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What is Your Mission?

March 29, 2015
purpose Each of us as mere mortals, existing on a 4.5 billion year-old planet in a speck of planetary time, needs to have a sense of purpose and contribution to our lives. It connects to leadership. Without contribution and purpose, we risk travelling through our short lifetimes as hitchhikers on a gorgeous Earth.

During my six decades on this planet, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I need a sense of purpose and contribution; without these intertwined forces I feel adrift.

During my three decades with the Government of Canada, which started in 1982, I was happiest and felt the most full-filled when I knew that my work had substance, contributing to my organization’s mission. When I moved later into a management position, I felt even more energized when, after falling down a few times, I saw my team doing amazing stuff. Our clients loved our products and services.

My previous work in consumer lending, which began after university, lasted only two years. Realizing that finance companies were essentially ripping off people left me feeling dirty and confused. Plus, having to spend half my time collecting money, often from single moms whose deadbeat husbands had taken off, proved to be an exercise in observing human despair. I finally quit, all the while with a new baby girl, and went back to school to earn a Masters degree in economics. It was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

However, my public service career was not all roses. After almost two decades working in a small regional office, which served a region of almost 2,000 employees and where my team and I interacted regularly with the education system, companies and our provincial government colleagues, I moved to Ottawa in 2000.

Change Ahead Ottawa, Canada’s gorgeous capital, is a terrific place in which to raise a family, or to live if you’re unattached. But working in a federal government head office is an experience that leaves one feeling disconnected from reality, lacking any concrete sense of purpose and contribution.

I hit the eject button at the end of 2010, no longer wanting to be part of a dysfunctional culture. That culture has continued to deteriorate under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canada’s once internationally respected public service has become a sad spectacle, characterized by high levels of employee stress, lack of trust and respect, and political gamesmanship by the Harper government.

It’s about purpose and contribution in our lives. Work is but only one avenue where we may, if we’re lucky, attain it. I did okay for some 20 years in government.

Fortunately, I’ve always managed to maintain a strong sense of overall purpose and contribution in my life. Whether it’s been raising four terrific kids to adulthood and watching five grand children arrive; or volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross, the United Way or Scouts Canada; or returning to start playing the piano again after a 32 year absence, it’s about discovering what drives you forward and what makes you feel that you’re contributing to society.

Sunset For the past six years I’ve been blogging actively on leadership issues. I started blogging on a whim before I retired. I wanted to start something new, and because I’ve been writing professionally for 35 years I thought that blogging would be a good creative outlet to express myself. I never thought I’d stay with it this long, or create a readership from over 160 countries on six continents. That has been both inspiring and humbling.

So folks, find your mission in life. As a former undergrad classmate, Randy, said at the end of his valedictorian address on contribution to society at my graduation in 1978, “Leave a mark.”

Think of the power those three words reflect, especially if each of us truly attempted to find one way to make our world a better place.


We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.

Max DePree


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How Distorted is Your Leadership Lens?

March 22, 2015
DSCN0203 We all wear filters which affect how we perceive the world. Let’s call it our leadership lens.

No one is immune–even super smart people.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The challenge is for each of us to be fully aware of our filters and how they influence our leadership lens. Otherwise, our filters become so saturated that our view of the world becomes distorted, weakening our effectiveness as leaders.

Addressing how we perceive the world through our leadership lens helps make us more effective leaders because we’re able to remove the interference that can impedes our judgement. Let’s look at an example and a tool that can assist us in better understanding our leadership lens.

Mary grew up in a home where her father had strict views on women in the workplace. Men, in his view, were in charge of organizations, managed people and held public office. Women, in contrast, if they worked outside the home were in traditional roles, such as nurses, office assistants and teachers. Guys worked in the apprenticeship trades if they chose to, not women.

baby-boomer-depression-1 When finishing high school, Mary wanted to go to community college to study electronics, a three year program where graduates work as technologists. Her dad laughed at this notion, insisting that if she wanted to go to community college (as a university engineering grad he thought college was for dummies) that she study office administration. Her brothers agreed with their father.


Lacking confidence and confused, not only because of the lack of support from her family (her mom remained mute on the topic) but because of her high school guidance counselor who had tried to point her towards a career in the social sciences, Mary decided to work for a few years after she graduated.

During her four years of working in various service sector jobs, Mary encountered a number of managers, both men and women, who practiced top-down managing. Employees, in her mind, were pawns to a means to an end. Mary began to establish a jaded view of what management and leadership represented to her: top-down decision making, do-as-you-re told, no engagement of employees, and compliance if you wanted to stay out of trouble.

