your goal, sometimes referred to as the ‘How’.

Process Goals may look like this:

  • I will work out with weights 3 times a week, achieving at-least 1 personal best each session. This will help me to increase my overall leg strength by 10% within 3 months.
  • I will post on Social Media once a day – this will help me reflect on my performance and engage with my supporters. I will run these posts through an App that checks how positive and engaging my posts are before posting them.
  • I will practice the 30m sprint, 200m sprint and 300m sprint to vary my practice and get to know how my body feels during performance, this will help me with my 100m sprint time.
  • I am going to stretch for 30 minutes after each session and get adequate rest each night to help me prevent injury.

Now we have the Why (Dream Goal), the What (End Goal and Performance Goal) and the How (Process Goal) we will be ready to move onto the next step. The GROW model is a flexible approach, if you need to revisit this step or if the goal doesn’t seem quite right here, come back to it. As Whitmore says in his book:

Be mindful not to speed up this process just because of time-constraints. You may invest more time here than intended but consider what is more important: Getting the Goal set within your expected time-frame and later realising it’s the wrong goal or taking longer initially but setting the right goal.

How will this stage help with success?

Evidence shows us that when we find our goal engaging and worthwhile, we are more likely to achieve it!

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Practice the questions we have discussed and create your own in order to see the impact great questions can have in a conversation. Remember – great coaches don’t tick boxes, use the questions appropriately – have a fluent and engaging conversation.

With a concrete goal in mind that is inspiring us into action, the next stage we need to look at is Reality.

There are two great approaches you can use here, we love these techniques and will cover them in future articles but for now, consider researching them if you are unfamiliar with them:

  • The 6 Hats
  • The Ladder of Inference

The 6 Hats technique works by focusing on your goal and situation through 6 different perspectives: The Facts, Emotions, Optimism, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Process. This helps give you a well-rounded look at the situation and is great for both facilitated sessions and 1-on-1 coaching.

The Ladder of Inference works by evaluating where on the ladder your thoughts are, the higher up the ladder, the less grounded in reality you are. The bottom rung of the ladder is simply ‘Data’ – Facts with absolutely no beliefs or assumptions attached to them. When attempting to find the Reality of a situation, the bottom rung of the ladder is where you need to be.

One tactic here is to use ‘Chunk-Down’ questioning techniques to probe abstract thoughts and feelings to get concrete answers. Chunking Down is using open questions to get specific answers such as:

At this stage you are looking to find out:

  • Where the coachee is in relation to their goal (close or far)
  • What skills they have that will benefit them
  • What skills they will need to acquire to be successful
  • How Realistic the goals are

How will this stage help with success?

When we understand where we are, it makes it easier to plot the path to where we are going. If you want to know more about how this stage can impact your mental well-being, consider reading our article on the 5 stages of learning: https://www.developtheedge.com/demolishing-doubt-during-the-5-stages-of-learning/

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Help guide your coachee through the facts by recognising emotional language and bringing them back to the facts. Build a realistic journey to avoid disappointment and instill accountability.

With a solid grasp on the Reality of the situation and goal, the next part of the model is about the Options available.

This stage is all about creativity and exploration. You need to approach this believing that there are no barriers and there are no silly ideas. You can use mind-maps, write down lists or just have a back and forth conversation. The important thing here is to get creative, do not allow yourself or your coachee to be constrained by what they believe is possible.

In the below video from Star Trek’s 2009 film, Captain Kirk beats an impossible simulation created by Spock. He did this by installing a virus and technically cheating (although the rules didn’t say he couldn’t do it). Kirk later defends his actions by saying “I don’t believe in no win scenarios.”

Whilst we don’t condone ‘cheating’, this out of the box thinking is key at this stage. It’s this creativity in finding a solution that allows Kirk to beat the simulation. There are many activities that can help you get more creative with your problem solving skills so have a look around! Whitmore suggests the 9 Dot Exercise, which we will briefly cover here:

We challenge you here and now to complete the 4 line and 1 line 9 dot image before continuing.

Were you successful?

People can automatically respond to this challenge by saying it’s impossible. We limit our own potential with this kind of thinking. We need to look at all of the options available to us.

If you found it impossible, did I say you couldn’t:

Rearrange the dots?

Cut them out?

Copy and paste them into a better order?

Draw the line through the sides of the dots instead of the centre?

Folded the gaps in the paper to make the distance between the dots shrink?

Use a large highlighter and printed the 9 dots out on a smaller scale?

Get creative and ensure you are challenging limiting beliefs and assumptions here.

Here are some thought provoking questions to ask your coachee:

  • What would your future self say?
  • If you were me, what question would you ask?
  • What qualities would the person you admire bring to the table? How would these be beneficial?
  • What could you do if anything was possible?
  • If budget wasn’t an issue, what would you do?
  • If you had unlimited time to do this, what steps would you take?
  • If you were the CEO, what would you do here?
  • What attributes do people see in you?
  • What attributes would they say are missing?
  • What makes someone great at this goal?

Once you have explored all of the options available to your coachee, time to drill them down and review them. Take some time and encourage them to rate each option in terms of what will be the most effective way forward.

How will this stage help with success?

You will have more ideas in your head than you can ever really know, its about getting creative and finding solutions. This stage can help get you outside of what you think will work and push the boundaries on what is possible.

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

This is a full-on facilitation session, use probing questions to explore ideas and ensure you stay out of judgement. Be encouraging but curious, explore all answers given to help your coachee find the best way forward.

Now that all Options have been explored, the next part of the model is about having a specific way forward and is called Will.

This stage focuses on accountability.

You have discovered your goal, understood the reality and engaged in finding options. The decision now needs to be made, ask the simple question: ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Whitmore suggests three simple questions to boost accountability and action:

  • What will you do?
  • When will you do it?
  • How will I know you’ve done it?

These questions will help give your coachee a concrete action plan – that they have created themselves. We know as coaches that in order to feel connected to a goal, it needs to come from the coachee – not the coach. Let your coachee tell you the answers and set their own path towards the goal.

The questions don’t need to stop here though, always let your coachee guide the conversation, questions are tools – not tick boxes. Here are some other considerations to discuss with your coachee upon setting your concrete plans:

  • Are there any obstacles for you to achieve this? If so, how can you manage them?
  • What support will you need?
  • How will this help you achieve your goal?
  • Do you have any other thoughts?
  • If you realise the goal will be delayed, when will you let me know?
  • How committed to this goal are you?

With the way forward set, it’s a good idea to schedule in a review meeting or meetings to see how your coachee is getting on. It’s important to remember that you need to stay out of judgement here – you are spending time with your coachee to see how you can support their progress.

When booking in review and feedback meetings consider the following:

  • How frequent they need to be (daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly etc)
  • Where the meetings should take place (face to face, phone, video call)
  • Keep in mind the role of a coach and be: supportive, challenging, open and understanding.
  • Use this as a learning and growth opportunity for your coachee
  • Consider if the goal is still achievable and relevant, revisit the steps of GROW if required

With your review and feedback sessions set out, you should be in a great position to support and encourage your coachee to succeed.

How will this stage help with success?

This is all about accountability and setting a concrete action plan. This is where you put yourself into action and reflect on what is working. If you don’t look at your progress, what’s working and what could go better, you could be missing ways to become more effective and reach your goal faster.

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Ensure that the coachee is accountable and focused on their next steps. Ensure your review meetings are about open and honest conversation. Be candid where you need to but stay out of judgement. A coach supports people to succeed, you cannot support someone whilst you are in judgement.


To summarise, the GROW model is a useful tool for any Coach or Leader to use. It is best used in conjunction with other coaching and leadership skills than as a strict process to follow.

The acronym GROW stands for: Goal, Reality, Options and Will. At each stage, aim to ask open and judgement-free questions to help your coachee understand their goals, skills and the options available to them.

Let us know what has been most valuable to you about this article and what works well for you when using the GROW model.

Check out the below resources to help you facilitate effective and engaging coaching conversations:

  • The GROW model – One Page Guide
  • The GROW model – Guidebook
  • The GROW model – Template

Demolishing Doubt During the 5 Stages of Learning

Could you be damaging your psychological and physiological well-being when trying to achieve a goal or learn something new?

In a 2012 study about giving up personal goals, the researchers found that when we reach the stage in goal attainment where we believe the difficulty of the task outweighs the value of completing it (known as an action crisis) we not only damage our psychological and physiological wellbeing but we also smother our ability to evaluate the goal at hand effectively.

The thought of damaging our mental and physical well-being when facing difficulty may start to make sense when we reflect on the below questions:

  • Have you ever given up on something you wanted?
  • Have you ever felt so defeated and frustrated that you were unable to complete a challenge or task?
  • Have you ever felt like a failure for being unable to grasp what you initially perceived to be something simple?
  • Have you ever wondered why you even bother?

Each of the above questions may have conjured up negative feelings and memories for you, which helps us make sense of what they found in the study.

Most people will have given up on a goal or pursuit of a skill at least once in their life. Most of us know how that feels and the impacts it can have on our confidence, well-being and overall health. If this is or has been you, consider adding the 5 stages of learning to your tool kit, it can help you understand and combat some of these pain points so that you can more effectively push through these difficult stages and become an expert at your chosen skill.

Think about how good will you feel when this difficult task, skill or goal becomes so familiar to you that you can do it in autopilot. Better yet, how will you feel becoming so masterful that you will be able to teach your skill to others?

The goal of this article is to help you lead yourself and others through the 5 Stages of Learning – using empathy, coaching and persistence to get the best out of the situation. We will discuss the different stages, what they look like and how you can guide people through their learning journey. Supporting effectively through the difficult times and celebrating together through the successes.

What are the 5 Stages of Learning?

The initial model only had 4 stages of learning and was often displayed as a matrix instead of a pyramid. A final and 5th stage was added and it is now often displayed as a pyramid or ladder. The new model is the one we will look at today.

The 5 stages are used to describe the different phases people go through when they are learning something new. This allows you to understand where you or your Followers are on their learning journey, enabling you to find the best way to help progression through each stage. 

The author of this model is unknown, with different people claiming it as their own. Given this and the fact that we have been unable to find any real challengers to the theory, the 5 Stages of Learning look to be more of a universal truth rather than just a model. Whilst we will refer to it as the 5 Stages of Learning, you may have heard of it as the Conscious Competence Matrix or the Learning Matrix.

Whilst we will go through these stages in more detail later in the article The 5 Stages of Learning are:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence
  • Reflective Competence

It’s time to break this model down into its individual phases:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious Incompetence is where we all begin on our learning journey. At this stage, it is simply impossible for us to grasp the scope of what we do not know. This is what we mean by Unconscious Incompetence – we are that incompetent, we don’t even know it!

Consider the arm-chair coach, who thinks they  know better than the actual coaches and the athletes on TV who have dedicated their lives to mastering a sport.

