A single leadership style does not fit every situation, but change with care

2017-10-09 10:30:59



Choosing the right leadership style for each situation can be difficult. For example, you need to get the balance correct between putting too much or too little emphasis on achieving objectives and/or the needs of individuals in a given situation and challenging or supporting an individual too much or too little! 

Whatever leadership style you select has an impact on the performance of your staff and work colleagues. 


The prevailing leadership styles can range from leaders being highly challenging to being highly supportive of employees. The behaviours of the leaders who have a challenging approach to working with their colleagues include: (1) Agreeing (or setting) objectives or targets that stretch people, (2) Holding each person, clearly and consistently, accountable for achieving his or her objectives and results, (3) Challenging unacceptable behaviour, language or performance promptly when it occurs. 

The behaviours of the leaders who have a supportive approach to working with their colleagues include: (1) Spending time getting to know people individually and building a close working relationship with each of them, (2) Praising people for doing a good job, (3) Recognising and helping people to solve any problems they’re experiencing in performing their jobs.

During a typical workday, you may find that you experience situations in which you need to modify your style or approach in order to place: (1) Equal emphasis on achieving objectives and people’s needs, (2) More emphasis on achieving objectives, (3) More emphasis on people as individuals and their needs during the situation.


Appropriate style
In this section, you find out how to choose appropriate leadership styles that work for you and your colleagues. 


Being true to yourself
Your work colleagues expect you to act with integrity. People generally have difficulty coping with a leader who acts inconsistently, for example, by displaying large, apparently irrational, swings in behaviour. For instance, if the members of your team normally see you as being approachable, but you’re occasionally brusque with them when you feel under pressure, they don’t know how to respond to your changes in behaviour. 

You confuse people if you act inconsistently by changing your behaviour without explanation and if you change your mind about work priorities, standards of work and so on.

Make a conscious decision to modify your leadership style or approach based on the needs of each situation but also ensure that you remain consistent by being authentic and by staying focused on the purpose of your job.

Clarity is vital in this aim and helps you get your values clear and helps you clarify the purpose of your job. 

Maintain your integrity by ensuring that how you act and behave with your work colleagues are always consistent with your values, while modifying your leadership style to reflect your work priorities and to meet the needs, motives, commitment, skills and so on of each individual. 


Assess first, choose second 
Your personal preferred or natural leadership style may cause you typically to adopt a certain approach to working with your colleagues, perhaps tending to be more supportive or more challenging. When deciding whether to modify your natural style or approach to dealing with different situations, consider the needs or requirements of each situation first before you decide how to modify your style.


The first step to assessing your approach to dealing with each situation is to assess yourself: for example, how your current work demands, emotional state and so on are affecting your approach to the situation and/or the people involved. 

The other needs or requirements that, perhaps, you can consider include: 
Work priorities such as the importance of tasks and the urgency to complete them. 
Needs of the people involved such as their personal needs, their desire to understand, their preferred approach to being led or managed and so on. 


Focusing on outcomes 
Focus on clarifying the outcomes that you want to achieve in assessing your approach to any given situation. The questions listed below may be relevant for you to ask yourself to clarify the outcomes that guide you in modifying your leadership style and adopting an appropriate approach to a given situation. You don’t need to ask all or even most of the questions, unless the situation is a significant event such as a major reorganisation of the work of your team:

‘What work objective or result do I want to achieve?’ Am I absolutely clear in my own mind about what I want to achieve and can I articulate this objective clearly? 

‘To what extent do I need to enthuse people?’ Should I be really enthusiastic and upbeat or adopt a quieter approach in explaining the importance of this work? 

‘What are the individual and/or collective needs of members of my team that I need them to fulfil with regard to the subject that I want to discuss with them?’ How clear am I about the interests, needs, preferences and so on of each person and how am I going to address these?

‘Do I need to sustain the current levels of enthusiasm and commitment?’ How will the news that I need to share affect each person? 

‘To what extent do I need to raise the bar regarding standards of performance or behaviour?’ Do I need to be more challenging or supportive in working with each person to get the best out of them in this situation? 

‘What are the consequences of me adopting the wrong approach to this situation?’ Could I make the situation worse if I choose the wrong approach?


Excelling through trial and error 
You need to work continually on enhancing your skills in modifying your leadership style to suit the needs of different situations by treating all situations as opportunities to expand your knowledge and experience. Use the following techniques to learn through trial and error: 

Step outside of your comfort zone and become more comfortable at being uncomfortable when challenging or supporting — depending on your natural style — your colleagues. 

Become more self-aware and sensitive in order to notice how you impact on your work colleagues through switching on your senses. 

Reflect on your experiences by using learning logs. 


DACA principle
There are four steps leaders can use to alter their leadership style, according to Jeff Boss, a coach on adaptive leadership and advisor to the US Navy SEAL. It’s called DACA principle
1. Detect. The first step to changing your leadership style is to identify why a change needs to take place. By developing a better understanding of their capabilities and listening to input from stakeholder, such as your team members, leaders can discern what changes they need to make. Boss says, “If you want to calibrate the most effective way to deliver results, take the time to let every situation unravel to better understand the situational dynamics.”  

2. Adapt. Completing the detect step is vital to moving on to the second step, which is to adapt and “have a flexible mindset”. This step requires you to improvise on a situational basis. However, this step can be extremely difficult because many people “are anything but flexible in their ways,” according to Boss.

3. Choose. This step requires making a firm decision about which leadership style to use. You can pick out the best leadership style for the situation by answering a course of questions. Boss recommends asking the following questions: What objective am I trying to achieve? What objective are we (the organisation) trying to achieve? What and who will be impacted the most? Is this impact in accordance with our intent?

4. Adopt. Once a leadership style is chosen, the act of implementing the style must occur. “Adopting a new leadership style into your repertoire allows you to call upon that style and its associated skills at any time and under any circumstance,” says Boss.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on 

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