Eventually Mary returned to school, earning a business degree at the age of 27. It took a few months to get a job offer in her field. Unfortunately, she discovered during her first year that her boss expected more of her than her male teammates, though she noticed that her one female co-worker, who’d been with the company for several years, asserted herself by standing up to the boss. “How’s she able to do that?” Mary used to wonder.

Women with question mark After a year Mary decided to job-hunt, but took her time to research companies and their reputations on how they treated their employees. Six months later Mary left her employer to work with a small firm led by a female entrepreneur named Rebecca.

What had impressed Mary during her job interview was Rebecca’s warmth and interest in her background and aspirations. While a straight-shooter and demanding of her employees, Rebecca also believed in coaching to help them reach their full potential. During an informal coffee chat one afternoon, Mary shared her views on leadership, going back to when she was growing up to her four years working after high school to her recent first job as a new business grad. Rebecca listened intently, not saying a word as Mary spoke for half an hour.

“Okay,” Rebecca said once Mary finished sharing her story, “I have something to show you which will help you understand why you hold a certain mental image of what a leader looks like, and your perception of leadership that it’s about authority.

We all have filters, Mary, which start being formed when we’re young. As we go through school as youngsters; interact with our parents, siblings and friends; attend college; and then enter the workforce our filters continue to develop. If we have a major traumatic event in our lives this can strongly affect our filters. One of the results is how we engage with others when we’re in the workforce. If we’re given managerial responsibilities then these filters will have a major impact on how we lead others. In short, our personal leadership lens can become quite distorted.

What I’m talking about is what’s called Mental Models, the set of assumptions we’ve established over many years based on our personal life experiences. They affect how we see the world, and in turn interact with and lead others.”

Ladder_of_Inference Rebecca started to sketch on a sheet of paper as she talked. “A fellow by the name of Chris Argyris, a professor of psychology at Harvard, developed the concept of Mental Models and a tool called The Ladder of Inference. It’s a great tool to use to help people understand why and how they perceive the world as they do. Reflect back, Mary, on your upbringing, experiences in school and afterwards.

Briefly, here’s how the Ladder works.

On the first rung we capture data, as would a camera through its lens. This is our reality. We observe our parents, teachers, family friends, community leaders, etc.

From there we select data according to our experiences, any major events and emerging biases.

We then begin to assign meaning based on our interpretations of the second rung.

The meanings we’ve been forming cause us to develop assumptions.

Now, we’re beginning to draw our own conclusions as a result of our new assumptions.

Our conclusions lead us to adopt general beliefs about the world.

Finally, as individuals we decide to take action on our beliefs.”

At this point Rebecca leaned forward in her chair. “Mary, the key point to understand is that as a leader it’s vital for each of us to stop, pause and reflect on where we’re at in our leadership journey. Each of us needs to regularly revisit our assumptions and beliefs as they relate to others and society as a whole. If we allow ourselves to climb all the way to the top of the Ladder of Inference, then we’ve lost the ability to view the world in a more objective manner. Furthermore, it becomes that much more difficult to release those assumptions and beliefs.

“One final thought I’ll share with you, Mary, and it’s a hugely important one, is this:

Management is appointment to position; leadership must be earned.

Woman on Ladder Mary, if you have no followers you are not a leader. You need to enroll people in your vision if you want them to follow you. This is vital, especially for small companies like mine. We need to constantly innovate and explore new opportunities to seize and exploit. As the company’s leader, I can’t achieve that if you and your co-workers are not following me. Each of us needs to periodically re-examine our leadership lens as a check-in to how we’re interacting with the world: at work, in our community and at home.

Understanding the concept of mental models and the Ladder of Inference as a tool will assist you in your leadership journey.

So, Mary, does any of this help you in wrestling with your image of leadership, and in particular how you want to develop your career? You have a lot of leadership potential, and your co-workers have a lot of respect for you.”

“Wow,” Mary exclaimed, “your explanation really helped open my eyes to how I’ve created my own mental model of leadership. And I get just how important the aspect of followership is for organizational success. I’m with you, Rebecca.”

And with that Rebecca and Mary concluded their conversation and headed back to the office, with Mary totally energized with her new discovery and wanting to begin her journey into leadership.


The ability to perceive or think differently is more important than the knowledge gained.

