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Situational leadership: Applying different approaches for different employees

Insight Article - May 16, 2016

Leadership Development

Shannon Geis

It’s easy to lump all of your employees together and treat them the same way, but that’s not the best approach for a productive team, according to Susan Murphy, MBA, PhD, organizational consultant, Business Consultants Group, Rancho Mirage, Calif. Murphy advises tailoring your leadership approach to each employee, depending on what he or she needs and what that person’s skill level is. The approach is outlined in the situational leadership model that was created by Paul Hersey, PhD, and Kenneth Blanchard, PhD, and recommends leadership styles based on the needs of the employee rather than the preference of the manager.

“Your team members will respond better to leaders who have adjusted their approach to suit the individuals they supervise and situations in which they find themselves,” Murphy writes in her book, Maximizing Performance Management. “In fact, you may have to override your preferred management style because it simply is not the style the team member deserves.”

Four Leadership Styles

The model includes four main leadership styles that effective leaders can move between depending on the employee and the situation:

  1. Directing: This is the most controlling style, which is best suited for new employees or those who need more specific directions, as well as situations in which exact instruction is necessary.
  2. Coaching: This style employs some direction, but allows for more two-way communication between manager and employee. A coaching manager will ask for opinions, but retain control over decision making.
  3. Supporting: This style of management gives an employee more control over his or her work with the manager playing a secondary role and only giving input if asked.
  4. Delegating: This is the most hands-off style of management and works best with team members who are fully competent and committed to their tasks. Managers give team members responsibility without input or direct supervision.

“Many healthcare leaders are often most comfortable with the middle two styles – coaching and supporting,” which are the most collaborative and emphasize a leader’s relationship with the team member, Murphy writes. However, she encourages managers to consider being more directive in situations where specific results are expected and more delegating when they have confidence in their team and results are flexible.

Although a new employee might need a directive leadership style at first, ideally you will be able to change your style over time. The key is to match the leadership style to a team member and then adjust accordingly. “Your appropriate guidance increases productivity, performance and morale all around,” Murphy explains.

If you want to groom employees for future leadership roles try the delegating style, which allows team members to step up and make decisions and frees up more of your time to handle other duties and accomplish additional goals, Murphy says. It also keeps team members engaged and fosters a feeling of involvement as long as you’ve shared responsibility for creating a successful department and reaching goals. If you haven’t taken this additional step, “you can make your team members feel unimportant, apathetic and unengaged,” writes Murphy.

Learn more about this model in Murphy’s book, Maximizing Performance Management.

About the Author

Shannon Geis
Shannon Geis
Staff Writer/Editor MGMA

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