This stage could also be likened to a child that sees a parent driving, it looks simple – the child would probably be brimming with confidence about being able to drive because to them, all they need to do is turn a wheel. They don’t know anything about the degree in which to turn the wheel, let alone the theory, the law, road signs, traffic lights, crossings, clutch control, gears, indicators, fuel, engine checks and so on – They are unconsciously incompetent, they do not know the extent of how much there is to learn.

This was explained in Dunning & Kruger’s 1999 study where they identified that those with low competence greatly overestimated their actual competence levels and those with higher competency slightly underestimated their competency, in other words, it takes competency to identify competency!

So let’s put ourselves at this stage – we are blissfully unaware of what we don’t know, we are overestimating our abilities and our ego is telling us how great we are. What do you think a good thing to do here would be?

If you’re thinking take a step back and assess, you’re on the right track. We know that setting unrealistic goals is one way to make ourselves feel deflated when we inevitably fail to reach the impossible. We know that where we don’t prepare for a threat, we are less capable to deal with it and we know that when we don’t look at our strengths and available resources, we are not operating at our full capacity.

With this in mind, a SWOT analysis can be a useful tool to honestly look at your situation, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with this new learning journey.

From here you can use the SMART model (or any goal setting model) to set realistic goals. If you are looking to help others or have a wider group of people to train, consider a training needs analysis to build an effective program to support your learners.

Another useful tool to use at this stage is Situational Leadership. Hersey, Angelim, and Carakushansky (1982) found evidence that using the Situational Leadership model during a learning journey can help embed information and aid in learners development.

At this stage, we would look to utilise Directive leadership – a Telling approach where step by step guidance is provided. This helps yourself or others understand exactly what is involved in the task and can aid in repetitive practice.  This method also ties in the wider purpose and objectives associated to the steps so the learner can begin to understand the importance of these tasks. 

Think back to a time you wanted to learn a new skill, you likely sought out expert guidance in the form of books, people you respected, videos, podcasts and articles. These formats don’t engage you in discussion about what to do, they tell you what needs to be done. 

The benefits to this are:

– It provides clear steps on what you need to do

– It helps you understand why the steps are important

– When dealing with the unknown, an authoritative voice can build confidence 

– It helps you see how much work you need to put in, giving you realistic expectations

Pro Tip: Positive feedback is vital here to increase confidence and reinforce positive behaviours towards success.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

As you begin to understand your development areas, the journey ahead of you and what skills you need to develop in order to be successful, you begin to move into the conscious incompetence stage. Here you are getting the grips with what you dont know.

Lets think about what this may be like.

We’ll take Jim for example, he has seen Mixed Martial Arts on TV, he is confident he can do it and that he will be a champion in no time (Unconscious Incompetence). He goes to his first training session and the following happens:

In the warm up session, Jim struggles to breathe and keep up with everyone else.

Then, someone smaller than Jim gets him to submit (give up) due to a submission.

Another person lands multiple body shots on Jim, who has never been hit before – causing more pain than he expected.

When practicing basic jiujitsu transitions, Jim struggles to get to grips with the movements.

Consider how Jim felt at the start of the session – full of confidence and ego. How is he feeling now? – take a few minutes to reflect on this.

Did you get the below?

  • Defeated
  • Low confidence levels
  • Unfit
  • Unworthy
  • Weak
  • Stupid
  • Like he’s made a mistake
  • Like he wishes he never started
  • Like he doesn’t see the value in continuing 

Jim is now conscious about what he doesn’t know – and that feeling can weigh a lot of people down, leading to regret, frustration and low self esteem. Knowing about this stage allows you to positively reinforce the correct behaviours or actions taken, helping to counter some of the negative feelings associated with Conscious Incompetence. This is the stage we will most likely reach an Action Crisis – where we question if the task is worth it and consider giving up. Try to remember that an action crisis isn’t good for you psychologically of physiologically. Your opinion on the worth of the goal will also be clouded by the difficulties you are facing. Be kind to yourself and others here, this is a normal phase to go through.

It’s important here to remind people why they are on their journey, consider Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle or emphasising their purpose, reignite the passion that caused them to start this journey. The Golden Circle works on the basis that your ‘Why’ should drive your ‘How’ and ‘What’. Your goals should be connected with a higher purpose, this will help you understand the importance of the task and can keep you going when your journey gets tough.

If we use Situational Leadership here, we would look for the Coaching or Selling style of leadership. Here we encourage people to work towards their own solutions using their experience alongside providing direction and reinforcing the purpose of the tasks and the outcome of their success.

Here are some great motivating questions:

  • What did I set out to achieve in the first place? How will it add value to my life?
  • What lessons can I take from this?
  • What did I do well and what am I proud of?
  • What can I do differently to make this a more valuable experience?
  • How can I use this to add value to others?
  • What will my life be like after I get back up and achieve?

Be patient with people here, understand that frustration and disappointment are normal and can make people react in less than beneficial ways. Mix empathy with positive reinforcement to help yourself or others build the skills to become competent.

There are other methods to motivate and rekindle passion – consider what works for you whether that’s a vision board, reviewing your end goals and the results of your success or even just understanding that discipline and resilience can get you through the process when motivation levels are low. This is a tough stage – so keep a clear picture in your mind of what awaits you when you pass it and begin to reach mastery.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

By being resilient, getting back up and working on your skills you reach the next stage, conscious competence. Here, you are fully aware of what you know and the skills that are enabling you to be competent at the task you are performing.

You are aware of your actions as you do them, methodically working through the steps required, making conscious effort to perform each part of the process. This is a great time to celebrate, you have done it! All of your hard work had led to this moment and you deserve to be proud of yourself as you mindfully work your way through each part of the process you have just learnt.

At this stage, you still have to pay attention to what you are doing so take as many opportunities as you can to practice, embed and improve your skill set. Remember to celebrate how far you have come but understand that now is not the time to tick the skill off as complete and move onto something else. Encourage practice here to reinforce your skill or behaviour to really see progression and movement into mastery.

As you work on your own or your Followers confidence here, consider a facilitation style of leadership. This method can drastically improve confidence and motivation levels in skilled individuals. Practice your new skill in different situations and settings, making your practice varied and somewhat unpredictable can give you a greater understanding and ability to utilise your new skills. For example, if your goal was to throw a ball into a hoop that’s 10 feet away, you would be better if you practiced at varying distances of 5, 10 and 15 feet instead of just repetitions at 10 feet.

Support through reflection and questioning, allowing yourself or your Followers to apply your or their own thoughts, experiences and creativity to the newly learnt skill. Think about the different situations you have already or could use your new skill in, we know that when we can connect ideas from one skill to another, it helps embed and refine our understanding. This is called Elaboration and was discussed in Peter Browns, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniels book ‘Make it stick – The Science of Successful Learning’ – here’s what they said:

Stage 4 Unconscious competence

The penultimate stage (or final in the original model) is Unconscious Competence. Here, you are so skilled that you don’t need to think about what you are doing, the process happens in autopilot.

At face value this sounds like a great state to be in and whilst it does have its advantages, it actually comes with it’s own set of risks. What do you think some of the risks could be for someone who is Unconsciously Competent? – take a few moments to consider this before moving on.

Did you get the below?

  • Overconfidence
  • Complacency
  • Mistakes get made
  • Bad habits may get reinforced
  • You stop looking for efficiency or improvement
  • You may stop reflecting
  • You may not be teaching or coaching others
  • You may not be empathetic to those going through the other stages of learning – you have forgotten your journey and don’t understand why others don’t find it as easy as you.

Unconscious Competence is great for automating but as you can see, operating at an unconscious level has its risks.

Some great methods to combat this Unconscious Competence stage come from the next step of the Learning Matrix – so don’t rest here for long!

Stage 5: Reflective Competence

As you have likely gathered, a person that has spent a lot of their resources and efforts getting to the Unconscious Competence stage, to then discover that potentially the best way to be consistently good and attentive to your skill is to step back down to Conscious Competence, could be quite disheartening.

Numerous people have put in a new fifth stage of the Learning Matrix – Reflective Competence. This creates a level above Unconscious Competence, creating real expertise and mastery. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect? Being this skilled allows you to rate competency in others and identify where on the learning journey they are! What does that mean though? Well, it varies from author to author but here’s a summary below of a few key points.

Linking theories

Reflective Learning can create ‘lightbulb’ moments where you can connect what you have learnt to different situations. a eureka style moment where you gain a deeper understanding – this is the Elaboration method we looked at before.

Early on in my leadership career, I was given the task of bringing an entire new policy and process to a different part of the company I was working with. I had come from a site the policy and process had been created and tested on and was told there would be resistance to the change at the other site. The culture at this other office, despite being the same company was vastly different. My approach was very matter of fact with the process changes and made the process much harder than it needed to be. Whilst this initially inspired me to research change management and influencing techniques, which improved my relationshp management skills, it wasn’t until reading the book ‘Scaling Up Excellence’ by Huggy Rao and Robert Sutton, that allowed me to reflect on my approach almost a decade later with a ‘lightbulb’ moment, connecting the dots for me in ways that my other research and experience hadn’t. It felt like I had flipped a switch where I instantly understood the times to be strict with process and policy implementation and when to allow for culture to influence the change, I saw my mistakes now not just from an influencing and relationship management perspective but also understood what makes the most business sense and how to establish essential parts of process implementation versus ‘nice to haves.’

A key message here is to ensure you reinforce yourself and others at this stage, it isn’t an easy task to keep assimilating and adapting – keep morale high by celebrating that you are still learning and evolving. True masters of a skill look out for ways to refine their technique further and rarely rest at their current level.

Reflecting on performance

This is a great way to maintain competence in a field. Thinking about how and what you did to accomplish your activity enables you to find errors and areas of improvement as well as focus on the most efficient and effective parts of your process. By reflecting, you begin to reinforce your skills and behaviours, rewarding and training your brain by focusing on the right actions. Let’s say you want to work on your communication skills, after each meeting you could take time to reflect on the following:

Who spoke the most and what was the reaction to this?

Who was the most effective at listening and how do I know this?

What body language was used?

Who was most influential?

How conscious of this was I in the moment?

You can quickly develop your own reflective questions when you understand what it is you want to work on.

Pro Tip: We tend to have reflection templates in the resources part of each article we write for you to utilise, check them out and consider which type of questions work well for you in order to create your own reflection template.

Teaching others

Noticing incompetence in others is regarded as one of the key skills linked with Reflective Competence. It gives you a great opportunity to establish where in the Learning Matrix others are in order to effectively guide them through it. As much as you may think you know about a certain topic, it is only when you begin to teach it that your understanding reaches new depths. When you reflect over the task, the best way to accomplish it and how you will transfer this knowledge to someone else, you begin making more connections and thus build a deeper understanding. Teaching others ensures you are at the top of your game as you will have to keep up to date with your skills and the wider field to ensure you are in the best position to train others.

Exercise: Consider something you are proficient in, take 15 minutes to write down all of the skills or attributes that make you great at it.

Next, list the ways you could impart your knowledge, skills and attributes to others. Write down how they could use this knowledge to become proficient themselves. How could you get your understanding across to others as simply as possible? Notice how you feel about this exercise, have you achieved a greater understanding just by doing this alone? Take it a step further, write a session plan and deliver it to someone, how did this engagement make you feel? What did you learn from it?


