When it comes to leadership it doesn't matter if you manage a company with 500 employees or one where you are the only employee. Either environment will disprove the myth that leaders should stick to just one leadership style that they have perfected. In a dynamic setting several styles will be necessary and the ability to adapt is key. There's a lot to learn from each leadership style and when to use it. Here's the four that basic styles:
- Directive: One of the oldest styles and frequently described as autocratic. Someone using this style tells people what to do and expects them to jump to it.
- Participative: This style seeks input from others and participates with those they are leading in the decision making process.
- Laissez-faire: Typically a hands-off approach allowing for both initiative and the latitude to determine process to affect an outcome.
- Adaptive: A fluid style that takes into consideration the context of the environment and the individual being led.
When we are highly stressed and up against tight deadlines we frequently act a little out of character. Have you ever been in one of those moments and had someone come to you with an issue or idea that in the greater scheme of things does not come close to meeting the priority of what you are working on? Many of us may have been a little terse in our response, creating an immediate reaction from our subordinate that comes in the form of a shocked expression. This is a leadership misfire. The situation as they saw it did not match up to your response. Putting things in context in terms of the situation and individual you are dealing with is important. Here are a few illustrations:
- Context: A new employee has just started their first day. Individual: New to the industry and therefore brings no experience to the table. The most appropriate leadership approach is directive. They need a lot of direction as they learn to find their way.
- Context: A problem has come to the surface that needs remedy. Individual: A subordinate that has been on the job for some period of time, they have mastered the basics but are still learning the nuances. The most appropriate approach is participative. This allows the person to participate in solving the problem based on their knowledge and gives you an opportunity to see how well they are developing.
- Context: A major sales lead comes in which represents an excellent opportunity. Individual: Your most seasoned sales person who closes a high percentage of his/her business and takes great initiative. The most appropriate approach may be laissez-faire. You don't want to hover over or stymie this individual's performance.
- Just to put a point on this let's consider the last example. Given the same experienced individual sitting at their desk, you discover the building is on fire. You wouldn't casually stroll in and mention the building is on fire. The context would dictate that you use a directive approach and tell them to get out of the office.
So adapting our approach to consider the context and individual we are working with is important in developing and leading a staff.