David Bohm


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Five Ways to Serve Your Organization and Build Your Leadership Skills

March 15, 2015
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The process of building our personal leadership skills isn’t done overnight. That’s rather obvious. But what may not always be clear is that leadership development within organizations is, at its core, a reciprocal process. The same applies to community service and leadership development, though admittedly in this context when one serves their community the enlargement of leadership capacity is one outcome.

The bigger challenge–hence the purpose of this post–is integrating the personal aspect of leadership growth with serving the needs of the organization. This is typically a grey area in organizations, whether public or private, as the employee struggles to meet the organization’s annual goals, live the vision, and simultaneously attend to her personal learning and developmental needs.

Smart organizations ensure that this stressful process is integrated in the employee’s daily work and scheduled performance-learning plan reviews. But these organizations are the exception.

One framework to consider comes from Peter Block, a longtime advocate of stewardship, encompassing both managers and staff. Each and every one of us must learn to put self-interest aside and put service to the organization first. Only by doing this will an organization truly evolve to a higher level.

Plants in Many Hands To serve an organization well, Block puts forth five pursuits people must follow. He refers to this as enlightened self-interest.

1. Meaning: People engage in activities that have personal meaning and that are needed by the organization. Substance takes precedence over form.

2. Contribution and Service: People want to contribute positively to the organization. Specifically, they want their efforts to connect to the organization’s purpose.

3. Integrity: People at all levels of the organization must be able to express their views and what they observe taking place. Feeling “safe” to speak out is essential to a learning organization. People must be able to admit their mistakes. They must believe that the “authentic act” is always in the best interest of the organization.

4. Positive Impact on Others’ Lives: People spend a large percentage of their waking lives at work. Developing close relationships with co-workers, in which their growth and development is cared about, makes sense to most people. Yet the opposite is true to a large extent. For example, the fear a manager may have of laying off a subordinate one day may inhibit him or her from establishing strong relationships with staff.

This also occurs with co-workers, especially during a period of downsizing. The consequence is an atmosphere that lacks honesty and openness, one consisting of shallow and brittle relationships. How can teamwork exist, let alone prosper, in such an environment? Strong teamwork requires a high degree of interdependency and close relationships.

5. Mastery: This involves people learning as much as they can about their work. People take pride and satisfaction in their work when performing at high levels. Learning and performance are intertwined.

The strength of following these five pursuits is that it does not require the approval of senior management.

Each of us needs to set an example to our peers.

Each of us needs to set upon a journey of self-discovery.


You create a culture of contribution when you seek to meet both the mission of the organization and the needs of the people.

James R. Fisher Jr.


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Achieving Meaning during Chaos and Hardship

March 8, 2015
Chaos Scientists see chaos as essential for organisms to renew and revitalize themselves. The same is true of organizations. When people go through a very difficult period, they emerge stronger and with a greater sense of purpose. And in the process their personal leadership capacity grows and strengthens.


Margaret Wheatley believes that organizations must learn to work with chaos because it’s a powerful, creative force, one that produces new levels of understanding and personal growth.

Many people experience great difficulty in coping with the uncertainties of rapid organizational change. They feel lost and adrift as their coworkers leave the organization, as technology exerts its tremendous impact on how work is done, and as their own futures are cast in doubt.

But why is it that some people are able to create meaning in their work during organizational chaos while others flounder?

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote that meaning saved many lives in the concentration camps during World War Two. People can withstand tremendous hardships if they search for meaning. One’s attitude towards a situation is the one thing that cannot be taken away. Here are excerpts from Frankl’s book, which illustrate the phases the prisoners went though.

Desert The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the deaths suffered by many of the others. From personal convictions which will be mentioned later, I made myself a firm promise, on my first evening in camp, that I would not “run into the wire.” This was a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide–touching the electronically charged barbed-wire fence. There was little point in committing suicide, since, for the average inmate, life expectation, calculating objectively and counting all likely chances, was very poor. …The prisoner of Auschwitz, in the first phase of shock, did not fear death. Even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days– after all, they spared him the act of committing suicide….

Apathy, the blunting of emotions and the feeling that one could not care anymore, were the symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological reactions, and which eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings. By means of this insensibility the prisoner soon surrounded himself with a very necessary protective shell.

As time progressed in the concentration camp, Frankl’s insights grew:

The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future–his future– was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. …He simply gave up. There he remained, lying in his own excreta, and nothing bothered him anymore.