The 5 Stages of Learning are:

Unconscious Incompetence – Here, you have no idea how much you there is to learn. As such, people at this stage are often over confident. A SWOT analysis to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Its important here to be realistic about your abilities as the higher your confidence is at this stage, the tougher the next stage will be for your ego to manage.  Directive or Telling approaches work well here.

Conscious Incompetence – At this phase, you are aware of how much you need to learn. It can be tough here to persevere as you weigh up the difficulty of the task and the end result. Use compassion, empathy, celebration and coaching to support people through their frustrations during this stage. Remember, 1 step a day is 365 steps a year – you’ll be miles ahead of the person who isn’t trying.

Keep yourself and others focused on the purpose of the mission, use coaching to help embed the learning and encourage people to adapt and overcome barriers. This is where you are likely to enter an ‘action crisis’ so use positive reinforcement and seek support on whether to keep trying, change your approach or identify a new goal. Being disheartened at this stage can unfairly influence whether you want to stick at the goal or not, a coach can help you find the best way forward.

Conscious Competence – This stage is where things start to click, you are skilled but you need to think about what you are doing. Keep practicing, getting feedback and reflecting at this stage to move into mastery.

Unconscious Competence – This phase is where your skill becomes almost auto-pilot. It takes very little effort to think about what you need to do – its second nature. Reward yourself for getting this far but be mindful not to linger here for too long, that can be risky.

Reflective Competence – The final stage is where you can identify competence in others and use your skills and knowledge to train people. Link theories together, reflect on your performance and train others to keep your skills sharp and effective.

Take some time to consider your skill sets and where within the five stage of learning you are for each skill. What was the most useful thing you will take from this article and how will you support yourself and others through the Stages of Learning?


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– 5 stages of learning one page guide

– 5 stages of learning reflection template

– 5 stages of learning Guidebook

File Name: 5-stages-of-learning-guidebook.pdf

Securing success by setting SMARTER goals

A study by Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer discovered that you are unlikely to achieve a goal if you have a positive fantasy about it. All is not lost however, as they also discovered that if you have positive expectations about your goal, then you are more likely to achieve it! We explore what this means and the science behind getting the best out of your goals below.

A positive fantasy is where you think it will turn out great whereas a positive expectation is where you take a realistic look at your goal and understand what it will take to achieve it. Having confidence after doing this makes success more likely than just having positive thoughts on it. If you have ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect, this may start to make sense.

The Dunning-Kruger effect suggest that people who are not skilled at something tend to over-rate their ability in that area. Think about armchair coaches who seem to know better than the professional athletes or coaches they’re watching on TV – these armchair coaches seem to be high in confidence but low in wisdom compared to the professionals.  

Oettingen and Mayer’s study concluded that whilst having positive fantasies about your goal was negative, having positive expectations about it acts as an effective way to achieve your goal. In other words, understanding your goal and being realistic about achieving it is a better pathway towards success.

If you struggle with creating tangible and realistic goals, we may be able to help. This article will look at when to use the SMARTER model and then look at how to get the most out of it.


The What and When of SMARTER goals

SMART goals were initially created by George Doran, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham. They were invented to help organisations set and allocate meaningful objectives amongst their teams.


Since their inception, SMART goals have been utilised in both businesses and personal lives of people who are looking to set specific goals for themselves. Whilst they have been modified multiple times and even added to over the years (Such as the SMARTER model), the central concept remains the same – create a clear goal that you are motivated to achieve.


The SMARTER acronym we are looking at today is; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound, Evaluate and Reward. Let’s take a look at what these actually mean in the context of goal setting.

Before we go into specifics, we need to be clear – we don’t suggest you use the SMARTER model for your initial objective creation. That needs to come from a place of passion and excitement for you. Your goals should be a reflection of your higher purpose and be a way to get you there. Goals need to align with who you are. 

If you are struggling with your purpose, if you feel stuck or trapped – don’t worry. People in all walks of life can feel like this at times. What is important is that you find a way to take control of your life and become the person you are meant to be. If you need help finding your purpose and potential, connect with us at: Client.Services@DevelopTheEdge.com, our professional coaching service will be on hand to help.

Only once you know who you want to become or what you want to achieve, should you look at using the SMARTER model to help you evaluate and quantify your goal and make a crystal clear mission for you to achieve.


For example:

‘I want recognition and a pay rise.’ Is vague and there is no clear way to measure the goals success. ‘I want to be recognised by my line manager with a 5% pay-rise by April this year for my thorough and timely work on projects. This increase will allow me to treat my family more often.’ Gives us more to work with – we now have an idea on who we need to influence (the line manager), the focus area (project work), a time frame (this April) and a measurement (5% pay-rise).


Neuroscience tells us that when we value and focus on something, our reticular activating system (RAS), helps filter the world around so that we see more of it. It makes sense then, to focus on creating a goal that gives us a crystal clear vision on what success looks like so that our RAS can filter in ways for us to achieve it. With that being said, it’s time we looked at the individual components of the SMARTER model, let’s get started.



The more specific you can make your goal, the clearer the image of success will look in your mind.

If your goal is recognition at work, you RAS may just look at all routes to recognition. Some may be positive but not progress you towards your goal such as: holding open doors, doing favours or buying treats for colleagues. Without conditions for success, your RAS may take a darker turn and nudge you to taking on too much work and burning out or even taking recognition for other peoples hard work.

Without specific criteria, how will you get towards your goal in an ethical and effective manner?


A good way to get SPECIFIC is using the old communications trick for open questions; 5 Ws and a H.

Why – do you want this? / Why is it important?

What – do you want to accomplish or obtain?

When – do you need to do this? When can you start?

Where – do you need to go? Where will your actions take place?

Who – do you need to become? Who’s help will you need?

How – are you best positioned to achieve this?

These should help you frame your goal into a specific and clear focus point, meaning we can move to the next step – Measurable.



By making the goal measurable, you will be able to track the progress towards your goal, make adjustments and know once you have achieved it. Think in terms of metrics that you can actually measure and track.

For example: 

Losing 5kg in 6 months is measurable, you will be able to weigh yourself monthly to check progress and make adjustments to your diet or exercise routine where you need to.


If we look at our example of a promotion, you could use a Gantt chart to track the progress of your projects and test their quality by either using colleagues, your manager or the quality assurance department to ensure it is up to standard. The last measurable part of that goal is the 5% pay rise – you will know once this has been achieved because you will be able to see it in your wage.

The importance of being able to track your goals has been highlighted by the American Psychological Association in their 2016 Study “Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment?” with the below quote:

We can see then, that by making the goal measurable and monitoring our progress, we are more likely to achieve the goal and become more disciplined as well.

Once we have selected a metric to measure the goal by, we need to know whether this is actually achievable.



To have strong performance you must have high expectations of success. This means that the goal will need to be challenging but possible for you to achieve.

Look at your skill set and strengths here, figure out whether the goal will stretch you and make you grow to achieve it. Performing a SWOT analysis here may help you understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to success.

Consider the steps will you need to take, the skills you will need to acquire and who you will need to become in pursuit of this goal.


Once you have confirmed that your goal is achievable, it’s time to look at how relevant your goal is.



Relevance is an important part of this model as it ensures the goal is linked to your higher purpose to make it engaging. If you are leading other people, you need to be explicit with the goals relevance. You may know the reason the goal is important but do your team?


In their 2015 paper ‘Six Questions for the Resource Model of Control’, Inzlicht and Berkman said:


Consider the following questions when you are checking the Relevance of your goal:


           Is now the right time for this goal?

           Am I the right person for the job?

           Does this goal fit with my values and purpose?

           Is there a better way to accomplish this?

           Why do I believe this goal is important?

           How will my life be different once I’ve accomplished this goal?

           What priority level is this goal?

By the end of these questions, you should feel connected to your goal and motivated to get started. If this isn’t the case, consider how relevant the goal is to your higher purpose and whether you are being true to yourself about your purpose.

Taking our example of a promotion – Financial decisions tend to get made in April, so that date looks good. Do you need to outsource any part of your projects? Could you obtain feedback about your work from people your manager respects to boost your proposals chances? In terms of value, you may already have plans for that 5% increase – investing in family time, charitable donations or qualifications to become a subject matter expert.


By ensuring our goal is relevant, we are more likely to stick with it and can look at the Time-bound element.



An end date enables you to have a clear focus in your mind when you will need to accomplish your goal by. Remember that the best goals are challenging but possible – consider a time-frame that will ensure you are being productive with your time. If it is too short, you may burnout trying to achieve it. If it is too long, you may put off taking action.


Some questions to consider:


           When is the soonest I can achieve this?

           What happens if I don’t accomplish it on this date?

           What would be a realistic time for me to complete this (use a mix of your experience and research to judge)

           Are there any upcoming and important events?

           Does my goal need to be broken down into smaller time-bound chunks?


Looking back at our promotion example, if we do not accomplish it by April, we may have to wait another year for the promotion to be considered. Other upcoming and important events for this goal would be the project due dates that your case for a promotion is riding on.

This is where the original SMART model ends and whilst you will now have a comprehensive and clear goal, with an understanding on what success will look. By ensuring it is relevant and achievable, you should also have positive expectations for achieving your goal.

As previously mentioned, the model we are looking at is the SMARTER model. Whilst we do not know who first established these extra two steps, they are valuable and worth understanding further to get the most out of your goal setting.



As with our own GURU’s goal setting methodology (which we will visit shortly), sense-checking your progress is vital to getting the best out of your actions. Any company that values success will have a quality assurance framework to test its products, the same should be true of us and our goals.


If we only take action and do not evaluate our work, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. If you are not evaluating your performance, how can you know what is working well, what needs improving and what needs stopping all together? Spending time evaluating your progress will help you shape your future expectations, improving your skillset and focus on improvements.


Consider asking yourself:

           What went well

           Why did it go well?

           What could have gone better?

           Am I where I need to be?

           What improvements can I make?

           Am I still on track?

           What can I learn from this?


The final step of the SMARTER model is Reward.



Research suggests that you can increase self-discipline and focus by rewarding yourself. In Inzlicht and Berkman’s study ‘Six questions for the Resource Model of Control’, they states the following:

To keep your motivation levels high, ensure that you are celebrating your successes along the way, not just once you’ve completed the goal.


For example, let’s look at a fitness goal:

Celebrate writing out your exercise plan – thank yourself for taking the first step and dance to your favourite song.

Celebrate getting your clothes ready for the gym the night before – Thank yourself for making it easier for you to get to the gym tomorrow and watch an episode of your favourite show

Celebrate going to the gym – Thank yourself for keeping on track, cheer yourself on in the car.

Celebrate completing a work out – Thank yourself for turning up and giving your best. Raise your arms up and cheer in celebration.

Celebrate getting half way to your fitness goal – Thank yourself for getting half way and treat yourself to your favourite meal.

