Monday, September 25, 2017

How situational leadership fits into today’s organizations

“How situational leadership fits into today’s organizations.” Supervisory Management, Feb. 96, Vol. 41, Issue 2, p. 1, 3 p.
The trend toward consensus-driven decision making is causing managers and supervisors to question when they can make independent decisions. The answer may lie in situational leadership, a concept that is far from new. It recognizes that the best managers are those who know when to lead by consensus but are also confident in making decisive, independent decisions whenever and wherever appropriate.

Under situational leadership, managers adapt their leadership and decision making styles to the situation, the time, and the people involved.

“Make it so” Management
That there is nothing wrong with a team leader who makes the final decision even within a team structure is evident from reaction to the leadership style of Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Starship Enterprise (think “team leader” or “manager”), from the TV sci-fi program Star Trek: The Next Generation. A manager/trainer who is a fan of the show told me, “He is the kind of leader most managers would like to believe they are.”

In their book Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation
(Pocket Books, 1995), authors Dr. Wess Roberts and Bill Ross demonstrate how richly Jean-Luc Picard illustrates the leadership qualities that are indispensable for managers today.

When the crew and ship face a crisis, Picard brings his direct reports together to discuss their options, listens empathetically to their ideas, then decides on that option that he believes has the best chance of success. He does not get drawn into the details. He empowers his crew to carry out the plan he has chosen with three words that have become familiar to every fan of the show: “Make it so.”

Mastering four styles of leadership
Interestingly, authors John D. W. Beck and Neil M. Yeager refer to not only Jean-Luc, but Captain James T. Kirk (from an earlier series built around the same sci-fi theme), along with some real-life executives, in their more traditional management book The Leader’s Window (John Wiley & Sons). Their book identifies four leadership styles to be used to create high-performing teams.
  1. Directing. Directing involves making decisions for those new to their responsibilities to help them avoid mistakes. 

  2. Problem solving. “The leader seeks input from those people who have to live with the consequences of decisions, meets only with those people who need to be involved, runs effective meetings when they are needed, and makes assignments that speed up the decision-making process,” write Beck and Yeager. 

  3. Developing. Another term might be “facilitating,” since a leader whose primary style falls into this category would listen to team responses to questions raised, paraphrase key points, be aware of both verbal and nonverbal communication, and summarize the issues for the group. 

  4. Delegating. By delegating authority as well as responsibility, say Beck and Yeager, the manager “empowers members of the team to make decisions and take actions in areas where they have expertise and are motivated to follow through.” Abdication is the extreme of delegating, where the manager provides no presence and staff feel “they have been left out on a limb.” 
In which categories do our two Star Fleet captains primarily fall (a question many supervisors/Star Trek fans might wonder)? Beck and Yeager believe they primarily operate within Styles 2 and 3. “When there is a problem that requires their attention,” write Beck and Yeager, “Kirk and Picard summon experts and engage in intensive problem solving to find a resolution. If the problem is of highly technical nature regarding an aspect of the ship they know little about, they form a team of experts and support its efforts in solving the problem.”

The bottom line
Whether a decision is better made by a group is best determined by these factors:

The need to buy in. Goal setting is something best done in group settings in which members commit to the final decisions reached. Here, consensus-based decision making may be critical, for it increases the likelihood of success. The more people participate in the decision-making process, the more ownership they have in the outcome, and, therefore, the harder they work.

The creativity involved. If you need a new view on an old problem, then you might want to bring together a group. But this doesn’t necessary mean that the final decision should be made by the group, although the information that comes from the group members should strongly influence the final decision.

The timeline involved. If time is scarce, then a decision is best made by the team leader.

The need for a decision that reflects the bigger picture. Team members may have some idea about the situation but they may not see the problem as their supervisor does, from a strategic view. Supervisors need not always let the current movement toward teams cause them to devote staff time to meetings that are unnecessary or cause them to abdicate their leadership role. After all, being decisive is as much a characteristic of a good leader as are cooperation and a sense of teamwork.

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