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Are You a Flexible Leader


Guest articles > Are You a Flexible Leader


by: Simon Hazeldine


“When the great leaders work is done the people say – we did that ourselves!” - Lao Tsu

One common characteristic of the exceptional leader is their ability to flex, alter and adapt their style according to the situation, context and circumstances they are experiencing.

Rather like a chameleon which alters its colour to blend into the background, the leader will alter their style to fit the situation.

The effective leader will have a range of styles that they can use to suit the various circumstances that they encounter on a daily basis.

One way of considering the various styles is to consider them along a continuum that has at one end a directive style of leadership (telling people what to do) and at the other end a non-directive style (allowing people to develop their own approach and solutions).

In between these two extremes lie a myriad of potential styles but for simplicities sake let us examine six broad styles.

The flexible, effective leader will move backwards and forward along the continuum choosing the most appropriate leadership style dependant upon circumstance.

Some of the factors that may influence the choice of style are:

The people involved The number of people involved The seniority of the people involved The experience, knowledge and skills of the people involved The attitude, mood or motivation of the people involved The development needs of the people involved The task to be achieved The complexity of the task The importance of the task The risk if the task is not completed The financial importance of the task The time available How quickly the task needs to be completed

The six broad styles that we will consider are:

1) Telling people what to do

At the directive end of the continuum is simply telling people what to do, or issuing orders. In certain circumstances (crisis, when peoples safety is at risk, when there is a very pressing deadline) this can be an appropriate style. However its effect on motivation and learning in the long term if it is overused should be considered.

2) Solving people’s problems for them

Further along the continuum is solving people’s problems for them. When a problem is communicated to the leader the leader supplies the answer. This can be appropriate as you may often possess superior knowledge or experience to the person with the problem. However, if you consistently solve people’s problems for them you are encouraging them to consistently seek you out every time they have a problem!

3) Giving people advice

As we head towards the middle of the continuum we reach giving advice. Although still to the directive side of the continuum, the leader restricts them self to only offering advice – they do not provide the full answer. Here as in the solving problems style the leader will still be relied upon to provide most of the answers!

4) Offering people guidance

Past the midway point on the continuum we now reach the first style that is in non-directive half of the continuum. Here the leader offers people guidance. This guidance will tend to be utilised by the people receiving it. With this style the leader may provide, for example, a framework, outline or direction and then allows the people involved to “fill in the blanks”.

5) Asking people questions

In the centre of the non-directive half of the continuum is the asking questions style. Here the leader will utilise the power of questions to raise people’s awareness about the problem, situation or opportunity they face. Through the questioning process the leader helps people to clarify their thinking and make better decisions.

“I’d rather know some of the questions than all of the answers” Anonymous

6) Helping people to solve their own problems

At the far right of the non-directive continuum is the helping people to solve their own problems style. Here the leader will also use questions to help to raise people’s awareness but the leader will not input directly into people’s solutions. The leader trusts and respects the wisdom of the people involved and plays a supporting role in assisting them to reach their own conclusions.

This style requires the leader to have great trust in the people involved. This approach is often not suitable where the people lack experience and knowledge.

The power of this style is that people will usually be more fully engaged and motivated with their own solution.

In addition this style builds the resourcefulness of the people involved. This style can lead to powerful learning for people and can contribute strongly to an individuals personal development. It enables people to devise and implement their own solution.

The leader who regularly uses this style may find that their input is required less and less in day to day matters, freeing up valuable time for other high values activities such as strategic thinking and coaching their people.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” Chinese Proverb

Which style on the leadership style continuum does the exceptional leader use? The answer is all of them. The exceptional leader will flex their style according to the circumstances and can move from telling people what to do to enabling them to solve their own problems as easily and naturally as a chameleon blends in with the changes that take place around it.


Simon Hazeldine is a best selling author, professional speaker and performance consultant. He is passionate about helping individuals and organisations improve their performance.

Simon is the bestselling author of Bare Knuckle Selling, BareKnuckle Negotiating, Bare Knuckle Customer Service and The Inner Winner.

For more valuable information on improving your sales, profits and performance (including sample chapters from all of Simon's best selling books) at zero cost to you visit: today!

Contributor: Simon Hazeldine

Published here on: 22-Aug-10

Classification: Leadership



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