           Your rewards don’t have to be extravagant or excessive but it is important to celebrate all of your little successes. This will help you become more aware of your wins in the future and keep you engaged in your goals.



As in Oettingen and Mayer’s study, when we have positive expectations that are grounded in reality – we are more likely to be successful in achieving our goals. The SMARTER model ensures that our goal is set up to create a crystal clear outcome and motivate us to achieve it.


It’s time to summarise why being SMARTER in the way we set our goals will help us to achieve them:


S – When we have a Specific goal, our RAS looks out for ways to achieve it.

M – By having a Measurable goal, you are able to keep track of it and know once you have succeeded.

A – When a goal is Achievable but requires effort, we are more motivated to accomplish it.

R – Ensuring the goal is Relevant will keep you motivated as it will be tied to your higher purpose.

T – By keeping your goal Time-bound you are setting an end date that requires effort to get to.

E – Evaluating your progress helps you find the best ways to achieve your goal.

R – Rewarding yourself is an important motivation tool that helps habitualise behaviour.


Thank you for exploring the SMARTER model with us today. Let us know what you found most valuable about this article and if there is anything you are going to do differently when setting your goals going forward.


We have added resources below which may help you make your goals SMARTER.



SMARTER Goals Guidebook

The SMARTER one page guide:

Selling Leadership – the What, Why and When of coaching.

Coaching at the wrong time can create tension between yourself and your team, it can create internal conflict and damage self esteem – this is definitely not the purpose of a good coaching session but the fact is, if you get the timing wrong with coaching, it can end in disaster for your team and your credibility. This article will help you avoid these negative consequences by providing a brief overview on what coaching is, why we use it and most importantly, when to use it.

This is the second of four articles where we will discover the four stages of Situational Leadership (based on Follower Readiness levels) and their accompanying leadership styles (Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating). This article does not discuss how to coach but instead, will focus on the What, Why and most importantly When of coaching.

This article is based on the second Leadership style In Blanchard and Hersey’s Situational Leadership model, they referred to this coaching method as ‘Selling’ leadership, to be used with Readiness Level 2 Followers.

What is Coaching?

The first point we need to address is what do we mean by coaching? The Oxford English Dictionary defines coaching as:

“The process of training somebody to play a sport, to do a job better or to improve a skill.

Sir John Whitmore defined coaching as:

Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

From these two definitions, we can understand that coaching is the practice of helping people take ownership of their own development and guiding them along that journey. It has elements of ‘telling’ and mentoring but the focus is to pull the answers from the coachee instead of giving them the answer.

Coaching tends to utilise a lot of open questions to provoke thoughts and encourage Followers to take a different perspective. My first Leadership mentor described coaching as peeling back an onion skin.

At the start, you have a problem or barrier – this is the skin of the onion. Your job as a coach is to ask questions in order to peel back each layer of the onion and get to the core of either the problem or the driving force of the person you are coaching. Once you have reached the core of the onion, you can be more effective at helping your coachee find their best way forward.


The Why of coaching

Now we have discussed what coaching actually is, it’s time to look at why we coach. The Gallup survey Re-Engineering Performance Management found that:

Only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

Quite worrying as a leader and a coach if 80% of your team felt that your leadership style didn’t manage to motivate them.

Further to this, whilst only 30% of employees strongly agree their manager involves them in goal setting. These employees are nearly 4 times
more likely to be engaged than other employees.

We can see then, that employees find being coached and involved in setting their own goals can significantly increase engagement and motivation levels. The links between engagement and high performance were outlined in another of Gallups publications State of the Global Workplace.

Here, they noted that businesses in the top quartile of engagement:

  • Are 17% Higher in Productivity
  • Are 21% Higher in Profitability
  • Have 41% Lower Absenteeism
  • Have 59% Less Turnover
  • Have 40% Fewer Quality Defects

Than the bottom quartile of engagement.

Alongside the benefits of engagement, coaching your Followers also directly increases:

  • Individual Productivity
  • Morale
  • Levels of Trust and Rapport
  • Problem Solving skills
  • Self-awareness (mind-sets, strengths, development opportunities etc.)
  • Accountability

We can see then, how much of an impact great coaches can have on their people, their organisation and their end-user customers. It would make sense then, that we would want to coach all of the time right?


…Not quite.


When to coach

There are times when coaching may not only be the wrong tool to use but it may actually be detrimental to your follower, their level of engagement and their effectiveness. Coaching is a diverse and enthralling topic, the best leaders know not only how and why to coach but when to coach as well.

According to the Situational Leadership model, the coaching technique should only be used when dealing with a Readiness Level 2 (R2) follower.

An R2 (Previously referred to as an M2 and then a D2) Follower is someone who is Unable to do their work effectively but is Confident or Willing in their task.

This is someone who is still unable to complete all aspects of their role to a good standard but due to learning and developing, they have gained confidence in their abilities and in turn this has helped their drive or willingness to complete their tasks.

If we look at the Situational Leadership Model, Leaders need to use a mix of High Directive and High Supportive behaviour to help their R2 followers. If they just used directive leadership, you would damage your Follower’s confidence and if you just used supportive leadership, you may end up frustrating your Follower. 


Why is this?


If you used all Directive leadership and told your Follower what they needed to do all of the time, you would likely damage your Followers confidence as well as your relationship with them. The reason for this is that an R2 follower is someone who believes they are fairly competent in their role.

Think about how you would feel (or have felt) if you had a good understanding of your role but you were being micro-managed?



  • Frustrated
  • Incompetent
  • Under valued
  • Un-engaged
  • Bored
  • De-Motivated

On the other side, if you just used high Supportive Leadership and no Directive, the Follower may lack direction. Remember, they are not fully competent yet and may need Telling in some instances. Delegating or purely Facilitating to this Follower may leave them feeling overwhelmed or have disastrous impacts to the outcome of your project.

Coaching here, means you are investing a lot of time in your Follower. You are mixing your Leadership style between Directive and Supportive behaviours in order to help your Follower grow.


When not to coach

If you would have told me that coaching wasn’t always the best method to use when I started leading, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Everything I was taught or read pointed towards coaching as the acceptable feedback and development style for a Leader to use. Whilst we can clearly see the benefits of coaching in the right situation, in some situations it can actually be detrimental. Let’s take a look at some of the situations where coaching wont be the best style to use.


New Starters

That’s right! Our article on Directive Leadership goes into this in detail.

Think about when you first started a job, you would have no idea on what processes you needed to follow or how to be effective within your role. Therefore, unless it was a common sense answer, your Leader asking you ‘What do you do here?’ Or ‘what is the purpose of this step?’ Is likely to cause frustration instead of motivation, you simply can’t answer something that you don’t know the answer to! Of course, as your  New Starters get to grips with their roles and processes, coaching will form a natural part of your interactions.


When your Follower is competent but unwilling or insecure.

As your follower grows in competence, they will need a lot less direction from yourself. There is a fine line between a Follower that needs Coaching and a follower that needs some Facilitation. Whilst this isn’t a big jump in leadership style, remember that coaching still includes a lot of direction and ‘Selling’ of ideas. A Follower who is competent will not need any direction but will need thought provoking encouragement to help build their confidence and will.

When you have a competent Follower, you need to encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas more freely. Outlining tasks and their purpose too much here may create friction and frustration with your follower as they will already know their tasks and purpose.


When your Follower is Able and Willing or Motivated

As a leader, this is where you want your Followers to be. They are fully competent and driven to do their work. They know what needs doing, why it needs doing and how they are best positioned to achieve their goals. Typically, you want to Delegate to these Followers as you will be confident they will deliver to the highest standard with minimal support or direction.

Just like the Able but Insecure or Unwilling Follower, coaching this person may lead to them feeling frustrated, micro-managed or incompetent. This kind of interaction can have devastating impacts to your relationship with them as well as their morale. In worst case scenarios, you risk losing the people you have invested time and energy into as they seek a position where they feel more valued.

The other impact here is to your time! Coaching takes a considerable amount of time and focus to do properly, if you are coaching Followers that don’t need coaching, you’re wasting your time as well as theirs. Instead of coaching these Followers, consider if you could get closer to your strategic objectives by being a better situational leader here.

Coaching this Follower may make them feel incompetent, thinking things like “Am I that bad at my job they need to spend this much time with me?” Or “Didn’t I deliver the last project well enough? Why are they testing my basic knowledge?” – this slippery slope will quickly see your Follower becoming insecure or unwilling, moving them from Readiness level 4 to Readiness level 3.


Delivering a clear message, rules or expectations

A Follower has just flaunted the rules, they have breached regulation, your client who was on site has witnessed them do this and now your Follower is joking about it with a colleague.

Does this Follower, your client and your organisation in this moment need a Leader to be highly supportive of that persons behaviour? Probably not…by all means tell the Follower WHY you have the expectations you do and why the rules and regulations are there but this is a feedback opportunity, not a coaching opportunity. This Follower needs to understand the consequence of their actions and this comes from a directive approach.


Your capability and level of support

Coaching requires a level of credibility, capability and support from the leader. If you haven’t invested time and effort in order to show your Followers you are there to help them, they may not be as receptive to coaching.

This isnt a blanket rule of dont coach, as this can help build that trust and support but be mindful that in order to get the best out of the coaching session, your coachee must understand you are doing it in their best interests, to help them and the organisation.

If you are not capable of supporting your Followers, committing time and energy to them, are you the best person to offer coaching? Do you need to develop as a leader here or would utilising a different coach be a better solution?


Lack of resources

If your team do not have the resources to get the job done, what value would coaching them have here? What is the point of coaching on your team’s performance where systems, hardware and software are not adequate enough for your team to perform effectively?

Think about if you had the ability to succeed in work, you are given a project that you can excel at but due to system resources you were unable to complete the work to your usual high standard.

A PC that keeps crashing, running so slow it is unable to run multiple applications and your requests for up to date equipment continually fall on deaf ears, can in itself, be enough to demotivate and frustrate people.

How would you then feel, if the project lead who is aware of the system issues, began coaching you on your performance? The engaging effect that coaching can have, would be lost here.

Resources don’t just stop at hardware or software issues though. Time, budget, facilities and human resources are all contributing factors to consider. Does this mean you expect your team member to under-perform?

Not exactly. Accountability and ownership are extremely important attributes for both a Leader and their Followers to have. Rather than looking to performance coach results here, support your team to think about what they CAN do. What opportunities these constraints and issues bring the team.

A useful tool here would be the ladder of accountability. Take a step back and an honest look at a situation where you haven’t been accountable, start at the bottom of the ladder below and see where you would rather be.


Time restricted or urgent situations

The fire alarm sounds, there is clearly an emergency happening. Your Followers look to you for guidance.

You calmly look them in the face and ask ‘what do you think we should do here?’

Coaching and facilitating can be great techniques to use where time is not of the essence, when an urgent decision needs to be made though, a more Autocratic and Directive approach is needed.

The same goes for any situation that calls for a quick decision. If you adopt a coaching style here, not only do you risk wasting time with this approach but you also risk losing your credibility. Coaching here will come across as weakness because it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. Coaching your team when they are looking for guidance doesn’t meet your teams needs and makes you look inept as a leader.




