When the Situation Calls for it 

Lead Your Team

October 2022

Volume 14, Issue 10

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Don’t you wish you could clone a few of your team members? You know the ones - able, willing, confident, and competent. It sounds like a leader’s ultimate dream – everyone is a 10. Yet, here you are, with a mix of newbies, high-performers, and everything in between.

Take Tyler, for example. He is your newbie tech/nurse. While he may be an enthusiastic new hire, he is inexperienced and requires supervision. Then there is Alex. She has the skills to perform her job, but a few setbacks have discouraged her. Recently promoted to lead CSR, Matt is willing to take the lead but doesn’t feel confident making tough decisions. Finally, you have Jan, to whom you delegated inventory duties (see September's newsletter on delegating HERE). As the practice manager, you are responsible for leading each of them in job performance and growth. Some are responding to your leadership, and others are not – what is going on?

It is easy to point fingers and blame the individual when they don’t respond to your leadership efforts. But when you point the finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you. How do you lead team members with different levels of performance readiness levels? The answer may be your leadership style.

While there is no single good or bad leadership style, there are times when one style is better than another. Let’s look at the Situational Leadership model to address the team members described above.

Situational leadership calls for you, the leader, to modify your style based on each team member's developmental stage, skill level, and situation. It is not a one-size-fits-all style but rather one that adapts to meet the needs of others. The four styles of leadership in the model are directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. Let’s see where these apply to the team.

Tyler is new to the job. He needs clearly defined goals, structure, direction, and regular progress checks. In this situation, you must use the directing style – i.e., close supervision, step-by-step guidance, telling them their duties and responsibilities, and ensuring they make no mistakes.   

Matt was just promoted to a lead position. You may think you delegated the role but take a closer look at Matt's needs. The buck stops with him when there is a problem on the CSR team, and he doubts his ability to make tough decisions. Coach him as he experiences different situations, providing ample opportunities to discuss options and debrief after he addresses challenging situations to help him lead with authority and heart.

Alex took on more responsibilities but is now starting to doubt herself due to a few setbacks. She has the skills but lacks confidence, so you need to support her. Listen to her concerns, encourage her, help her identify the issues causing her to question her abilities, and generate viable solutions.

Jan is working on mastering inventory. You go over the job description and turn over control to Jan. Delegating inventory management means you empower Jan to make decisions and trust him to work without supervision (avoiding the urge to review his every order).

Note that each situation is fluid. There may be a point where Jan makes some bad decisions, and directing, or coaching is required. Matt will gain experience and confidence and no longer need much coaching. Tyler will grow beyond close supervision and may even be the person you delegate a task to. No one will need the same leadership style throughout their employment.

Continuing to use the directing style on Tyler can lead to resentment and lower his motivation to grow and take on more responsibilities. Likewise, constantly delegating to the same person can cause burnout and affect the motivation of others on the team. All the styles have ideal times when to use them, which brings up the question – how will you know which style to use and when?

Colin Powell (U.S. General and former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and Secretary of State) says, "I am a situational leader, and I adjust my style, within limits, to the strengths and weaknesses of my subordinates." The first step is to analyze the performance and readiness of the team member. Do they lack experience or necessary skills? Perhaps they need a little assistance. Assess their level of task knowledge, experience, skill, ability, and technical expertise. Realize that you can't interact with all team members in the same manner. Next, adapt your leadership style based on that assessment and their situation.

Situational leadership has pros and cons, just like any other leadership style. Although the basic tenets are easy enough to understand, the demand for flexibility rests entirely on your shoulders. You lead in the moment, directing one time and supporting another, which may confuse the team. In addition, it requires you to "read" your team members and identify their level of motivation, work experience, and skill sets. Although paying more attention to the team is beneficial, misreading a person and using the wrong style can worsen the situation. Lastly, constantly reevaluating and adjusting your leadership style takes more time and effort - forcing you to use skills you may not be comfortable using.

Part of being a situational leader is developing the skills you need to perform each style - such as how to

       Assess a person’s strengths and weaknesses, motivation, and        confidence

       Motivate and empower


       Delegate responsibilities

       Build trust

       Clarify expectations

       Identify and nurture talent

       Problem solve

       Communicate effectively

Being a good leader involves working on yourself and developing the skills needed to lead your team. Just as your team looks to you for coaching and support, you need the same for developing your leadership skills. Find a leadership mentor, take a leadership course, or attend a conference track on leadership. Understand your leadership style and identify areas where you can improve.

Adapting your leadership style requires insight into the needs of team members and flexibility to move from one style to another. It requires you to gain team members' trust and confidence. Ultimately, it allows you to best serve others by being flexible to meet them where they are to help them grow in their role.

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