Discover one of the most popular leadership models of all time with us today as we look at the basics of Hersey and Blanchard’s well loved and heavily utilised model.
This is the first of 7 articles that explores this widely used model. Our release schedule for the Situational Leadership articles can be found below. Across our journey, we will explore the positives of the model, the negatives of the model and take a deeper look at each of the Leadership styles in more detail – concluding on the 20th of March 2022. Make sure you subscribe today so you don’t miss out on any of this content!
10/10/2021 – Telling Leadership Article
21/11/2021 – Selling Leadership Article
02/01/2022 – Participating Leadership Article
13/02/2022 – Delegating Leadership Article
13/03/2022 – Pros of Situational Leadership
20/03/2022 – Shortfalls of Situational Leadership
What is Situational Leadership?
Situational Leadership is a model created by Hersey and Blanchard that was initially named the “Life cycle theory of leadership” which puts forward the idea that a Leader should change their Leadership style based on the readiness (or maturity/ developmental) level of their Follower.
It is a structured style of leadership, based on the situation at hand instead of trait leadership which focuses on the Leaders behaviour, character and overall style.
Below is the Situational Leadership model. The 4 quadrants indicate Follower Readiness levels (R1, R2, R3 and R4) and the arrows moving their way through each quadrant represents the ideal leadership style for that readiness level.
The model comprises of 4 main styles of Leadership; Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating. Each leadership style matches the readiness level of your Followers, typically known as R1 (Readiness level 1), R2, R3 and R4.
- R1 Followers are described as: “Unable and Insecure or Unwilling”
- R2 Followers are described as: “Unable but Confident or Willing”
- R3 Followers are described as: “Able but Insecure of Unwilling”
- R4 Followers are described as: “Able and Willing or Motivated”
The horizontal axis focuses on directive or task orientated behaviour or how much “Telling” you need to do. The vertical axis places its focus on supportive or relationship focussed behaviour and how much time you need to invest in your Followers.
As you can see from the above image, R1 Followers need a Telling Leadership approach, R2 a Selling approach, R3 a Participating approach and R4 a Delegating approach. The model advises that you should change your Leadership style based on the Readiness level of your follower in order to provide them the leadership style that they will benefit from the most.
It’s important to understand that Follower Readiness level can move forward or backwards based on the situation at hand.
Why is it used?
Situational Leadership has been a popular Leadership style since its inception in 1969. Businesses use it to gain a consistent yet fluid approach to Leadership, whilst Learning and Development professionals have seen success when using this as part of a learning journey or embedding it into the learning cycle.
The Leadership model has been continually adapted by its authors (albeit separately) over the years, keeping it relevant and adjusting their model based on evidential research.
Whilst some models prefer Leaders to have specific traits or a key mentality, such as Servant Leadership, the Situational model calls for a combination of task and relationship focus, leading to an easy to assimilate and consistent formula for Leaders to use.
We go into more detail on the pros and cons of this model alongside each of the 4 styles in separate articles but one thing is clear, Situational Leadership has maintained its popularity amongst organisations since 1969.
How is it used?
For specifics, check out each individual article on the styles involved but we will give you a brief overview below of the Directing, Selling, Participating and Delegating styles, enabling you to grasp the high level theory behind the model.
Telling – or Directive Leadership
This autocratic or ‘Telling’ approach to Leadership is a method best used on R1 Followers. Here, you tell people what they need to do and why they need to do it. It works well when outlining a process or have new starters that are unable to perform the tasks required. It’s useful you’re your Follower lacks the confidence or desire to take necessary action.
This is a coaching centred approach where you “sell” your ideas and is best used with R2 Followers. The ideal time to use this style is when your Follower still lacks the skill to succeed but their confidence and/or enthusiasm overrides their skill level.
This is a facilitation style and is an ideal approach for an R3 follower. This style works well for people who have the skills but are lacking the motivation or will to do the job. It can be a time consuming approach as it requires little direction and lots of support, with a high focus on relationships. This approach is designed to engage your skilled Followers and help them see the value in themselves and their work.
