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Creating A Culture of Leadership & Learning -- EI Leadership vs. Situational Leadership


Guest articles > Creating A Culture of Leadership & Learning -- EI Leadership vs. Situational Leadership


by: Michael Allison


No company will successfully develop its future leaders nor become great by simply sending its top prospects on a two or three-day leadership training program.

The above sentence seems to be self-evident common sense, right? Yet, a lot of companies here in China are doing exactly that. They spend tens of thousands of RMB to send their top managers on expensive leadership training programs, that in some cases, have nothing to do with actual leadership.

Let's be clear on what leadership is.

Leadership is the art of motivating and inspiring a group of people to work towards the accomplishment of a common goal and helping them to clearly see the personal rewards they will obtain when the goal is attained.

I know at the outset that this article is going to upset a lot of people, since my purpose in writing it is to draw a clear line in the sand between two completely different types of leadership training solutions in the Chinese training market.

The first type of solution is what I have referred to in the first sentence, the two or three-day training program, of which there are many in China. One of the most popular, if not the most popular, is "Situational Leadership."

The second type of solution I am going to elucidate on is not a training program, but instead it is a process. Of course this process involves training, but it goes far beyond having staff attend a two or three-day seminar, return to work with a bunch of templates that show them how they should evaluate their team members in terms of development level and adjust their leadership style to the employee's level.

The process I am referring to takes much longer, perhaps a year or two or more, it requires the commitment of the top management in the organization, and its ultimate outcome is establishing a culture of leadership and learning within the organization. In short, you will have an organization where everyone, regardless of their role, will be continually developing and using leadership skills on a daily basis and they will be having a lot of fun doing so.

Let me start with a look at the "Situational Leadership" model, developed by Hersey & Blanchard. Their model provides four levels of development.

D1 - Low Competence, High Commitment - in general these individuals are lacking the specific skills for the job at hand, but have the confidence and/or motivation to take it on.

D2 - Some Competence, Low Commitment - have some relevant skills, but still need assistance to do the job. Task or situation may be new to this person.

D3 - High Competence, Variable Commitment - experienced and capable, but may lack confidence to get job done on own, or may lack motivation to do job well or quickly

D4 - High Competence, High Commitment - experienced and comfortable in own ability to get job done. This person may even be more skilled than the leader.

Then there are four leadership styles to be used depending on how the leader assesses the developmental level of the employee.

S1 - Telling/Directing - focuses on tasks as opposed to relationships. Communication is basically one-way, as leader makes decisions and announces them. Leaders define roles and tasks of the followers and closely supervises them.

S2 - Selling/Coaching - both high task & high relationship focus. More two-way communication - follower still needs direction, as she/he lacks experience and some commitment. However, leader seeks ideas & suggestions from follower, while still retaining the prerogative to make decisions.

S3 - Participating/Supporting - Low task, high relationship focus. Control is with follower, leader passes daily decisions, such as task processes and allocation to her/him. For individuals with competence but lacking in motivation or confidence. She/he needs less direction because of skills, but still needs leader to boost her/his confidence or motivation level.

S4 - Delegating - Control with follower - low task and low relationship focus. This is for people who have high competence and high confidence/motivation level. Need very little to no supervision and support when working on tasks or projects. Follower decides when leader needs to be involved.

Hersey and Blanchard have said that the leadership style should correspond to the developmental level of the follower and the leader is the one to do the adapting. Therefore, a D1 requires the leader to use S1.

The steps in the Situational Leadership process are as follows:

  1. Make an overview per employee of her/his tasks
  2. Assess employee on each task (D1…D4)
  3. Decide on the leadership style per task (S1…S4)
  4. Discuss the situation with the employee
  5. Make a joint plan
  6. Follow-up, check and correct

The strengths of the Situational Leadership Model are:

  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to use

The limitations and disadvantages of the Situational Leadership model are:

  • Fails to distinguish between leadership & management. In fact, what is called leadership style is really a management style for handling people in differing situations.
    Situational Leadership focuses on making decisions, whereas leadership is primarily about inspiring and motivating people to change direction - not about making decisions.
  • First, leaders decide there is a need for change and then they may vary the way they inspire or motivate people to buy-in to the need for change. Therefore, the leadership style does not reduce to decision making style, which is what Situational Leadership is about.
  • The Situational Leadership model focuses far too much on what the person in charge does.
  • There is nothing profound in this model in terms of our basic understanding of what it means to lead or manage. The fact that leaders and managers need to behave differently in different situations is a common-sense approach to life.

