When I answered a leadership questionnaire to determine what my primary leadership style is, I was not surprised by the discovery. The result said my leadership style is Coaching. This is good because I currently do a lot of coaching and mentoring. But I am also very much aware that leadership style is highly situational. How many of you are aware of the theory of Situational Leadership?
Situational Leadership is all about flexibility and adaptability. It is not based on a specific skill of the leader. Instead, the leader modifies the style of leadership to suit the requirements of the situation. A situational leader is able to move from one leadership style to another to meet the changing needs of an organization and its stakeholders. These leaders have the insight to understand when to change their management style and what leadership strategy fits each new paradigm.
Daniel Goleman, the author of the popular 1995 book Emotional Intelligence defines six styles within Situational Leadership.
Coaching leaders work on an individual’s career skills as well as personal development skills. This type of leadership is very well suited when you have individuals who know their limitations and are willing to change. Currently, I am coaching a number of students from my alma mater in English communication. I would say that the students are not always aware of their limitations, but are very willing to learn.
Pacesetting leaders set very high expectations for their followers who are highly self-motivated. The leader leads by example. I have used this style with a number of my team members who were outstanding in their abilities. All I had to do was to let them observe what I do. But I had to watch out that this type of leadership did not lead to burnout. There is a virtuous cycle here because the followers are so exceptional that the leader cannot help but reciprocate the following, and this leads to the leader becoming better.
Democratic leaders are those who are big on consensus. As the name implies, they like to give their followers the opportunity to participate in almost all decision making. When conditions are right, followers can grow to become flexible and responsible. When you have tight deadlines and or when you have to make spot decisions, this is probably not the best style to use. I have seen style work well in my nonprofit group.
Affiliative leaders put their employees first. This style is used when the team needs encouragement, and it works well when morale is very low. Using praise and being helpful, the leader can build up the team’s confidence. There is a risk of poor performance at the start. I have used this style of leadership when layoffs were looming in my company where I was the head of the software engineering group.
Authoritative leaders are those who are very good at analyzing problems and identifying challenges. When the organization needs a strong focus and help stop the aimless wandering, this style is good. The authoritative leader is good at helping the followers figure out what needs to be done. I have used this often when I find meetings starting to lose focus and the intent of the meeting is forgotten in some discussions.
Coercive leaders, tell their subordinates what to do. They have a very clear vision of the target and how to reach it. This style is good in disasters or if an organization requires a major overhaul. Take the case of the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern during the coronavirus pandemic. She led her country to limit the spread of the virus by gently coercing them to adopt lock-down measures.
Margaret Wheatley, an American writer, and management consultant who studies organizational behavior said, “Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.” Next time you are in a leading role, ask yourself what situational leadership style you should be using.
Note: I delivered a variation of this in a speech to my Toastmasters club.