Leading and Managing Situationally: Five Critical Questions Situational Leaders Always Ask

AustralLeveragesIntergraph_640x365During a leadership training course full of mid-level supervisors who worked in a large industrial complex with over 11,000 employees, I was explaining the strategic and tactical importance of leadership that paid attention to the needs and aspirations of direct reports. One supervisor raised his hand and made the following statement, “I don’t have time to pay attention to the commitment and competency levels of my reports. They are paid to do their jobs, they are expected to execute their job tasks, and my responsibility is to make sure our team and department get the work delivered on time!”

Hundreds, if not thousands, of leaders and managers could certainly echo this sentiment. That statement points to four perennial problems in the work of management and leadership:

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Are You a Soft Skills Leader, a Hard Skills Leader, or Both?

woman-among-men-crop-600x338Whether in the university classroom or working with business clients in the field, I find the debate continues to rage (with no end in sight). The question driving this debate focuses on the importance of soft skills versus hard skills. There will be those who believe that the harder skills, employed by leaders focused on task accomplishment and getting work “out the door,” are more important than leaders focused on empowering people and building relationships as a necessary pre- condition to accomplishing the work of the organization. What a leader believes will inform the way she interacts with the team and what she, and the team, will produce.

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Think You’re A Born Leader? Think Again!

In the early 20th century leadership researchers believed they could discover the traits that made great leaders. At this time the “great man” theory of leadership dominated conversations about “who” was a leader. This theory suggested that men and women (mostly men) were leaders “out of the womb.”

This meant that those truly great leaders had everything they needed within them. Whether blood line, royalty, or family history, these “gifted” human beings needed only time combined with proper care and feeding to bring these nascent traits and royalty to full expression. At the right time, they would step seamlessly and effortlessly into leadership roles and deliver extraordinary results.

The research on traits and leadership took off as we moved deeper into the 20th century. Overall, the research yielded the following conclusion: there is no consistent collection of traits that all leaders share in common.

To date, no “trait algorithm” has been discovered that consistently points to the existence of innate leadership capacity or ability across genders, ages, or cultures. However, what trait research did uncover was a broad list of traits that many leaders “tended” to exhibit (see Kirkpatrick & Lock, 1991; Lord, DeVader, & Alliger, 1986; Mann, 1959; ; Stogdill, 1948, 1974; Zaccaro, Kemp, & Bader, 2004).

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