Coaching is essentially the process of helping people take ownership of their own development and guiding them along their journey. According to the Situational Leadership model, this approach combines Directive and Supportive leadership.


Coaching can aid in creating engaged employees. When people are engaged in their roles, they tend to be more productive, solutions orientated and less likely to be off work sick.


According to the Situational Leadership model, coaching is best suited when your follower is unable to do their task in the most effective way but they are willing to try or confident in their abilities. Coaching here allows you to guide your follower to take ownership of their own development and performance. It can channel their momentum into being a more able follower.

That said, there are times when coaching, despite its positive nature can be the wrong leadership style to utilise. The below are situations where there may be a better way forward:

  • New Starters
  • Competent Followers
  • Delivering Clear messages, rules or expectations
  • Your Capability
  • Lack of Resources
  • Time-Critical situations

Thank you for using your time and our resources to further your understanding and skill set. If you have any feedback, queries or requests please get in touch with us at: Connect@developtheedge.com


We have created the below resources for you to utilise. Click each item to preview the content and download it to your device on the go:

One page guide – Selling Leadership

One page guide – Situational Leadership

Reflection template – Selling Leadership in practice

Quiz – Selling Leadership

File Name: Coaching-Leadership-Reflection-Template.pdf

File Name: DTE-Coaching-Leadership-Quiz.xlsm

Summarising Servant Leadership – the Why, What and How of Greenleafs theory.

Want to know the secret to creating an autonomous, engaged, motivated, creative and high performing Organisation? Well, it turns out, it’s not so secretive. In fact, Greenleafs essay is currently rated as 4.6 stars out of 5 on Amazon and what’s even more impressive? This book has held its own since it was first published in 1970. In this article, we explore why we would want to use this effective leadership style, what it looks like in practice and how to use it to help our Followers and business grow.

This is the first of 3 articles in the series on Servant Leadership, the following 2 articles will explore the successes of this leadership style in more detail and also the short comings of this much loved and utilised tool. Just before we jump into why you may want to become a Servant Leader, let’s quickly explore what the term means.

The term Servant Leadership was coined by Robert Greenleaf to describe the type of Leader that is first and foremost – a natural servant. This person views it as their responsibility and calling in life to serve others and help them achieve their purpose or goal. The book that inspired Greenleafs popular essay “The Servant As Leader” was called “The journey to the East” and is built on a simple principle – do what is right for your Followers. Simple in principle, not so simple in action. Let’s get stuck in.


“Leaders are learning that this kind of empowerment, which is what servant-leadership represents, is one of the key principles that, based on practice, not talk, will be the deciding point between an organization’s enduring success or its eventual extinction.” – Dr Stephen Covey on Servant Leadership

Greenleaf believed that by using Servant Leadership, our Followers will grow, become healthier, wiser, more autonomous and more likely to want to serve others – simply put, you will be creating a culture of leaders.

What Leader worth their salt wouldn’t want their Followers to be:

  • Autonomous
  • Resourceful
  • Resilient
  • Engaged
  • Motivated
  • Creative
  • High Performing

Well, maybe a power hungry, egotistical manager but if that was you, I doubt you’d be reading this article, you’d already know better!

Servant Leadership is difficult to manufacture, Greenleaf believed that natural born servants made for better leaders. It’s important that we dont let this put us off if that isn’t us straight away as everyone has the capability (and responsibility) to grow and learn, the difficult parts of life are typically where we learn and grow the most. Take a few moments to consider times in your life where you have served others and put their needs above your own.

  • What was the situation?
  • What did you do?
  • How did this make you feel?
  • What was the outcome for them?
  • Did their behaviours or skills improve?
  • Were they more engaged?
  • Did they reciprocate?

Humans tend to feel the need to ‘pass it on’ or reciprocate actions. The likelihood is, if you have served someone – they will have in turn served someone else or returned the favour to you. By the simple act of service, you are helping to create a Servant Leader.

When researching this model, we came across one common misconception – the What and the How of Servant Leadership. It’s important we get to grips with what it actually means to be a Servant Leader in practice as there are many articles out there that have misinterpreted Greenleafs intentions. That being said, the next part of this article goes into the What and How of this model to help us be effective when utilising it.

The ‘What’ of Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership is simply putting others before yourself. Serving the needs of your people and the operation above your own development, ego and acknowledgement. Tough to do sometimes but what’s more important – the success of an operation or people cheering your name?

The ‘what’ – Balance

The Servant Leader is balanced. This isn’t about being walked over or letting people off the hook. Servant Leaders will always accept the person and their situation but never accept poor results. It’s important here then, to be empathetic and understanding without being a walk over – the success of the operation and team comes above the individual but where you can achieve all three – great!

The ‘How’ – Balance

Always consider the wider implications when reviewing poor results and what failing to challenge the results will mean for the person, team and customer.

Take some time to consider what the impacts are of us failing to approach a team member who is not performing. When you are ready, continue on below.

Did you get the below?

  • Continued poor performance
  • Further conduct and performance issues
  • Friction with other, well performing team members
  • Your loss of credibility
  • The operation suffering, your customers suffering and the potential loss of jobs as a result of this.
  • The person feeling unvalued – let’s face it, if you care about someone, you want them to do well!

Serving doesn’t mean being walked over, it’s your job to look after and protect the organisation and your followers, how does a failing business accomplish this?


I had an issue with a person in one of my teams, they were clearly not performing – whilst being able to. They were also creating tensions within the team based on their behaviours. I invited them to a meeting where we discussed their situation and how we can support them. We also set clear expectations for performance and behaviour. Whilst these conversations can be difficult to approach – by accepting my team member and their situation, we built rapport, they felt valued and they understood that I cared about them. By challenging performance and behaviours through this medium, they did not feel attacked, they felt valued and motivated to achieve for the team. Consider these questions or statements to aid your conversation:

  • “It sounds like a difficult time and I want to help you get back on track in work. How can we support you to do this?”
  • “I can see that ‘x’ has been impacting you at work. I need to make it clear though that this behaviour is not acceptable. What can we do about it?”
  • “Your performance doesn’t reflect the  value you can bring to the team. How can change that?”
  • “That behaviour was unacceptable and I know you are capable of better. What needs to change for you to get there?”

Tips for a balanced approach

  • Approach poor results at first sight
  • Do so with a curious mindset
  • Make sure your Followers wellbeing is in a good place
  • Understand the reason for the poor results
  • Set expectations, display empathy and work together towards improvement

The ‘What’ – Seeker

The Servant leader is known as a seeker, someone that is always keeping one ear to the ground for the next best thing or thinking of innovative ways to positively impact their team or business.

The ‘How’ – Seeker

Pat yourself on the back, you’re seeking right now. We’ve created a quick 5 tips on how to become an effective seeker based on our experience, how many of these do you already do?

  1. LISTEN – Consider that there is something you can learn from everyone. Be curious, not assumptive.
  2. READ – grab post it notes or highlight via your device, make notes and links to other knowledge areas.
  3. SMEs – Even rival companies can be willing to share best practice, it’s irresistible to the ego.
  4. VISION – Use foresight, estimate risks and opportunities.
  5. FACILITATE – If you want to learn; teach, train and facilitate to others.
Example – Being a seeker – innovation

I encourage my team to scroll through eventbrite, meet-up and Linkedin – looking for workshops and coffee mornings that they believe will help themselves, the team or business grow. I do the same – Find a useful event, share it with people that will benefit from it, attend it (or ask someone to attend on your behalf) – join in and act on the takeaways. Let’s keep our brains sharp and always look for a better way to win.

Don’t just rely on the external events though – I was fortunate enough to win the 2020 Innovation Champion award for Wescot. Part of the reason for this was the creation of ‘The Hub’. A place where people could both share and browse information in order to share knowledge and grow together – similar to an online library. There were also options to review how useful the content was and enabled people to comment on what could make the content better – lets put our ego aside people, we can all grow! ‘The Hub’ grew significantly and included: Book suggestions, podcast suggestions, YouTube videos, Ted talks, articles, tools, performance trackers, HR tips etc. I knew we had a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the Leadership team, all I did was build a central place where we could share best practice. 


Reflective question: How can you innovate?

Reflective question: How can you become a seeker? 

Example – Being a Seeker with people

I was in the L&D function of a well known Financial Services firm and I was at the start of one of our inductions. One of the group had been consistently late to training (both start time and on their return from breaks) and seemed disengaged with the content. Had this happened just a few years earlier, I would have been fuming at them for wasting the teams time as well as my own. I’d learnt a thing or two since then though, so I asked another member of the L&D team to do a ‘re-cap’ session and asked the new starter to catch up with me in another room. When they sat down, their arms were folded in a defensive posture – lovely. “How are you doing?” was my starting question. At first I was greeted with 1 word answers but as they understood I cared, they opened up more. There was a lot going on at home and it ended up impacting their time at work. Together, we set expectations surrounding time-keeping and being engaged whilst in the training room. Their behaviour turned around in that moment. If I hadn’t spent time highlighting Leadership and Communication strategies, that conversation may not have turned out the same. If I hadn’t intended to seek out this persons barrier and instead led a conduct investigation – they may not have kept their job, our relationship would be damaged and I wouldn’t have done the right thing for them or the business. Be a seeker.

The ‘What’ – Ego

On the face of it, putting others first seems easy enough but Greenleaf noted that the natural Servant Leaders are born as servants first. It is harder for a Leader to become a Servant Leader by their own choosing. Greenleaf believed the best Leaders were born as servants.

Whether or not you were born with a servant mentality, it is still possible to be an amazing Servant Leader. One of the first and most important parts of Servant Leadership is the ability to manage your own ego.

The ‘How’ – Ego

To be successful here, we need to put our own development, promotion and goals behind that of others. Do we still need to develop, feel self worth and work towards our goals? Absolutely, but the team and organisation need to come first. Without this key element, we can never become Servant Leaders.

Quick Tips to manage our ego:

  • Understand our worth – we do not need anyone elses acknowledgement. If we do not seek approval or recognition, our ego will be in a healthier place.

The best leaders pass on praise to others and take ownership of team shortfalls.

  • Take the view that everyone is trying their best with the tools they’ve got.

What does that even mean? Don’t take things personally, believe that the people you are dealing with are trying their best. Here is a quick example:

During mediation between two parties, the personal attacks from one senior leader of ‘you’re too lazy to think!’ Were actually unhelpful ways of saying ‘think outside of the box, the process is a guide – don’t stifle your creativity.’ 

There was much more to this exchange but put simply, the parties involved had good intentions but lacked the ability to communicate it effectively! The senior leader just wanted them to have more autonomy. After letting them speak, I worked to align their purpose (they both wanted the right thing for the customer) and we worked on their way forward together, setting great foundations for a healthier working relationship! Had we not been able to reinterpret what they were saying to each other, their egos would have taken control and the results would have been less favourable!

  • Take the view that you can learn something from everyone.