From his experiences in a concentration camp, Frankl came to realize that the individual does have a choice of action, even when faced with what appears to be overwhelming odds. As he states: Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

Guy with Steam from Ears Margaret Wheatley discovered this phenomenon herself during her work with organizations that were experiencing massive change. Some employees realized that the only way they could continue to exist in such an environment was to seek out personal meaning in their work. In other organizations, Wheatley found that the senior leaders went to great lengths to explain to employees the difficulties ahead and why they were occurring.

Being honest and open with these employees helped them through these difficult periods. She explains meaning as being “a point of reference…. As long as we keep purpose in focus in both our organizational and private lives, we are able to wander through the realms of chaos, make decisions about what actions will be consistent without purpose, and emerge with a discernible pattern or shape to our lives.”

People quickly see through superficial attempts by management to get employees on side. They realize at the start or soon afterwards that the purpose is self-centered. When people resist or display apathy, their eyebrows rise. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and as Wheatley asserts: “Too many organizations ask us to engage in hollow work, to be enthusiastic about small-minded visions, to commit ourselves to selfish purposes, to engage our energy in competitive drives.”

Reflect on the following wise words:

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something.

The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.
John W. Gardner


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Creating Win-Win through Interpersonal Leadership

March 1, 2015
Happy Business Team How often have you felt that you’ve been in a win-lose situation at work, and where you were on the losing end?

Wow, more hands than expected shot up.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Indeed, to be blunt, it’s a pretty dumb concept for profit-driven companies to allow managers and leaders to operate in that manner. And if you’re working in the public or not-for-profit sectors, shame on you for even thinking of acting this way.

Whether you’re part of an organization that’s directly or indirectly serving customers or citizens, your focus should–and must–be on creating win-win solutions.

Your correspondent could never figure out during his three decades with the Government of Canada why so many of those in leadership positions, from middle managers to those at the top of the management pyramid, seemed to hold Joe and Sally Taxpayer in contempt.

There will always be games-playing and the race-to-the-top manipulations inherent in any organization, public or private. However, one of the roles of top management is to ensure that ethical behaviors are followed, that ALL employees share in the corporate vision, and that those entrusted with managerial responsibilities strive to focus their staff and teams on the needs and expectations of customers and citizens.

People Slapping HandsOne startling revelation for those in management is that being a manager is in effect an appointment to position. Leadership is a completely different ball of wax. To be a real leader requires you to have earned a followership. Only when you’ve achieved the state where your staff or team share in your values and vision (where you want to take them) can you emphatically claim to be a leader. Otherwise, you’re dictating your demands through employee compliance versus enrolment. Compliance is a tantamount to a managerial function; enrolment is about leadership.

To be a Win-Win leader means that you’ve yielded to the greater force of inter-personal leadership, where you’ve accepted that people as a collective through your shared leadership can accomplish much, much more.

In the process everyone is excited, motivated and self-initiated, sparking them to step up to contribute their ideas.


Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.

John Maxwell


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Leadership and the Responsible Use of Power

February 23, 2015
Shoe Steeping on Man The most effective leaders appear to exhibit a degree of versatility and flexibility that enables them to adapt their behavior to the changing and contradictory demands made on them. (The Leadership Handbook, Ralph Stogdill)

It’s one thing for a leader to recognize the styles she should use with her team to coincide with their unique needs and situations; it’s quite another for a leader to actually apply these styles simultaneously and appropriately. Take a moment to check out this post on situational leadership for additional information.

As well as being able to assess their leadership behavior and its impact on others, leaders must also carefully look at how they maintain and use power. To influence the behavior of others, a leader must first understand the effect that power has on leadership styles. It’s not a matter of how much power a leader has but rather how effectively a leader uses it. While leadership is about the process of influencing people, power can be described as a leader’s influence potential.

Those in positions of influence sometimes have difficulty distinguishing the right and wrong uses of power. In these situations, people view their managers as being control freaks who don’t wish to share power but who in the same breath talk about “empowering” their staff, yet in the end fail to align their words with their actions.

Obey The notion of control in these circumstances is really an illusion. Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal in their book Leading with Soul put it this way about sharing power: “It’s seductive because it gives the feeling of power. Something to hold on to. So it becomes addictive. It’s hard to give up even when it’s not working. You can’t start a journey until you let go of habits holding you back.”

In exercising power a leader actually uses two types: positional power and personal power. The former is viewed by some to be derived from a manager’s position (read perceived status) in the organization. Positional power flows down the organization in the form of increased responsibility and delegation. A manager who’s seen by senior management as not being a good leader may have some of her responsibilities removed.