This style of leadership is reserved for your R4 Followers. People who are motivated and have the skills to do the job to a high standard. It’s a hands off approach to leading, requiring little direction or support from the leader, this is where you want your Followers to be.
Situational Leadership is a model developed to aid a Leader in establishing an appropriate style to use, based on Follower readiness levels and the situation at hand. It outlines key attitudes and tools to use in each situation, giving the leader easy and quick reference on how to be effective at any given moment.
There are 4 Readiness levels and 4 accompanying Leadership styles – Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating. If you are ready to engage in the leadership styles in more detail, the individual guides and their accompanying courseware should give you everything you need to utilise this model effectively.
Thank you for spending time with us and getting a foundational understanding of this theory. Consider downloading the below resources, sharing them amongst your team and developing your own styles.
1) Situational Leadership one page guide
2) Situational Leadership quiz – what’s your natural style?
3) Situational Leadership quiz – how flexible a leader are you?
If you want to take your Leadership skills to the next level, book in your free consultation today:
Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model was originally called the ‘Life Cycle Theory of Leadership’ in their 1969 book ‘Management of Organisational Behaviour’. This model has seen many revisions from 1980 and onwards to present day. It is an adaptive leadership style that encourages Leaders to review their Followers readiness levels alongside variables in the workplace to provide the most effective leadership style at any time.
This leadership style can help to develop followers, build rapport amongst the team and get the best out of people. Whilst it has varied styles of leadership available, having an organisation use this approach can actually see a common Leadership model being used and therefore have consistency across the business.
Throughout this article, we will discuss the advantages and successes of this approach, with the disadvantages and short falls of this model being in the next article.
We have created multiple articles on each stage of the model so if you want to see a particular style in more detail, check out these links:
13/02/2022 – Delegating Leadership – Disected and Discussed
13/03/2022 – Sharing the Successes of Situational Leadership
20/03/2022 – The Shortfalls and Limitations of Situational Leadership
We have identified 8 key successes of the Situational Leadership model, they are: Consistency, Flexibility, Development, Support, Team Knowledge, Humility, Reflection and Learning and Development. Grab a brew, get comfortable and let’s explore the benefits to this much utilised model.
Situational Leadership model encourages a consistent Leadership approach throughout an operation. This seems strange as the model actually utilises 4 different leadership styles but the consistency here, lies in how the styles are used.
The styles are matched to Follower Readiness levels meaning that no matter where the team member goes, they will receive a similar level or support and autonomy. By using this model, Followers are more likely to improve and the business is more likely to achieve. Imagine a leader that only coaches or only directs – both styles would eventually cause friction, frustration and fissures within working relationships. A Leader who adapts their approach based on the situation however, may find more success due to their adaptability.
When the model is used throughout the business, Leadership teams will approach their Followers in the same way, based on their Follower and the situation at hand. This creates consistency across the Organisation, helping to build psychological safety amongst teams.
One of the major benefits to Situational Leadership is that it utilises four very different techniques, allowing the leader to evaluate the situation alongside their Followers readiness level to find the most effective way to lead.
It acknowledges that different people and situations will benefit from different types of interactions and encourages the leader to be both reflective and detached from the situation in order to pick the best style.
Your team are highly skilled but lack the motivation to achieve their highest possible standard of work. Typically, you would use Participating leadership to help create buy-in and increased levels of commitment. However, a new project has just landed as priority, client are being very specific about what needs to be done and within tight time scales.
Participating leadership would take too long here, there wouldn’t be time for lengthy facilitation sessions where your team come up with the how and what of the project.
As a leader you would need to consider Directive Leadership to get people moving or if you felt the team were ready, a Delegating Leadership style may be best.
Of course, when changing your style, it is important that we explain to our teams why they don’t have their normal freedom and autonomy – if we don’t, resentment will likely begin to stew as they think:
- “They have lost faith in us.”
- “Why are we being punished? We hit all deadlines on the last project!”
- “They clearly don’t trust us.”