Life is a great teacher and no two lives are the same, it might not be the best choice to live in an echo chamber. Understand that you do not know everything or even what is best in any given situation. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is ‘no one knows what they’re doing, so dont be afraid to speak up.’ – whilst technically not true, the idea is that no matter what your position is, your opinion is valid, as is everyone elses.

  • Be comfortable with saying ‘I dont know, how do we find out?’

Curiosity is an amazing skill to develop. Not only will you find out more, people will respect your honesty and drive to grow.

  • Be prepared to help with the fundamentals

Leadership consultant Jocko Willink has spoken about his superior officer sweeping up, something most would view as beneath them. This act not only contributed to a great reputation with the team but also inspired the rest of the team to clean up as they didnt want their superior officer to have to do it! Talk about putting your ego to the side…Anyone got a spare broom?

The ‘What’ – Big Picture

Moving on from your ego to that of others, the Servant Leader needs to ensure that others understand that every decision is made for the team and the operation. It can be easy to think Seving means just giving people what they need or want but this isnt the case.

The ‘How’ – Big Picture

Let’s say one of your team wants every Friday off, you can accommodate it so agree to this. You have nine others in your team – can you offer this to all of them?

If not – how will they feel? Probably:

  • Disengaged
  • Frustrated
  • Jealous
  • Like you’re playing favourites

If some how you can accommodate your whole team, what about everyone else in the organisation?

Your team need to be aware that saying ‘no’ isnt personal but instead is done to safeguard the future of the team and organisation. Do this by being transparent with your decisions and helping people understand what factors you considered. People may still get upset but you will have a reputation of being fair and consistent. Worried about the impact of saying “no”? Here’s a great phrase for you: “How are we supposed to do that?” or “What have the team said about this?” – Both of these questions require the other person to consider the bigger picture and who knows…they may even give you an answer that highlights what an amazing idea they have!

So how do you serve others needs? Now is a great time to consider Maslows Heirarchy!

The ‘What’ – Develop People

Just like above where we had to say ‘no’ to people, being a servant here doesnt mean that you do everything. Your role is to build skills in others, if you simply take work off of people, they arent learning and you are on the path to becoming a walk over! Consider the quote:

“Give a man a fish and it will feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he will be fed for a life time.”

The ‘How’ – Develop People

  • Perform a SWOT analysis
  • Understand your people and what they want
  • Get curious – “And why do you want this?” – “And why else?” – “And how will that change things for you?” – locate the driver.
  • Consider if what they need to do is within their capability
  • Consider how you can support their development

The need isn’t necessarily that you take the work on yourself (although sometimes this is the right move), but that you guide, stretch and mentor the people around you to improve. If you get stuck completing all of your teams tasks, you wont be able to see the bigger picture or follow your vision. Want to get the best out of your people? Consider a facilitation approach. We discuss this more in our article on Participating leadership here.

The ‘What’ – Vision

Leaders lead. Greenleaf said:

‘But the leader needs more than inspiration. He ventures to say, “I will go; come with me!” He initiates, provides the ideas and the structure, and takes the risk of failure along with the chance of success.’

Getting caught up in the details could lead you to forget to see the bigger picture and the long term vision. The teams vision as an inspirational driver is just as important as the knowledge that your leader will support you. Imagine helping others along a journey without having any sight of where it was going or why you were going there! Tie your values and the organisational values into your journey for credibility. As Greenleaf said:

‘A leader does not elicit trust unless one has confidence in his values and his competence (including judgment) and unless he has a sustaining spirit (entheos) that will support the tenacious pursuit of a goal.’

The ‘How‘ – Vision

Part of this long term vision is the use of foresight, to predict threats and opportunities before they arise. This will enable you to effectively manage these factors and keep you from being a reactionary leader. Communicate with your team and engage them in a conversation – what are the upcoming risks? What are the upcoming opportunities? 

Linking into foresight and venturing into the unknown is being a seeker. Greenleaf believed that a Servant Leader was always searching for ways to help people and the operation, always looking for new ways to improve. Whilst this doesn’t mean you need to constantly reinvent the wheel it does mean that you need to keep your ear to the ground for improvements and think creatively. Remember that your teams are closer to the project than you, so listen to what they have to say and keep an open mind.


  • Have we established a mission?
  • Have we understood why we are on that mission?
  • Has the team had input into the mission and its impacts?
  • What are the driving factors for the team?
  • How can you use these drivers to get to the mission?


Servant Leadership is a fantastic way to build a resourceful, resilient, autonomous, creative and engaged work force. By putting others first, we develop credibility, trust and an effective workforce. Remember that serving isn’t just doing as requested and bending to every whim of the team members but thinking about the bigger picture, the success of the operation and putting our ego to the side.

Servant Leadership in action

Starbucks is a world renowned brand and is considered as a company that operates under Servant Leadership.

In his interview with The London Business Forum, CEO Charles Shultz demonstrated key points of Servant Leadership. He literally talks about “The way we serve our community.”, how he believes businesses are responsible for more than just profit and that in one month alone, Starbucks completed 200,000 hours of charity work.

When discussing influence, he talks about visiting a person who owns one shop and being inspired “A whole new way of thinking, a new roadmap.” – Shultz is demonstrating being a seeker here and it doesnt stop there. He goes on to say that not only does he not hold all of the answers but that no one in Starbucks does. This complete removal of the ego to fully be a seeker is one of the key points Greenleaf made about Servant Leadership.

Let’s look how that translates into the corporate culture, the Starbucks mission is:

To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Starbucks refers to its employees as partners and its values include; helping each other grow, a culture of belonging, changing the status quo, and being performance driven. Remember what we said about Servant Leaders expecting the best from their team? That includes caring about their performance! 

Clearly, this leadership style can have phenomenal results, one question remains though…”Are you ready to serve?”

Check out our resources:

. Servant Leadership One Page Guide

. Servant Leadership Quiz

The Do’s, Dont’s and Dichotomy of Directive Leadership.

In today’s world, it would appear that the Directive leader has had their day. There is much more of an emphasis on people focused leadership and making collaborative decisions. When we look into the Directive style in more detail however, there are still times where it comes out on top.

Here is our guide to Directive Leadership, when to utilise it and how to get the best out of this style.

What is Directive Leadership?

Directive Leadership has been detailed in many leadership theories from Vroom (autocratic 1&2), House (path goal theory), Tuckman (Forming stage) and many others. For this article, I will be discussing Directive Leadership from Blanchard and Herseys Situational Leadership model (they describe Directive Leadership as ‘Telling’).

This is the first of four articles where we will discover the stages of Situational Leadership (Follower Readiness levels) and their accompanying leadership styles (Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating). Below is the full Situational Leadership model, for this article, we are only focusing on the Yellow box ‘Telling’.

Blanchard and Hersey described Directive Leadership (also known as Telling in the model) as a style where the Leader uses their skills and knowledge to provide direction, set expectations and make decisions. As you can see from the above image, this style uses a highly directive and low supportive approach to leadership, with more focus on the task than the relationship with your follower.

The model uses each Leadership style based on the Follower’s Readiness level, to understand where Directive Leadership will be most effective, we must therefore evaluate our Followers Readiness level.

Readiness level 1 (or R1) can typically be used to describe a new starter, who is in need of clear structure and direction. Consider your team, have you got any new starters that will require clear structure and direction? Have you recently up-skilled someone and now they have a low level of competence for this task? If so, you may want to read through the Do’s and Don’ts of this approach so that you get the best out of it whilst maintaining healthy relationships with people.

The Do’s

1. Do use Directive Leadership on New Starters

Think about a time where you were new to a role, you weren’t sure of your responsibilities, what processes to follow or what was expected of you. How did that make you feel?

It can be a daunting experience joining a new team, culture or position. People can feel uncertain and anxious if they do not understand their responsibilities,  the business values or what they need to do to succeed. It can be a relief then, for someone to explain to you what your responsibilities are, what is expected of you and where to find the processes you need to follow.

Consider a leader using a coaching role here and trying to pull this information from you. You would likely get frustrated because you simply don’t know what you don’t know – you can’t guess a companies values, which process to follow or what your Leader expects of you – so a coaching approach in this position may damage relationships between the Leader and the Follower. The Directive approach for new starters can help relieve their anxiety of the unknown. It can give your Followers a purpose and a focus.

Business Example

In my first leadership role, I had very little experience or knowledge of leadership theories. I thought that every opportunity was a coaching session as it was all I understood about the role, developed from my time working in the fitness industry helping people with stretching goals. A new starter joined my team and I was eager to coach them to success, it was going down well with my existing team so surely it would work! Whenever I had them at my desk I would ask them what they thought they should do with A, B and C and why these tasks were important.

They didn’t know and became frustrated with my coaching approach – I was asking questions they just couldn’t answer yet. I realised that whilst it goes against my natural style, I had to be the one talking at this point. I had to tell them what they should be doing, what they were doing well, why each action of each task was important and what my expectations were of them. By doing this, their frustration turned into direction, they knew what they had to do and why they were doing it. Soon, they knew the processes and policies they needed to follow and due to becoming more confident in their role, they became open for coaching.

Key Learning

Directive Leadership can be compassionate, it can alleviate both the frustration and anxiety new starters may have about the unknown aspects of their role, allowing them to focus on the task at hand.

Once your followers are more capable and confident in their role, you can increase the level of ‘supportive’ Leadership and allow Directive Leadership to take more of a back seat.

2. Use Directive Leadership in emergencies

Your building is on fire and people are beginning to panic, some people are stood around, unsure of what to do. Time is if the essence, you have to get your people to safety. Can you imagine involving your team in decision making here by facilitating or coaching them? Not only do you risk peoples lives by not taking control, you’ll likely lose credibility here too.

Directive leadership will be needed to focus and guide the people out of danger by telling them exactly what they need to do. The focus here is high task behaviour (keeping people safe) and low relationship/supportive behaviour.

Directive leadership isnt just for life threatening emergencies but can also be used at anytime an urgent decision needs to be made and there is no time for discussion.

Business Example

In 2015, I had recently moved offices to support a team going through major role profile and wage changes, their morale was extremely low and they were clearly going through the Storming stages of Team Development.

The team were all individually very skilled and I knew they had a good work ethic. They had however, gone through multiple leadership changes, witnessed conflict amongst the leadership team and had been promised wages increases to match their role changes.

A month into the role, a senior leader called a meeting with my team. The senior leader delivered an unfavourable message about the promised wage increase and the teams frustrations boiled over, the team threatened to walk out. The senior leader, clearly disagreeing with the message they were delivering broke down in front of the team and began to cry at their reactions.

I had to act quickly to support my team and the senior leader, I needed to make urgent decisions to calm the situation, bring structure to the legitimate concerns of my team and keep my team working towards our objectives.

I thanked the senior leader for delivering the tough message in person and I adjourned the meeting. I told the team we weren’t going to get a solution today and summarised each of their concerns. I promised to look into each point and whilst I couldn’t confirm a solution today, I would keep them updated on progress.

I told the team what they would risk by walking out and asked them to take a break for the remainder of the allocated meeting time and then return to work on their projects.