Personal power, on the other hand, is the degree to which employees share in their leader’s vision. This loyalty creates a followership, which is where a leader’s personal power is generated. It’s also important to remember that a leader’s personal power can be removed easily by her followers should she betray the trust she has earned.

Remember this: Management is an appointment to position. Leadership must be earned.

In short, positional power comes from above, reflecting the degree to which a leader is able to reward and discipline her staff. Personal power, conversely, comes from below, founded upon the level of trust between a leader and her people.

Niccolò Machiavelli, in his 16th century treatise The Prince, posed the question: is it better for a leader to be feared or loved by his followers? One could answer that it’s desirable to be both feared and loved. Machiavelli believed, however, that because it’s difficult to unite them in one person, it’s better to be feared than loved. However, he noted that a leader should inspire fear in a manner that avoids hatred because he can sustain his leadership if feared by his followers but not if he’s hated.

Woman Holding Globe Applying this concept to organizations today means that leaders must learn how to distinguish between their roles as supervisor and friend. Leaders must often have to put aside a friendship to gain an employee’s respect in order to help his development and growth over the long-term.

The relationship between achieving personal power (having rejected the pursuit of positional power) and earning the respect of one’s team members, as well as peers, is in effect an intertwined process. Machiavelli’s premise is tantamount to employing positional power as the means to creating respect among one’s so-called followers. But this is an illusion, a house of cards of leadership by fiat.

A case in point is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who while having achieved, however briefly, huge popularity among Russians, is at the time of writing this post imminently on his way down. Putin never earned the respect of Russians, but manipulated, intimidated and lied to them. Putin rules by fear.

Consider these words from Machiavelli, which President Putin may wish to have considered several years ago:
“A prince ought to live amongst his people in such a way that no unexpected circumstances, whether good or evil, shall make him change; because if the necessity for this comes in troubled times, you are too late for harsh measures; and mild ones will not help you, for they will be considered as forced from you, and no one will be under any obligation to you for them.”

Trust is the glue that holds organizations together. Without trust, an organization will never achieve its potential because its employees are not reaching their full effectiveness. The biggest challenge, therefore, that the individual who wants to become an effective leader faces is practicing transparency of actions and aligning these with one’s words.

This is where reciprocal trust and personal power reside, and where the journey to enrolling others in your vision begins.


Trust is something that happens within people only when it is created between people.

Chip R. Bell


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What Can Situational Leadership Teach Us?

February 15, 2015
Sit Lead 1 Leadership = Influence

Leadership can be viewed as a process of influencing people. That’s no big revelation. However, the challenge arises when a leader wants to motivate her team or assist in their professional development and she must determine which leadership style to use. Ken Blanchard, defined leadership style as “… the pattern of behaviors you use when you are trying to influence the behavior of others as perceived by them.” How you perceive yourself as a leader is one thing; what really counts is how others perceive you.

Both perceptions must coincide if your efforts to lead people are to succeed. For example, a manager whose personal perception is one of being a people person may conflict with how others see her: that of being an impatient and controlling task master.

The key point here is for leaders to develop a heightened sense of self-awareness, in particular their preferred modes of working with others. Understanding yourself is an essential step along the path of becoming a successful leader.

Developing a strong self-awareness will in turn enable a leader to adjust quickly to the necessary leadership style in a given situation. In reality, a leader may use several styles during the course of a day as she interacts with her team on a variety of issues.

situational-leadership-model The Four Leadership Styles

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey were the first to develop a model on situational leadership. Their article Life Cycle Theory of Leadership appeared in Training and Development Journal in 1961. Yes, now going on 54 years ago. Click here for a 1996 article where the two authors revisit their model”. Blanchard later updated the model to what he called the SLII. It’s this revised model that is the focus of this post (as shown in the image above).

Four basic leadership styles reflect different combinations of the traditional supportive and directive approaches to managing people. The four styles are represented on a four quadrant graph. Each style consists of three elements:
1) the degree of direction given by the manager,
2) the degree of support given by the manager,
3) the degree of involvement the employee is given.

Directive behavior is defined as the degree of one-way communication from the manager to the employee. In this case, the manager instructs the employee on his role, how to do his work, when and where to do it, etc. Three words that Blanchard uses to sum up this behavior are structure, control, supervise.

Supportive Behavior is the degree of two-way communication between the manager and the employee. In this instance, the manager actively listens, provides encouragement and includes the employee in decision-making. Three words that can be used here are praise, listen facilitate.

As the leadership styles in the above graph illustrate, a managerial leader operating in a directing (S1) style is using a strong directing behavior, combined with weak supporting behavior. Tight supervision is the norm in this situation.