- “I’ve been doing this role for years, who do they think they are?”
Consider our people and their egos before changing a leadership style, think about setting expectations on why its occurring, such as:
- “Team, client have sent us a new project. It has very tight deadlines and strict guidelines. Due to this, we wont get our usual flexibility to tackle this how we want to. I’m going to deliver the gameplan I think will work best, feel free to make suggestions but due to time constraints, we need to keep it simple and can’t get carried away with discussion.”
- “You guys did such a phenomenal job with the last project, client have trusted us with a high priority task. This is great for us as a team and a chance to further our relationship with client. Due to the time constraints of this project, we need to work towards more specific guidelines, it’s a chance to show our ability to achieve on client terms instead of your usual freedom to find the best way forward. Happy to hear any tweaks but this is the plan.”
- “Last project went well and client have commented on how happy they were with the end result. I am trusting you to complete this with limited guidance from myself. Due to time constraints on the project, we cant spend much time in the planning. I’ll tell you what client are looking for, when it needs to be done by and the rest is up to you. If you need support, my door is open.”
Here, the situation called for the Leader to move their Followers through Readiness levels, which ties into our next key success of the Situational Leadership model.
It develops Followers
When utilised appropriately, the model can guide your Followers through their Readiness levels in order to make them effective members of the team. Followers may revert to previous Readiness levels based on many different factors such as a change in process, difficulties in their personal life, conflict at work or unforeseen circumstances – the list is not exhaustive. Due to this, it is essential the Leader reflects on their Followers readiness level alongside the situation to get the best results.
Readiness level 1 Followers are typically new to the role and don’t know anything about the operation to allow coaching to be effective. By using Directive Leadership, you are preparing your Follower to move to Readiness level 2.
Here, the Coaching leadership style is best utilised. This method focuses on improving performance as typically, the Follower is quite self-motivated here to want to be effective, they just don’t really know how. This coaching style helps the Follower get to grips with their purpose and role, which will move them into Readiness level 3.
At this stage, Followers are skilled but unwilling or unmotivated. Perhaps the work is not stimulating enough, equipment doesn’t work, they feel stuck, bored or unrecognised for their contributions. The Participating leadership style focuses on engagement by facilitating solutions and allowing your team to find and execute on their ideas. As their motivation grows, they move to Readiness level 4.
At level 4, the Follower is extremely capable and motivated to get the job done. This is where you want your Followers to be, autonomous, capable and effective. Here you need to delegate.
Followers feel supported
As this model is focused on adapting your style to suit your Followers Readiness level, your team will likely feel supported by your efforts.
As earlier, it’s best to signpost the reason behind your style change so your Followers won’t get confused or frustrated by the sudden fluctuations in your approach. When you are invested in leading your people and helping them grow, the genuine focus on supporting your people will be felt by them, which in turn will build trust and commitment towards your teams cause.
Consider having a leader that adapted their style to suit your needs and also invested their time and energy into your development. How engaged would you feel at work? We know that engaged employees are more productive, satisfied and reliable at work. Focusing your efforts on supporting your team should be an easy choice to make.
Know your team
It goes without saying that if you are utilising Situational Leadership, then you should have a good grasp on your team, their abilities, development areas and mind-set. To get the most out of this model, you need to invest heavily in understanding who you are working with.
Knowing your team can provide the following benefits:
- We can lead our Followers as they want to be or need to be lead
- We build trust
- We foster a connection
- We create engagement, increasing productivity and job satisfaction
- Job stress reduces
- We strengthen our ability to predict and prepare for conversations
- We are better placed to treat a core problem instead of surface symptom
Situational Leadership can be considered a very humble approach to leading. One of the key critiques of an Autocratic or Directive approach is that the leader needs to have skills that surpass the team (or at least they think they do). The Situational Leader acknowledges that they don’t in fact know the best way forward and that the strength of the team needs to be utilised to get the most effective outcome. This mind-set means the Leader needs to be both humble in nature and able to detach from their ego in order to critically analyse the best approach and person to do the job.
