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Month: October 2015

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Fluid Leadership

It has been a relatively long break since my last post but these are exciting (and busy!) times. I recently watched Kungfu Panda 3, it was an interesting and entertaining animated movie about a Panda who had forgotten what it was like to be a Panda.  In one particular scene, “Po” (aka. The “Dragon Warrior”) had to learn how to travel down a hill by rolling like a Panda. As you might imagine, it was a painful (and hilarious!) scene for “The Dragon Warrior”  who ended up bruised and battered on his first bumpy attempt!

Rolling Pandas; What does it mean for us?

Like a Panda rolling comfortably down a hillside, highly effective leaders must be able to recognise and adapt quickly to changes in their environment or risk becoming battered and bruised! 

An interesting Leadership Theory known as the “Path-Goal Leadership” theory was developed in 1971 by Robert House. This theory of leadership was special in a way that it recognised the need for an effective leader to “change with the times”.

Instead of type-casting leadership, House preferred to view leadership as an adaptable skill which required strategic application and adaptability to its environment. This meant that there was no longer any one “best” type of leadership but effective leaders should be able to employ the most suitable “style” to lead based on their followers and the circumstance.  The theory identified 4 “styles” of leadership which could be employed by an effective leader;

(i) Directive Style: (“What and how I want you to do…“)
This is where you need to provide clear and detailed instructions including expectations and timelines.  Normally happens when your team comprises of relatively low skilled and workers who may not be able to work independently very effectively.Your tasks are complex and are not sufficiently routine for your team to master effectively without your constant supervision. An example is when you have to manage a group of young interns to deliver customer service at the restaurant or new trainees working in a workshop. You need to be very specific with your instructions and expectations in order for them to understand and feel confident enough to work.

(ii) Achievement-Oriented Style: (“How high do I need you to jump…“)
This is when you set stretch goals to challenge your team. You would probably be working with a high-performance team who can deliver great results and would probably be bored or even apathetic to you (and your leadership) if they feel that you are not able to provide them with sufficient level of challenge. Your team would be quite happy to be left to their own devices, and they would already be an effective and productive contributor. As a result, the primary expectation from them is for you to be able to provide them with meaningful challenges. An example of this is when you are working with a team of brilliant young scientists in a R&D laboratory to develop a cure for malaria. You should probably never need to tell them how to go about doing their work but you might want to look at how you can keep setting challenging goals for them.

(iii) Participative Style: (“What do you think…?“)
This happens in very similar settings to the earlier Achievement-Oriented style. Again, your team would already be highly effective and competent individuals and may even already be working effectively as a team. In this situation, the expectation is for the leadership to engage and involve the team in making important decisions for the team. Drawing on motivational theories, you would need to be able to identify when your team members start to value respect and power over achievement.

Continuing with the earlier example, this is when instead of just young brilliant minds, you are working with a team of brilliant yet highly experienced scientists who may have their own thoughts on how the research should proceed. You will probably fare well if you are able to constantly engage them for major decisions about the work.

(iv) Supportive Style: (“How are you feeling…?“)
This style of leadership is most useful for situations whereby the nature of work is simple and routine. You know that your team is able to master the tasks but they are still dependent on you for motivation and support. Left to their own devices, they can still accomplish the tasks but may choose not to.

An example would be when you have to work with seasoned frontline staff who may be subject to consistent stress and pressure from their clients. Whilst they may be able to manage the clients effectively, they will constantly turn to you for support and motivation.  This is when you have to start providing the listening ear and emotional support.

The above 4 styles of leadership represent different responses to the people and tasks which a leader may be faced with. It is important to note that there is no one “best” style but rather, effective leaders need to be able to adapt their style to the surrounding people and environment.

As an effective leader, you must exercise “fluid leadership” which allows you to adapt quickly and effectively to the circumstances you face. A highly effective team can quickly degenerate into mess when they are suddenly faced with an unfamiliar circumstance and this is when you might be required to flow from a “Participative style” to a “Directive Style” in order to overcome the challenge. However, once the team has demonstrated that they have and can overcome the challenge, you must be able to flow right back into the “Participative Style” again.

When you meet with your team in the morning, do you first ask how they are feeling? Or do you check on the work progress immediately? By simply being aware of what questions you ask in the morning, you can easily identify what style of leadership you are employing. Are you rolling comfortably down that hillside, or are you breaking your back with every bounce down that slope?

Good luck and have fun leading!

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