“Different Strokes for different folks,” is one of the first themes that will welcome you when you read the book, Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard.
The book discusses the concept of the “Situational Leadership” where the leader must have three skills: diagnosis, flexibility, and partnering for performance.
Situational Leadership is a distinct approach to leadership. A situational leader does not adhere to only one style of leadership in his way of dealing with people. Instead, he adjusts his leadership style according to the situation. Different situations means different levels of the competence and commitment of the individuals.
For years I have believed that if I want to be a good leader, I need to choose my preferred style and then develop it. Now I realize that I need to learn and develop different styles so I will be able to adjust to the need of the situation.
Autocratic vs Democratic
My father was a military. So I grew up in his highly militaristic, overly directive, domineering, and excessively commanding, autocratic approach to leadership. For yeas I was impressed. I thought that was the best style of leadership. Later I realized that I believed it was the best because it was the only style I was familiar with.
After I graduated from college, I got involved in small business. My trainings, seminars, and my mentors introduced me to a more democratic way of leadership. I learned to motivate people by letting them participate in some of the leadership roles. Empowerment is the key, supportive style is vital. During those years I shifted my allegiance from the autocratic to democratic style of leadership. I came to conclude that democratic is better than autocratic; support and empowerment is more needed than directions.
After almost another decade of continuous learning, I came across with this concept of situational leadership. Here, I have learned that in some situations, autocratic is the best approach—but not always. In some circumstances, democratic is the best—also not always.
Another few more years this idea was fortified by learning that it is dangerous to become democratic in a chaotic environment. Likewise, it becomes ineffective to use a militaristic, autocratic style during peaceful situations. Normally we apply democracy in a peaceful society; and we shift to iron-fist autocratic approach during civil wars and other chaotic conditions. We don’t mismatch the style with the need of the society.
If you are going to ask me, “Which is a better leadership style, democratic or autocratic?” my answer would be another question, “What is the current situation of the people? Because both styles are better, depending on the situation.”
No one leadership style will fit in all situations: we need to be flexible.
According to the Leadership and the One Minute Manager there are four basic styles that come from the combination of directive (autocratic) and supportive (democratic) styles: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating.
Directing Style is more on direction than support. Coaching style has a balanced blend of directive and supportive behaviors. Supporting style has more supportive approach than direction. Delegating style is low both in direction and support.
If we mismatch, let’s say, if we delegate a task to an incompetent person, most likely, he will fail. If we give too much direction to an experienced staff, he will most likely be irritated.
The best approach is to match the style of our leadership to the need of the person we are leading—that is, we adjust to his development level. That is the flexibility of a situational leader: the ability to adjust his leadership style to the growth of his men.
That brings us to another necessary skill in leadership: diagnosis.