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Situational Leadership? I Thought Being “Consistent” with Everyone was the Key?

Let’s talk “leadership.”  Here’s a situation for you.  At the end of the scenario, there are four choices.  Select the one you think is most appropriate.

You lead the organization’s safety efforts.  Andrea from one of your production lines has just been appointed to the safety committee.  She is excited about this new opportunity and wants to be involved right away.  She has lots of ideas of what the committee could be helping employees with.  In fact, she has already asked to put together a "Safety Chat” …a brief safety talk/training about a specific subject at the beginning of a shift. These talks are typically a brief (2-5 minutes) interactive meeting on something  safety related, to remind employees before they go to work, the importance of being safe.  With winter approaching, she thinks doing one on “Slips, Trips and Falls” would be appropriate.  You agree.

Unfortunately, she has no background in how to put together one of these training “talks” …she doesn’t know where to start.  But she believes she’s a “quick learner” if someone spends some time with her.

You should:

  1. Be available to answer the committee member’s questions and to offer support but avoid telling her how to put the talk/training together. Help her to examine what resources are available to her to learn how to do the agenda, provide the appropriate tips on the subject, etc.  Reassure her that she’ll master the skill needed to do a “Safety Chat” in no time.
  2. Ask your committee member to figure it out for herself, since there are a lot of good books and online resources available on safety. Touch base with her in a couple of weeks to see how things are going.
  3. Teach your committee member how to put together the “Safety Chat.” Share a template for the meeting with talking points on the topics along with questions to ask.  Give her a link to a Web-based tutorial on outlining a “Safety Chat” meeting.  Have her practice her first “Safety Chat" with you.  Then, meet with her to debrief her first “Safety Chat” with the work team she’s a part of. 
  4. Give your committee member some specific pointers on putting together a “Safety Chat” and share some examples of outlines. Tell her that you know she can do a good job.  Listen to her concerns and help her work through her first “Safety Chat” outline.  Ask her what she thinks her next steps should be and agree to meet with her in the next week.

Remember, she looks like an “adult,” she sounds like an “adult,” she must be an “adult”!  So, you probably don’t have to help her much, right?  You don’t want to be accused of being a “micro-manager” …it’s the world of empowerment!  Would you go with answer “B”?  WRONG!  Okay, what about answer “A”?  You’re getting warmer!  Let’s cut to chase…correct answer is “C”!  If you’re thinking that’s too much “hand holding” don’t look at the necessary “direction” she needs as “hand holding.”  It’s just that…direction.  She’s not done this before…she has ideas…she wants to learn…but needs guidance, direction, training, role modeling…whatever you want to call it.

As a leader of people, we want to develop people by providing effective leadership, over time, so that they can reach their highest level of performance.  Development level is a combination of two factors—competence and commitment.

  • Competence is the knowledge and skills an individual brings to a goal or task. Competence is best determined by demonstrated performance…as I say, “hard evidence.” I need to see it or hear from a reliable source that they have seen it, before I know the person has it and to what degree they have the competence.  It can, however, be developed, over time, with appropriate direction and support. Competence is gained through formal education, on-the-job training, coaching, and experience.
  •  Commitment is a combination of an individual’s motivation and confidence on a goal or task. Motivation is the level of interest and enthusiasm a person has for doing a particular job. Interest and enthusiasm are exhibited behaviorally through animation, energy levels, and verbal cues. Confidence is characterized by a person’s self-assuredness. It is the extent to which a person trusts his or her own ability to do the goal or task. If either motivation or confidence is low or lacking, commitment as a whole is considered low.

When you put these two together…competence and commitment…you have what Ken Blanchard calls Development Level 1—the Enthusiastic Beginner (low competence, high commitment), Development Level 2—the Disillusioned Learner (low to some competence, low commitment), Development Level 3—the Capable, but Cautious Performer (moderate to high competence/variable commitment), and Development Level 4—the Self-Reliant Achiever (high competence/ high commitment) .  Doesn’t that just sound good…Self-Reliant Achiever?  Wouldn’t you want everyone to be at that level, on everything they are working on?!  Your role is to determine which of these development levels your own employees are, on EACH of their goals/tasks…and then determine what leadership behavior you need to provide them, and to what degree you provide that behavior.

Going back to Andrea…she’s Development Level 1—the Enthusiastic Beginner.  On new tasks where they have little, if any, prior experience, most individuals are enthusiastic and ready to learn (D1). Descriptors for a D1 are ... • Hopeful • Optimistic • Inexperienced • Eager • Curious • Excited • New/unskilled • Enthusiastic.

As you can guess, Andrea needs you to provide specific instructions about what and how goals or tasks will be accomplished.  You also need to closely supervise the individual’s performance, ensuring she follows your instructions and guidance, and makes progress on the goal/task.  Feedback should be provided frequently.  Ken Blanchard refers to this leadership style as S1—Directing.  Descriptors for S1 are ... • Defining • Teaching/showing and telling how • Planning/prioritizing • Checking/monitoring • Orienting • Giving feedback.  Andrea will NOT feel she’s being micro-managed, but rather set up for success!

Keep Ken Blanchard’s quote in mind, as you think about your role as a leader…

“I think people want to be magnificent. It is the job of the leader to bring out that magnificence in people and to create an environment where they feel safe and supported and ready to do the best job possible in accomplishing key goals. This responsibility is a sacred trust that should not be violated. The opportunity to guide others to their fullest potential is an honor and one that should not be taken lightly. As leaders, we hold the lives of others in our hands. These hands need to be gentle and caring and always available for support.”     —Ken Blanchard

Max Gage is a Senior Facilitator at ATW Training Solutions.  She can be reached at .  To discover more about “Situational Leadership,” read Ken Blanchard’s book, “Leadership and the One Minute Manager” or contact ATW Training Solutions at or call (515) 727-0731.

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