Leading Situationally Increases Employee Engagement

Leading Situationally Increases Employee Engagement
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Leading Situationally Increases Employee Engagement
The concept of leading situationally was described first in a model created by Dr. Paul Hersey and Dr. Ken Blanchard in 1969. The situational leadership approach asks leaders and managers to adapt their leadership style to the specific situation and readiness of their followers.

The idea was revolutionary for new manager training. No longer was there just one way to lead — whether autocratic, laissez-faire, servant, or transformational. Instead, leaders were asked to adapt their approach to be more or less supportive and more or less directive depending on the follower’s competence and commitment to the task at hand.

When leaders adapt their approach to what each person needs to be successful, there is a high correlation to increased employee engagement and performance. In fact, other than following up on employee engagement survey results, how leaders lead has the greatest impact on overall employee engagement and retention.

Why Leading Situationally Matters Today
There’s more pressure than ever for leaders to be effective at leading successful, diverse, remote, and ever-changing teams. But often, people leaders don’t have the skills to be the agile, adaptive leaders they need to be and struggle building meaningful connections with their people to drive consistent results.

It’s not for lack of trying or wanting to be great leaders. Research has shown that most leaders use one leadership style — so they don’t know how to unleash the potential of the individuals on their team. They need to learn how to lead situationally.

Backed by 40 years of research and an unmatched track record of results, the situational approach to leadership training helps leaders to give their people the right level support and direction at the right time.

Four Examples
Here are four examples of how leading situationally increases employee engagement in the workplace:

  • Eager Beginner (Low Competence + High Commitment)
    Let’s say you have a direct report who is confident and enthusiastic to learn but is new to the task. The model recommends that you manage the situation by having High Directive and Low Supportive behavior. 

    That means demonstrating and telling them how to do the task correctly, monitoring their attempts, and giving frequent and constructive feedback.
  • Disenchanted Learner (Low Competence + Low Commitment)
    When you have a team member who has little to no experience with the task and whose commitment is shaky, leaders need to manage the situation by having High Directive and High Supportive behavior. 

    That means explaining the work, explicitly redirecting when they are off track, and offering encouragement and praise as they progress.
  • Talented but Wary Performer (High Competence + Low Commitment)
    When you have a capable but cautious team member, leaders need to manage the situation by having Low Directive and High Supportive behavior. 

    That means asking good questions, actively listening, providing encouragement, and collaborating where it makes sense to help get the job done.
  • Autonomous High Performer (High Competence + High Commitment)
    With a direct report who is highly competent and committed to the task, leaders need to manage the situation by having Low Directive and Low Supportive behavior.

    That means leaders should provide all the resources needed to empower and trust the worker to achieve the desired results.  To ensure that you engage and retain this high performer, acknowledge their good work and provide new challenges and opportunities for growth whenever possible.

In each of the examples above, the manager meets the worker where they are. The approach to leadership is tailored to the situation and the needs of the individual. Instead of one size fits all, the manager thoughtfully considers the follower’s position in terms of capability, confidence, experience, and attitude.

A manager who invests time in assessing each follower’s competence, attitude, and readiness shows that they care, not only about performance, but also about meeting the needs of their people. Especially in these uncertain times, employees are apt to feel isolated, unsupported, and disconnected from their jobs and their teams. Checking in regularly with your employees with your interest and support is a powerful way to keep them focused and engaged.

Our recent survey of over half a million employees from more than 8,000 organizations revealed that recognition is one of the top five drivers of employee engagement. Think of “recognition” as simply a way to pay individual attention to an employee.

The Bottom Line
The better you lead your direct reports according to their capabilities and their willingness to learn and perform, the better you will be able to engage, develop, and retain them.

To learn more about how leading situationally increases employee engagement, download 29 Ways to Build and Maintain Trust as a Leader

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