In contrast, a delegating (S4) style reflects both low support and low directive behaviors. Here, the manager hands off responsibility to the employee, who in turn decides how to accomplish his objectives.

In between these two extremes lie the S2 and S3 styles. In a coaching (S2) style, the manager uses both high directing and supportive behaviors. The manager listens to the employee’s ideas and suggestions but retains control over making decisions. A supporting (S3) style involves low directive behavior combined with high support. Here, the manager listens attentively, offering assistance with problem-solving. However, the employee assumes greater control over decision-making.

There are numerous variables that affect how a leader operates with her people. They include the skill levels, work experience and expectations of the leader’s employees; deadlines; organizational culture (how work is done: teams versus individuals) and conflicting demands.

Sit Lead 2 The Four Developmental Levels

To make his adapted model more dynamic Blanchard uses the concept of development level, which represents the degree of direction, or support, a manager needs to give to her team members. The following four levels connect to lanchard’s four quadrant graph, allowing the manager to determine the appropriate style to use. The four levels represent different combinations of competence and commitment.

D1 is a low level of development, reflecting low competence and high commitment on the employee’s part.

D2 is low to moderate level, in which the employee shows some competence yet low commitment.

D3 us a moderate to high level, representing high competence but variable commitment.

D4 is a high level, indicating both high competence and commitment.

The above graph shows the four development levels beneath the leadership style graph. As the employee’s development increases, his competence rises while commitment fluctuates. This is typical of someone taking on a new job or responsibilities. The employee is initially gung-ho, although lacking all of the necessary skills. His enthusiasm tapes off as he acquires more skill (D2). If the employee receives some assistance (coaching) from his manager, then he’s able to move out of this stage of self-doubt and on to D3 level.

Sit Lead 4 To move the individual beyond D3, at which point there’s still some insecurity, the manager must provide a supporting atmosphere. If this is done properly, the employee can then transcend to level D4 and become a high performer. The key is for the manager to recognize where the employee is in terms of skills, experience, expectations and needs in the context of the task to be done.

For example, an employee may be a high performer, working in a delegating style (S4). However, the manager assigns him a project in an area in which she knows little. The manager must therefore adapt her leadership style to match the employee’s needs. This may mean initially using a directing (S1) style or perhaps a coaching (S2) style.

As the graph illustrates, the four development levels line up with the appropriate leadership style. Blanchard emphasizes that one mustn’t see the development level as a global concept but rather as a task-specific concept. People are at different levels of development, depending on the tasks or projects they’re working on. The interaction between the four leadership styles and development levels is summarized below.

Directing is used for low development: Close supervision, in which the manager is clear on her expectations and monitors the employee’s progress, is the appropriate style to use for someone who’s new to the task to be completed.

Coaching is used for low to moderate development: The manager uses fairly close supervision while employing supportive behavior to build confidence and enthusiasm in the employee.

Supporting is used for moderate to high development: Here, the manager actively uses two-way communication, making a strong effort to “hear” the employee. Both share in making the decisions. The manager’s primary role is one of facilitator.

Delegating is used for high development: While the manager may still identify problem areas for a particular task, the employee is given full responsibility for executing the plan. In short, the employee is running the show.

The goal of the manager-leader is therefore to assist her team’s competence and commitment so that each member is capable of completing their work on their own with as little supervision as possible. The manager who works towards this goal will earn two big dividends:
a) less time supervising and instead spending more time on other important work, such as strategic issues,
b) happier and more productive staff because they now have more control over their work.

Sit lead 3 A Comment on the Model

While this situational leadership model (notably Blanchard’s updating of the original model) has proven useful in the past, the rapid evolution of the workplace over the past decade calls for new thinking on approaches to leadership. The situational leadership model tends to be overly mechanistic and two dimensional. What needs to be integrated into this model is a more three dimensional approach. Organizations, as Margaret Wheatley explains, are organic entities that continually evolve. And it’s not surprising to view organizations in this light because they’re made up of people, each possessing his or her values, beliefs and complex needs and wants.

Nevertheless, older leadership models, such as Blanchard’s and Hersey’s, still provide very useful frameworks for discussion–and indeed exploration– on how to adapt them to today’s organizations. Models provide the much-needed rigor for trying to understand the complexities of leading and managing in a chaotic world. We would be much poorer from a knowledge standpoint without them.


I embrace the unknown because it allows me to see new aspects of myself.

– Deepak Chopra


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