In short - and this is the main thing to remember - Situational Leadership is not really about leadership. It is about how to handle people in differing situations. Of course it has its merits, but it is not possible to build a culture of leadership and learning in your organization by putting managers through a two or three-day Situational Leadership seminar. It will not help your organization become a great organization.

Building an organization where leadership is a part of the very culture requires much more. It is a process that takes commitment and time. It is not a program that people can be put through in two or three days. However, for your organization to be truly great, there is no other way.

For starters, the top management must see the need for and the positive benefits that result from building this type of organization. Top management must be able to visualize how great their company can be by instilling this type of culture in their organization.

Once top management is committed, what steps need to be taken? The following:

  1. Dynamic Inquiry - This part of the process involves having "real" conversations with groups of employees to find out how they truly feel about themselves, their teams, team leaders, and teammates. How is the organization helping or hindering them in fulfilling their roles, accomplishing their tasks, and achieving their personal goals? How do employees describe the climate at work and within the company/organization in general? Dynamic Inquiry requires that leaders be willing to listen with empathy to what their followers have to say, and acknowledge their true feelings. This requires a real openness and a degree of vulnerability on the part of leaders.
    The Dynamic Inquiry process takes some time to complete, but when done it results in a clear picture of the Emotional Reality of an organization. Furthermore, because everyone has shared in the process, it also helps to foster a spirit of mutual ownership and cooperation on the part of employees to commit to improving the organization and building a culture of leadership.
  2. Determine the Ideal - Ideally, what should the organization be like? How should it feel to work in an organization where there is a culture of leadership and learning and where there is a high level of EI on the part of all, from the top management down? Again, in determining this, everyone in the organization can have a share in thinking about and describing what the ideal should look, sound, and feel like. Once this has been determined and communicated to all, then we can get down to the task of implementing the systems and processes to achieve this ideal.
  3. Implement Process and Systems - Let's start with training. Running an EI Leadership workshop for top managers and middle managers would be the first logical step. They are trained in the four EI competencies - Self-Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management.
    They also receive training in the Five Discoveries, a self-directed learning process that involves constructing a learning agenda with the purpose of closing the gaps between the image of what one wishes to be and the reality.
    This process can then be passed on from the management to the staff members. When top management is enthusiastic about the process it has a powerful motivating effect on everyone else, and the process of developing an emotionally intelligent organization will be successful.
    Additionally, systems are put into place to foster the EI Leadership culture. For example, the HR Department can screen potential new recruits based on their EI. 360 feedback, performance management, opportunities for promotion, and raises can all be based, at least in part, on how individuals are doing in displaying the EI skills.
    Even teams and entire departments can be assessed based on the EI competencies in order to help them make continuous improvement. We all know that groups of people have moods and needs. They act collectively, and one of the jobs of a leader is to read the emotions of the group and then work to inspire and motivate the individuals and group as a whole to drive change.
    As I mentioned already, this process takes real commitment and time. However, the companies and organizations that make this commitment reap a multitude of benefits. For instance, they have much higher retention rates because employees are motivated, inspired, valued, and respected.

The climate in such organizations is one of empathy, empowerment, initiative, accomplishment, and fun. People working in organizations that have used the EI Leadership process to cultivate a culture of leadership and learning truly enjoy going to work each day.

The bottom line also benefits. There is plenty of research to show that companies that have cultivated a culture of EI leadership and learning are much more profitable than companies that have not done so.

We live in a world where change is constant. Companies and organizations must have a culture of leadership and learning in order to be successful in implementing the changes necessary to thrive. Investing the time in building an emotionally intelligent organization is key to such success.



Contributor: Michael Allison

Published here on: 26-Jul-09

Classification: Leadership


MSWord: Emotionally Intelligent Leadership.doc

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