As soon as the room cleared, the leader thanked me for taking control of the situation. I outlined what went wrong in the meeting and suggested a more robust preparation format for future meetings. With the urgency gone and the situation calm, I spoke with the leader about their reaction, moving to a more supportive and less directive role.

Key Learning

Directive Leadership can take control of volatile or urgent situations by setting expectations and the directing the focus on to an immediate plan of action.

Whilst I knew the team were highly skilled and capable, in this moment they were directionless and needed to see a better structure to the handling of their concerns. I set my expectations for the remainder of the day and after their break, everyone returned to work.

We had a long road ahead of us but the urgent situation had passed, Directive Leadership had allowed me to take control of the situation.

3. Use Directive Leadership for non-negotiable necessities

Directive Leadership can be used when there can be no leeway to the rules or policy. Consider workplace compliance as an example. GDPR was a big buzzword throughout 2018 with it’s new rules on data protection and harsher penalties for breaches to the rules. Those rules are specifically there to protect customers, just like health and safety rules are there to protect employees. Of course, rules can be discussed and policies can be amended but until the change takes place, the rules need to be followed correctly.

Business Example

During 2019, I was in between roles as a Learning and Development Officer and Team Leader in a collections environment. Our line of work saw us helping people in very vulnerable circumstances everyday. We did this by building trusting relationships and seeking to understand our customers situation. It was a bank holiday, so people were feeling more relaxed than usual at work and a few members of staff began making a lot of noise.

I approached these members if staff and quickly set my expectations. They were still in work, they still had a job to do and conduct deemed inappropriate on a normal working day didn’t suddenly become appropriate because it was a bank holiday. I let the team know that any further instances of conduct would result in formal disciplinary action and that should a customer overhear laughing and interpret it as mocking their situation, we could quickly lose the trust and respect of that customer, damaging our reputation and more importantly, impacting our ability to help them.

Key Learning

Directive Leadership can be used where leeway could lead to reputational damage, be a risk to quality or team productivity.

Where standards are uncompromising, a directive approach will help enforce the importance of your rules and expectations.

4. Do be human

The Directive Leadership approach has seen a lot of criticism for being archaic and focused on being managerial instead of a supportive and participative approach.

It’s important to remember that just because you are setting expectations and direction, you can still be human! Being autocratic doesn’t mean losing your manners or understanding that your team are people with their own needs. You should still explain the rationale behind your decisions and the purpose of your teams work (just not when the buildings on fire).

5. Do be reflective

The situational leadership model requires you to understand where your follower is in relation to their readiness level. Reflect on their performance and their reactions to your leadership style, is this still the best way forward?

Reflect on how your style is impacting your team. Are you getting the results you need? What could you do differently next time?

To summarise the Do’s of this model, Directive Leadership can be a great option when you are:

  1. Leading New Starters or people with low levels of competence.
  2. Leading through an urgent situation or making quick decisions
  3. Where rules must be followed without exception
  4. You remain polite and professional
  5. You are reflective and utilise it with a purpose

The Dont’s of Directive Leadership

1. Don’t disregard diversity!

Situational leadership was developed with the purpose of flexible leadership in mind, to be able to understand your Followers readiness level and utilise the most effective Leadership style for that situation.

Think about how you would feel if you were considered a subject matter expert in your chosen field but despite your blatant skill and commitment, your Leader constantly told you what to do and how to do it.

You would probably feel frustrated, micro-managed and incompetent, starting a vicious cycle of losing confidence, engagement and producing poor work. These frustrations will likely lead to stress and having a defensive mentality about your work. The lack of freedom to showcase your skill sets will likely leave you bored and looking for a new job.

Business example

I was in a meeting with colleagues and there was some tension between one of the senior leaders on the call and another member of the project. I knew both people well and they were both highly skilled in their roles but they had contrasting personalities and would often clash at misunderstandings.

The senior leader began discussing some of the work my colleague had done and took the directive approach, advising what they wanted changing and how my colleague should proceed. There had already been tension based on the directive leadership approach and my colleague reacted in a very defensive manner.

The situation quickly escalated and I knew I needed to step in. I reframed the senior leaders comments, taking the focus away from the work itself and reinforced the common ground that we all wanted to build a successful project in order to meet our objectives. I began asking questions around the completed work and whether there could be a more effective way to meet the objective. The tension settled and we worked towards getting the right outcome for the project.

Later that day, the senior leader spoke to me about the situation, thanking me for the intervention and asking what the other persons problem was. Conscious that this leader likely knows more theories than I do and had more experience than me as well, I knew telling them their approach could have been better wasn’t going to get us any long lasting results. I explained that my colleague is passionate, is an expert in their field and that even with the best intentions, telling them what to do rarely goes down well. Despite it being from the right place, my colleague understood the criticism as an attack on their work instead of an attempt to deliver the best product possible.

I then asked how the senior leader would typically deal with this kind of scenario as I work closely with this person and could do with a few tactics to maintain relationships whilst making suggestions for improvements. The leader thought for a minute and suggested a supportive/facilitating style so the colleague could come up with a better way themselves.

Without realising it, the senior leader had just been coached on how best to interact with my colleague in future meetings and their change in Leadership style went over a lot better than their previous one.

Key Learning

Directive leadership has its place, using this leadership style in the wrong situation could have disastrous implications for your followers morale, mindset and your relationship with them. Where your team have the skill set, trust and support them to deliver.

2. Don’t dictate, collaborate

There are times where a follower, despite low competence may have a great idea. Disregarding this idea may damage their confidence, morale and trust in you as well as depriving the business a great new solution. There is something we can learn from everyone, so don’t close yourself off from new ideas just because someone is new to the role.

Whilst it’s true, the purpose of Directive leadership is to tell people what to do based on their competency, you can actually create problems by being too directive! The below example demonstrates this.

Business Example

Deadlines were tight, we had targets that needed to be met, audits that needed competing and feedback needed to be provided to front line staff. We were drowning.

In our weekly planning meeting we focused on key time-stealers and tactics to deal with them so we could prioritise our time and maximise our efficiency. We all agreed, the number one cause of lost time for us was the front line agents asking us questions, seemingly on every call, in every situation. We were failing as leaders. With the agreement of the leadership team in the room, we decided to turn this around. We would take shifts as ‘blockers’, the blocker would literally intercept agents coming to other members of the leadership team whilst they were working on their prioritised tasks.

The real success was in the time the blockers invested with the staff however. We realised that by telling people what to do, we had removed their autonomy. They hadn’t developed the confidence to make their own decisions or find the right process to follow. The blockers real job was in refusing to give answers, they simply asked the staff what the process said or coached the staff on what they thought they should do based on the right outcome.

The time invested here, saved us time in the long run as we began to build a more confident and autonomous team. The amount of queries slowed down over the next few weeks and over the following months, despite other time constraints, we achieved our targets and actually managed to utilise spare time to help other departments hit their objectives as well.

Key Learning

Be mindful on how your approach is impacting your followers, by telling our new starters what to do in every situation, we didn’t allow them to build up any confidence in how to problem solve by themselves or bring their own creativity to the role.

By collaborating with them and boosting their confidence, we were able to build a stronger workforce that, despite their limited time in role started to find their own solutions. We would still guide them towards the right process, we just stopped spoon feeding them every step of it.

3. Don’t dismiss development

One of the key disadvantages of Directive leadership is that it rarely allows for the development of your followers. The Leaders time is spent telling people what to do, not providing coaching feedback to see them improve.

Whilst it’s great in the short-term, which is better for your time in the long-term? Having a follower that you have to direct for each change to their task and role or having a follower that you can delegate work to and trust it can be completed to a high standard?

The Directive leader relies on their experience being greater than their followers. This means that if you don’t develop your people, the success of your organisation relies solely on your ability to follow market trends and maintain industry standards. Where you do not you are putting your organisation at risk.

By developing your people, you have a better chance of retaining this employee, saving your company money on recruitment and training costs. You can also help create and enable your Follower to be an innovator and encourage them to progress. I don’t know about you but my personal belief is that a Leaders job is to create more Leaders, not to have subservient Followers.


To summarise the don’ts of this model, Directive Leadership can be a great option when you are:

  1. Don’t disregard diversity
  2. Don’t always dictate – collaborate
  3. Don’t dismiss development

With the Do’s and Dont’s covered, it’s time to look at the Dichotomy of Directive Leadership:

The Dichotomy of Directive Leadership



Directive Leadership is a fantastic tool and is best utilised as part of a varied skill set, inline with the other leadership styles outlined in Situational Leadership.

The best situations to use this style are

  1. Leading New Starters or people with low levels of competence.
  2. Leading through an urgent situation or making quick decisions
  3. Where rules must be followed without exception

Key points to remember about Directive Leadership:

  1. You should remain polite and professional
  2. You should be reflective and utilise it with a purpose

Remember that using Directive Leadership for every situation is unlikely to yield you with the best results or the most effective team. Whilst it is a great tool to use in certain situations, it can leave your team feeling like they are not trusted, valued or competent in their role and may create barrier for you to be an effective leader.

Thank you for using your time and our resources to further your understanding and skill set. If you have any feedback, queries or requests please get in touch with us at:


We have created the below resources for you to utilise. Click each image to preview the content and download it to your device:

One page guide – Directive Leadership

One page guide – Situational Leadership

Course – Directive Leadership

Video – Directive Leadership

Reflection template – Directive Leadership in practice

Quiz – Directive Leadership

We are currently working on our Learning Management System, this course will be available shortly.

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Celebrating Servant Leadership – Eight enriching positives of this Leadership style.

If you are interested in getting up to date with the how and why of this leadership style, check out our article Summarising Servant Leadership .

Today, we are going to focus on the positive impacts of this leadership style, enabling you to decide whether servant leadership is the right fit for you, your team and your business. We are elaborating on eight enriching results of the servant leadership style.

1) Decisions made for the organisation

“The secret of institution building is to be able to weld a team of such people by lifting them up to grow taller than they would otherwise be.

A common misconception about Servant Leadership is that the leader will put the individual before the organisation. It is important to understand that putting the individual first for the sake of serving that person, could detriment the wider team or organisation as a whole. This is where the Servant Leader must be able to think of the bigger picture, of serving the team and the organisation as a whole.

Imagine a member of your team asking for an extra day off each week, without impacting their wage. You weigh this up and think about how serving your Team member in this way may positively impact their morale, performance in work, give them personal development time and realistically, you could probably do this for them without massively impacting the organisation financially – it is only one person after all. 

However, what happens when another team member asks for the same and then another? Could you do this for everyone in the company? If your organisation cannot sustain this, it will fail. If you refuse to do this for the other team members, morale plummets, trust in you dissolves and your hard earnt credibility is called into question. Not to mention, by giving your initial team member time off, you have missed an opportunity to encourage more efficient time management techniques to be developed by themselves.

It is in our peoples best interests for the organisation to achieve, to effectively serve as many people as possible, we need to focus on the success of the organisation, the safeguarding of jobs and increasing opportunities to develop. This in turn, serves more customers and helps to keep the business profitable.

