According to Ken Blanchard’s theory of leadership, there exist four different types of employees, each requiring a different style of leadership. Blanchard calls it “situational leadership” and its goal is to increase the frequency and quality of conversations leaders are having with their protegés. Effective leadership (and by extension, management) is not about telling employees what to do, it’s about having useful conversations that are focused on who that employee is, what tasks they’re doing exactly in the office, and what tools they may need in order to get the job done in the most effective way. The four types of employees each require a unique approach to these conversations.
The “Low Competence, High Commitment” Employee: This employee is possibly new to the workforce or returning after a long hiatus. Perhaps she has recently embarked on a career change. This employee has little on-the-job experience but also a real enthusiasm to learn and do a great job. She needs to be directed. She needs to be told what to do in plain language, including the how, the when and the why. Do not overlook basic skills like organising (the desk, the calendar, and the workload), especially if this employee does not have a formal education. Systems should be put in place for ensuring the work gets done, while also allowing the new employee to track her performance.
The “Some Competence, Low Commitment” Employee: This one is also lacking in the skills department, although he may or may not be aware of it himself. Likely he does not know what he is doing on the job and has little or no desire to actually succeed at it. Short of firing him on the spot, your best bet is to coach him, give him direction in his work and provide support for all of his daily activities. His self-esteem is low, which explains the lack of desire to succeed. He needs to be inspired from the ground up. Restore his commitment to the job by involving him in the decision-making progress. Before you invest that time, however, explain where things have gone wrong and ask for an explanation. There may be something happening in the office that you are unaware of. Something at home, perhaps. Be compassionate but lay down the law; explain that things have to change.
The “High Competence, Variable Commitment” Employee: This employee is competent but needy. He knows exactly what he is doing and he does the job spectacularly if he feels like it, but perhaps not all the time. You get glimpses of his impressive capabilities, though he does not always bother to put them in action. He must be given regular encouragement and strong support. You must recognise when he has completed a task with a certain flair and encourage a similar style of work. Communication is paramount with this one. Track his progress with precision and discuss it with him regularly.
The “High Competence, High Commitment” Employee: This employee is the main event; she’s the one every employer hopes to find and she is the reason HR teams go through six round of hiring and eight rounds of salary negotiation to get her. You can delegate freely and be confident the job will get done. She can be trusted with important projects because she delivers results consistently and on time. Don’t hover over her shoulder. Ask her what style of direction she prefers. Does she like to have daily one-on-one meetings? Does she prefer email check-ins? Would she be more productive working from home? Make sure she’s happy because she otherwise she will not stay at the job for long. Make her career development your priority.
Blanchard reminds us how important it is that employees know about your management/leadership philosophy. Rather than wondering, “Why doesn’t my boss ever contact me anymore?,” the employee should know this is a sign that you are confident in his work and understand his ability to work independently. In order for situational leadership to be effective, all employees must understand the theory. Leadership should be done with the employee and not at them.
Amy Knapp is a business blogger based in Sydney, AUS, writing regularly for InsideTrak. Educated in Law and the Fine Arts, her work champions the marriage of the creative and the corporate. Follow her on Twitter @JoyofWords.