Especially as we move into the Participating and Delegating styles, the leader needs to trust in their team and be willing to try ideas that may go against what they think is best. Of course, the leader cannot take on a bad idea! They are still responsible for the outcome but if a solution put forward by the team will work (even if you think your way is better), let your team run with their idea rather than overrule with your own. Giving them the reigns here will boost confidence, trust and help them develop as they think critically of their actions.
Linked to being humble, Situational Leadership requires you to have a firm grasp on yourself, team and situational reflection in order to utilise it effectively.
Taking time to reflect helps embed learning, development and change, making it an extremely useful tool for self-development. Thinking critically about a situation can increase your emotional intelligence and help with the future communication with others.
Further, reflection can be linked to creative thought and strategic thinking making it a great tool for your own development, relationship management and making sound strategic decisions.
Learning and Development
Hersey, Angelim, and Carakushansky (1982) found that when managers were trained using the Situational Leadership approach in the classroom, starting with Directive and then moving through the individual stages, that they performed significantly better in their final exams than the control group that did not receive this style. This indicates that the model is a great tool to use when training and mentoring people.
If you work in Learning and Development, consider using the stages of Situational Leadership when planning your Sessions. Have you provided Direction at the start? Does your session include Coaching, Participating and Delegating towards the end? In the experiment, a different Trainer was used at each stage of the learning journey. When we think about the 5 stages of Learning it can make sense – When we don’t know how much there is to learn, Direction is important. When we are gaining confidence but still need more work on our skills, Coaching works well. As we begin to move into Conscious Competence, a Participating approach allows us room to experiment and embed what we are learning. When we are Unconsciously Competent, we can have work delegated to us.
Overall, Situational Leadership has seen success in organisations throughout the world. Whilst in part 2, we discuss some of its limitations, there are some real benefits to utilising the model. Situational Leadership can provide both consistency and flexibility within your organisation, creating effective leadership teams. The model focuses on understanding and developing people – adding value to your operations whilst increasing engagement, satisfaction and productivity. The model requires reflection activity, keeping your skills sharp whilst ensuring you remain humble and it has proven strengths within the Training and Development field.
Click here for Part 2: The Limitations of Situational Leadership
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
- Levels of Trust and Rapport
- Problem Solving skills
- Self-awareness (mind-sets, strengths, development opportunities etc.)
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?
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?
- Under valued
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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:
- Appropriately Challenged
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.
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.”
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?
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:
- Decisions are made for the organisation
- Saying ‘No’ is easier and fair
- Team Development
- Encourages Empathy
- Leaders become Seekers
- Engaged and Empowered
- Long-Term Vision
- 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?
- One page guide
If we don’t know the limitations of a Leadership style, how can we be effective within it? How can we prepare for and overcome the barriers if we are blind to them? This article looks to armour ourselves against some of the main shortfalls and limitations of this widely used and popular Leadership model. If you want to learn more about Situational Leadership before we cover its shortfalls and limitations, we have 6 other articles about it below that cover each style in more detail and the positive aspects to the model:
07/09/2021 – Situational Leadership Summary
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
Let’s get stuck in and review the 4 main Shortfalls and Limitations of this model: Consistency, Short-term focus, individuality and evaluation.
One of the main concerns with the Situational Leadership model is that it lacks consistency. Imagine one day your leader was supportive and facilitated your teams decision making process. This likely made you feel empowered, trusted, capable, skilled and engaged.
All of a sudden a new project hits and your leader now has had a complete attitude change and uses a highly Directive approach with the team, dictating actions step by step. How are you feeling now?
The lack of consistency in this approach will likely cause confusion, frustration, self doubt and cause motivation to plummet. The leader may look weak or fickle, for not being able to make up their mind and control their emotions. Which is why its should be explained to the team before changing your style to discuss what is happening (see part one for examples on how to do this).
