Situational Leadership – Part 2

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The first article in the three-part ’Situational Leadership’ series highlighted the need for direct connections to be made between what is taught and what is experienced in order to bridge the ‘synaptic gap’ between intention and implementation. This second article examines the need for recognising personal styles for contemporary varied environments – and shows how leaders can lead in a way that is meaningful and relevant for them in their particular context.

The new rules for playing the leadership game

My tennis coach once told me a secret about how to best approach the game when playing against other males. “Just get the ball over the net three times in a row and then your opponent’s testosterone should kick in, making him go for a big winning but high risk shot.” I have continued to use this strategy and have discovered it works every time.

There is a lesson I have taken away from this experience should someone now try this tactic on me. For 20 years, like most males, I would try to make every shot a winner – meaning I would hit the ball as hard as I could. It would not matter if it was my forehand or backhand; if I could, I would thrash the ball and hope it hit the mark. What I have learnt now is: If a ball comes to my forehand (my strongest and most consistent side) I should go for a winner, but if it goes to my backhand (my weakest side) I should just keep the ball in play.

Knowing my strengths on the court has changed my mental game, helping me achieve much more with much less frustration. This new strategy is especially useful when I play tennis doubles, as my partner and I are continuously monitoring the situation by utilising our strengths and covering for each other’s weaknesses as a team.

But how easy is it to translate this into the work situation? How many leaders fail to recognise their personal strengths and weaknesses, and are unable to ‘play the game’ well as a result? Self-awareness and a knowledge of how to maximise signature strengths develops a secure foundation for personal integrity in leadership, and is fundamental for authentic situational leadership.

Starting with signature strengths

Having established the need to find meaningful connections in order to trigger relevant actions in the first article in this series, the next area that needs to be addressed is learning how to make those connections. Understanding themselves and their signature qualities is essential for leaders to build an awareness of how they typically approach situations. This self awareness then enables leaders to make links with the circumstances they face.

Behaviour profiling is a useful tool in self-analysis and ultimately, situational connection. By considering the different behaviour profiles of leaders and the diverse styles that they utilise, it is possible to examine the application of these styles for specific situations individual leaders may face. There are a number of different profiling tools that can be used to help make sense of leadership styles. With over 1.2 million Google articles on ‘leadership profiles’, it’s not difficult to learn about what profiling methods can be useful and how profiling can be applied.

Behaviour profiling works by identifying specific qualities and patterns of behaviour that are unique to individuals. Once aware of their typical behaviour patterns or styles, leaders can adopt a proactive approach to leadership.

Leading from a position of strength

It is possible to lead from your individual personal strengths rather than feeling you have to fit into a specific behaviour profile.

The average leader will only lead by using their natural default leadership abilities, without really maximising these. Because they are not aware of their strengths and weaknesses, average leaders will have limited ability and can only perform in a fixed environment.

The greatest asset you can have as a leader is the ability to recognise your default leadership style and to recognise your specific strengths and weaknesses so that you can lead from your strengths while minimising your limitations.

The situational slide

Another useful outcome of leadership style analysis is that once you know your specific position in terms of leadership and have identified the specific values that underpin that position, you can learn to slide to work from a different perspective, depending on the situation, without losing authenticity.

Gandhi, for example, was capable of being strong when it was required and supportive and caring when that was the greater priority. He knew his own personal strengths and the demands of the particular situations he found himself in well enough to be able to remain true to his core values yet still adapt as needed. This flexibility built on the foundation of a strong awareness and clear self-knowledge, meant that Gandhi was able to deal with the changing situations he faced with a real integrity that commanded great respect.

The complementary coordinator

The other way to effectively lead is to recognise individual strengths in different people and utilise human resources to their fullest, by ensuring there are other people with different behaviour profiles surrounding them to complement their skills. This means the leader does not need to be all things to all people, but rather effectively coordinates a complementary leadership team. This takes the pressure off the individual, and empowers the team to achieve far more than any single individual could.

The leaders of Everest expeditions have a style of leadership that is contrary to that which has been advocated for many years in corporate culture. The leaders utilise team members’ strengths to ensure the group gets to the top. This includes allocating a huge responsibility entirely to the Sherpa’s. Sherpa’s will walk with the group or even guide from behind, and they often don’t go to the top themselves.

Although a leader may have the wisdom and experience, they do not necessarily have all the skills, so their role is to find complementary people who are able to achieve the goal as a team. The effective leader recognises the team’s individual expertise and their own weaknesses. They do not need to lead from in front as the all-knowing expert.

Authentic leadership

Integrity as a leader is about remaining true to your core strengths and values. We all have something valuable to offer as a leader, and by recognising individual leadership strengths and maximising these, we can bring an authentic style of leadership that will inspire real loyalty and commitment.

Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great’ and Martin Seligman in ‘Authentic Happiness’, both talk about finding signature strengths and building on these. And Collins says that when a team of people are all doing what they do best, then there is no need to motivate them.

This positive energy created by leaders who know themselves and their roles and are true to their strengths flows through an organisation and ultimately creates an authentic culture of passion and commitment.

And for the leader themselves and for the organisation, that can only be a good thing!

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