A sobering example of a Servant Leader putting the business at risk for the people can be found in The Bass Handbook of Leadership. A US company called Maiden Mills saw one of their factories burnt down. During this time the insurance money was used to pay employees their full wage whilst the Factory was rebuilt. They were praised for this approach and although morale was at an all time high, bankruptcy ensued for their company as their competitors managed to get ahead. Had the Leader invested the money in securing an alternative factory, they may have survived and kept some of their people in jobs. – An ethical dilemma for sure and whilst it was the nice thing to do for their employees at the time, would a Servant Leader have safeguarded the company first?

Pro Tip:

Remember, when the organisation wins, the people win. You can serve more people by serving the needs of the organisation. Create balance between serving individuals, the team and the organisation to build trust, credibility and foster growth. An Operations Manager once said to me “My outlook is this, not everyone will like me or what I have to say – but no-one will say I have been unfair or treated some more favourably than others. If I can help I will but the needs of the business come first.” 

2) Saying ‘No’ is easier and fair

Linked directly to the above point of serving the organisation, Servant Leadership puts you in an optimal position to say ‘No’ fairly and take the sting out of its delivery – it all comes down to intent and purpose. 

When you say ‘No’ to someone, Servant Leadership provides a credible and respectable answer, it isn’t about ego or your personal agenda, it is about the success of the operation and fairness for the teams and customers. Of course, we need to look internally here and ask ourselves: “Are my intentions honest and credible? Do I demonstrate my service to the team and organisation in everything I do?” – If the answer to this question is ‘no’ – we may have issues getting people to see our part in the bigger picture.

It is important that we discuss the reasons for the ‘No’ and where possible offer either an alternative or the desired solution at a later date. Below are 3 quick ways to say ‘no’ whilst limiting the sting:

  • I can’t agree to that, it wouldn’t be fair for the rest of the team and as a business, we couldn’t justify it long-term. What else could we do to support you?
  • I cannot agree at this time as our priority is achieving project X. We do however complete it next month and I would have more availability for you then – can you use this time to build a business case for me?
  • At this time I don’t see how this serves our customers well, could you help me understand more on how this will add value? If not, we may need to consider alternatives.

Pro Tip:

Consistency is key here, we must use the same rational in order to avoid playing favourites and losing our credibility. By being open and honest with our reasons and exploring the proposal in more detail, we are able to coach, lead and develop our Followers. Who knows, exploring an initial ‘bad idea’ may uncover an absolute gem.

3) Team Development

One of the main purposes of Servant Leadership is to help us develop our team by understanding their current skill sets, goals and empowering them achieve. A great leader looks to develop people, even if this development sees them move on from the team and company due to their success.

When discussing who a Servant Leader is, Greenleaf asked:

“…do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

We can see from this question, Greenlead believes the purpose of a leader is to create more leaders. We can do this effectively by developing our teams – which is great news for the individuals, the company and its customers. What is the alternative? A group of people unable to make their own decisions without a process? A team that has had its confidence damaged so much that they are unable to resolve their own issues?  

Servant Leadership doesn’t mean doing everything for someone, it means really listening to people, building accountability and helping them to problem solve. In his book The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier discusses the importance of listening and asking open questions to help people find their own answers. As coaches, we can sometimes fall into the trap of being ‘the Advice Monster’, which doesn’t actually create a solution, we just think it does! Consider the old saying “Give a person a fish and they are fed for a day. Teach them to fish and they are fed for a life time.” – are we effectively developing our people or are we taking away their autonomy under the guise of service?

One of the best ways to develop people is avoid giving advice all together, even avoid questions alluding to what we think the answer is! We need to engage our curiosity and only ask questions based on what has been said, in order to understand and summarise their answers. This enables others to reflect and find their own way, developing their resourcefulness and problem solving skills.

Pro tip:

Get curious. Ask questions and make a conscious decision to listen. Think about the words they are and aren’t using. How is it being said? Is what we can hear congruent with their body language? When starting from scratch, consider a SWOT analysis tool.

4) Encourages empathy

“Men grow taller when those who lead them empathize and when they are accepted for what they are, even though their performance may be judged critically in terms of what they are capable of doing. Leaders who empathize and who fully accept those who go with them on this basis are more likely to be trusted.”

– Greenleaf , The Servant as Leader on Empathy and Acceptance.

Greenleaf expects the Servant Leader to always empathise and accept the Follower whilst at the same time refusing to accept someone’s work when it is below the expected standard. This is an important balance as if we are 100% empathetic and do not set expectations, we are likely to get walked over and have an underperforming team. Go the other way and we may irreparably damage our relationship with our Followers alongside their morale. Similar to coaching, empathy encourages us to be curious and understand what’s happening with our Follower instead of jumping to conclusions. This in turn will build rapport, as our team begin to trust that we are there to support them.

By merging empathy with setting expectations on performance, our approach will be seen as fair, consistent and based on supporting your team. This will build on our credibility and our teams level of engagement.

Pro tip:

We need to make a conscious decision to be curious and a conscious effort to understand our teams. In his book The Five Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – as difficult as it can be, if we tell our mind that we don’t know the answer, that our beliefs and assumptions may be wrong and that in order to lead a person, we need to first understand them – then we realise that what this person has to say is valuable. When we listen and stay out of judgement, our ability to engage and develop people grows.

5) Leaders become seekers

“One does not awake each morning with the compulsion to reinvent the wheel. But if one is servant, either leader or follower, one is always searching, listening, expecting that a better wheel for these times is in the making.”

As a Servant Leader, we must constantly search for ways to help our people and the organisation to gain an edge. Researching into ways that may help with efficiency, engagement and improvements from an individual level to an organisational one – is one of the principles that makes a Servant Leader effective. The fact that you are here, gives a good indication that you are already on the path!

Like in most things, ego needs to take a backseat here. We don’t have to be the one to create something or come up with a new product or process. There is real power in listening to others, raising their ideas up and collaborating. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, whilst it’s great if you do! Seeking isn’t about recognition, its about thinking how we can best serve our Followers and our organisation. As Leaders, we need to pass on the recognition for others and take real pride in our actions – self-worth comes from within.

Pro Tip:

Mindset is key. Carl Jung said “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t know but need to know. Learn from them.” – There is a phenomenal amount of resources available in the world, get creative and engage others in the process. Involve people across your organisation, get coached and mentored yourself and attend events where subject matter experts are speaking. There is always something to learn.

6) Engaged and Empowered

“The servant always accepts and empathizes, never rejects. The servant as leader always empathizes, always accepts the person but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”

Lets break this down into three different Leadership styles. The first one, not described in the quote above but seen within Leadership environments is one that doesn’t accept or empathise with the person and rejects the work shown to them.

How is that Follower feeling?

  • Demotivated
  • Unsupported
  • Unengaged
  • Frustrated

The likely outcome of this is that the Followers morale becomes so low that their work will suffer further and they may even leave (and bring others with them) creating a costly exercise in regards to hiring, training and reputation management.

Looking at the Servant part of the quote, this leader is always empathetic and accepting of their Followers but never challenges unacceptable results.

Take a moment to consider how the Follower is feeling now.

They will likely be feeling:

  • Supported
  • Unchallenged
  • Bored

The likely outcome here is that whilst they may feel supported, they wont be challenged or stretched to their potential. This can lead to disengagement, boredom and taking advantage of their situation.

Greenleaf said that the Servant Leader would be empathetic, accepting but still expect high standards of work and ensure that their Follwers understood that.

Take a moment to consider how the Follower is feeling now.

They will likely be feeling:

  • Supported
  • Appropriately Challenged
  • Motivated
  • Engaged

We talk about engagement all the time here at Develop The Edge, so we wont get into the statistics on why you want your teams to be engaged, we will say however, there isn’t a downside.

Pro tip:

Consider a Followers needs more than their feelings. If you accept substandard work, the only thing you’re serving is your organisation, on a plate to your competitors. Feedback, when it comes from an honest, factual and empathetic place is key to helping people grow. When our teams truly believe our feedback comes from a place of support, they are more likely to be onboard with it. Be tactful with feedback, ensure it’s coming from a supportive place instead of an accusatory one.

7) Long-term vision


“The very essence of leadership, going out ahead to show the way, derives from more than usual openness to inspiration. Why would anybody accept the leadership of another except that the other sees more clearly where it is best to go?”

Servant Leaders are required to develop foresight if they are going to serve their Followers, organisation and customers. By developing motivating mission statements and strategic goals, we can help to secure the success of the organisation by giving our Followers an inspiring goal to achieve.

Detachment and foresight are essential leadership traits to work on, use tools such as ORAPAPA to ensure you have considered all aspects, risks and opportunities when making decisions. Our experiences will build on our foresight abilities but tools can help where we have had limited experience.


Foresight is the “lead” that the leader has. Once he loses this lead and events start to force his hand, he is leader in name only. He is not leading; he is reacting to immediate events and he probably will not long be a leader.”


Pro tip:

Use Scenario planning to see what the future could look like. In their book ‘The Strategy Workout’, Bernard Ross and Clare Segal discuss the differences between Conventional Planning and Scenario Planning as:


8) Ego Eliminator


“Servant-leadership is not about a personal quest for power, prestige, or material rewards. Instead, from this perspective, leadership begins with a true motivation to serve others.” – Dr. Ann McGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell.


The first person the Ego Eliminator impacts is the Leader. To be effective with this Leadership style, we need to put our thirst for praise, power and promotions to the side. We may in fact still obtain all of the above, specifically because we have put them to the side…but that isn’t the focus point of Servant Leadership. We have to legitimately want to serve others and help them succeed, to put the mission above our own needs. People will know if you are in it for yourself.

The second group to be impacted by the Ego Eliminator are the Followers themselves. When we have a reputation of being a Servant Leader, those around we know that everything we say and do will be to either develop people or secure the success of the organisation. Once we have built this reputation and relationship with our Followers, the feedback will typically be well received as our Followers egos will not be as easily on the defensive. Consider knowing beyond question that someone wants the best for you, then that person offers you constructive feedback on your work, are you more or less likely to have a bruised ego than someone giving you the feedback that isnt invested in your development and that has a reputation for being out for themselves?

Pro Tip:

Be honest, open and consistent with our approach. Take ownership of our teams failures in order to prevent them in the future and pass on praise to lift others up.

“Servant leaders encourage skill and moral development in followers. They are sensitive to the needs of organizational stakeholders and hold themselves accountable for their actions (Graham, 1991).”



In this article we have reviewed 8 great reasons to celebrate Servant Leadership:

  1. Decisions are made for the organisation
  2. Saying ‘No’ is easier and fair
  3. Team Development
  4. Encourages Empathy
  5. Leaders become Seekers
  6. Engaged and Empowered
  7. Long-Term Vision
  8. Ego Eliminator

Do you think we missed anything? Join in the conversation @DevelopTheEdge or @Engage_Leaders


Resources for Servant Leadership are available below this article.

We are keen to hear what value has this article added to your day?


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