Now, more than ever, so much is beyond your control. You are a successful business leader, yet you have been dumped into a great wilderness. The landscape is unfamiliar and hostile, and there are no recognisable landmarks to help you choose the right path. It’s stressful, miserable, unfair. Your team feel it too and they are looking to you for help. Challenging as these times undoubtedly are, you still have total control of your leadership behaviours. Use the right leadership behaviours and you can unleash your team’s initiative, creativity, resourcefulness and confidence to confront and overcome today’s formidable challenges. Use the wrong ones and you may disempower, demoralise and disable the team. You can’t afford that so here are some tips to help you avoid it.
Ask yourself “How ready is this team member to do the task I’m giving them?
Readiness is a combination of skills and motivation or confidence. Understanding each team and/or member readiness to do a task is fundamental to choosing the right leadership behaviour. Be extra careful when thinking about their motivation/confidence. People who have been on furlough, or who are returning to the office after working from home, may experience a loss of confidence compared to how they were before. This may make them hesitant and reluctant and or need to get back into the “groove”
Aim for the right balance of directing and supporting behaviour
You need to use more directing behaviour when people don’t have the skills to do the task – if it’s a task they have never done before, for example. Directing behaviours make explicit what the team member has to do, how to do it, when to do it, the standard of performance you need and when they have to report back. You’ll usually need to supervise them closely. With too little direction, people become frustrated, disheartened and produce only a fraction of what they are capable of. Skilled people who are lacking confidence need your support to keep them motivated and to enable them to overcome obstacles. Supporting behaviours include encouragement, reassurance and coaching (to help them figure it out for themselves). With too much direction, high performers will feel that they are overmanaged by a control freak who doesn’t trust them. Motivation and productivity will nosedive.
Take calculated risks
When is somebody skilled enough for you to reduce direction? When is somebody confident enough that they don’t need so much support from you? For your team members to grow, you have to let go. Not completely: bit by bit. As people become more proficient, they’ll probably ask fewer questions, make fewer mistakes and complete the task faster. When they do ask questions, you’ll ask them to come up with their own solutions and evaluate different options rather than just telling them what to do. When this happens, reduce the frequency of reporting back. People grow when they find their own solutions. If it turns out you eased off too soon, simply step up the support or direction a little. Then try again...
Watch out for your natural bias
All leaders have a preferred leadership style. Some prefer to direct because they feel happier when they tell people what to do. Others don’t like to give orders, but they are great supporters and coaches. Others can’t let their best performers just get on with it. But as we’ve seen, you need a range of styles to meet the different needs of your team members. Even if you have just one subordinate, their readiness level will vary from task to task, so you still need the flexibility to shift between styles quickly. Having a range of leadership styles to suit every situation, and the ability to shift between them, is the hallmark of a good leader. And it’s the one thing over which you have control in these most uncertain of times.