Consistency amongst Followers may also cause conflict. Imagine one of your team mates was consistently given projects where the leader was very flexible with how the project was completed but also ensured that they were available for support. For you however, the leader directed you every step of the way and gave you no creative control of the project. Your ego would likely be bristling right now, thinking the leader has favourites and that this isn’t fair for you. If you are using this style as a Leader and you are treating Followers differently consider these questions:
- Have I spoken to the team about this?
- Am I using the right Leadership styles based on Follower Readiness?
- How much am I letting my personal feelings impact the Leadership style?
Block and Kennedy (1986) found that most Followers preferred a consistently Participative Leader than a flexible one. So if you are in it for your Followers, consider how you could be more of a Participating and Facilitative leader. On the other side, Heilman, Hornstein, Cage, and Herschlag (1984) found that most superiors of the Leader being evaluated preferred them to have a flexible style instead of a consistent one.
The key here, is to explain why you are changing your approach, ensure your followers know it’s a purposeful change and not an emotional reaction.
Short Term Focus
Situational Leadership looks at the present. It doesn’t have the long term vision that inspires Followers to action. The argument here is that we are treating our Followers based on their skill and mentality now instead of where we want them to be. When we are constantly Leading in the moment, what happens to our long-term vision? If we are Directing our Follower, are we really preparing them for Selling, Participating or Delegating Leadership?
If your focus is always on the development level of your Followers and their task urgency, you may not be able to detach mentally from the situation in order to check on the variables that are just out of your sight line. What is the use of being present in the moment if you lose sight of the long term strategic goal? Is the situation you’re dealing with now adding value to your team and mission or is there a better way to achieve your objectives?
Some questions to consider:
- Am I developing my Follower with this approach?
- How does this approach get us towards our long-term objectives?
- Am I reacting more than planning?
Everyone is different (…and the same)
Situational Leadership was built for teams in America, it doesn’t take into consideration differences in cultures, gender, generation or just in general, people. Situational Leadership expects the model to work for everyone at the correct development level.
Realistically, two new Starters may not benefit from the same Directive style. The approach may be well received or ill received based on the persons disposition, values and perceived development level. Some people with high skill in the role may want coaching whilst others just want to know how to quickly fix an issue.
We are all different but we are all also the same. Psychologically speaking, humans tend to react in similar ways, take onboard feedback in similar ways and learn in similar ways. It’s important to acknowledge differences as they arise and adjust our methods accordingly but ego plays a big part in the Leader and Follower relationships which is why transparency is key.
Some questions to consider:
- Is this approach right for my Followers?
- How has each Follower reacted to the styles I’ve used?
- What tweaks could I make for this to be more effective?
- What other communication techniques can I use alongside this style?
- How can I understand what my Followers like and dislike about this style?
Evaluating Development Levels
The models success depends on the Leaders ability to correctly identifying the Development level of their follower and the situation at hand. Needless to say this is a very reflective exercise and requires time, skill and patience from the Leader to do accurately. Should a Leader read this wrong, they could miss the mark with their style, becoming ineffective and damaging relationships with their Followers.
Based on the critiques from Block and Kennedy above and Blake and Mouton’s arguments for a consistent leadership style, the Leader could save time and energy by focusing on both people and production, seeing the long term vision instead of having to constantly evaluate which style to use. How mentally taxing would it be for you as a Leader to consistently review your Followers readiness level? How effective would it be for you to evaluate each situation as it arises in order to choose the correct style?
Questions to consider:
- How will I know if I have correctly identified my Followers readiness level?
- How often will I need to evaluate this?
- What criteria will I assess it by?
- Would my Followers benefit from a value based leadership style instead?
As we can see, there are some shortfalls to the model including consistency, the lack of long term vision, it doesn’t take individuals into account and that it takes a skilled and reflective Leader to correctly identify Development levels. of their Followers. Situational Leadership has some great advantages but where it doesn’t fit in with your Leadership approach, consider looking at Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid, which favours a much more consistent approach to leadership or a behaviour driven style such as Servant Leadership. What do you think about the Situational Leadership model?
Do the benefits outweigh the shortfalls?