When we need someone’s help or cooperation, most of us will adapt our style to the audience and environment. For example, we might communicate differently with a colleague depending on their level of motivation, or whether there’s a severe time crunch or not. While you want to keep that same flexibility when managing staff, default to an influencing and delegating leadership style unless there’s a good reason not to. Here’s why:
- Delegating work frees up your time to focus on the tasks only you can do.
- When you can influence instead of “order” someone to get something done, or ask them to do something and then let them run with it, you’ll find you have more motivated employees.
- Individuals on your team may have their own way of getting something done that differs from yours, but can be just as, if not more, effective. Delegating honors this possibility, while giving your employees the freedom to act in the way that’s most natural to them– improving both motivation and performance.
- Delegating, i.e. letting individuals find their way with some support, creates more opportunities for learning and development (vs. a more directive style), and therefore leads to a stronger team.
There are inevitably situations, however, in which you need to adopt a more directive style. You’ll know whether the situation warrants this “telling” style by weighing four factors:
- the employee’s competency around the required tasks
- how motivated the employee is
- how time-critical the task you need to get accomplished is
- How important the task is to your business goals
So, for a subordinate who isn’t motivated to perform an important task with a tight deadline, or for a new employee who doesn’t yet have the competency, you will need to adopt a more highly directive style to make sure that they get it done in the tight time-frame you require.
Here’s an example of how actively choosing a new leadership style produced great results for Beth, one of my clients.
When Beth took on her new position as Sales Director, she initially tried to keep the reporting structure of her predecessor in place, so that all the sales representatives would report directly to her. Beth’s predecessor had, by all accounts, used a highly directive style in her approach to all her subordinates. She made sure she was involved in all decisions and told her staff exactly what needed to be done, regardless of their experience and expertise. Needless to say, morale was low, particularly for the highly motivated, highly skilled sales team.
With a major expansion of the organization underway, and with 20 people reporting to her, Beth was feeling overwhelmed. She was so busy helping them put out their daily fires that she was having trouble performing the tasks she had been hired to do, including coordinating with marketing and developing new sales tools to help her staff succeed. On top of that, she heard through the grapevine that several of her top performers were looking to leave the organization.
Beth decided to adopt a more influencing/delegative approach wherever possible. She did this by: 1) dropping the number of direct reports from 20 to five and giving these five people managerial responsibility over the others (her five direct-reports were those in the department who had the greatest skill level and motivation), 2) reducing her “open door” time, thus requiring staff to generate their own solutions to many of the problems they had formerly come to her about, 3) Presenting her staff with a “self-reliance” model for how they could deal with questions and problems on their own.
The approach worked. It freed Beth up to focus on the strategic issues that only she could address. The change in style also resulted in an immediate boost in sales-force morale, with several top sales performers canceling their impending departures from the company.