In graduate school I was not taught a lot about how to supervise and lead staff. That left it initially to on the job training and help from a few mentors to help me find my way as a court administrator. Then, I attended a NACM conference and saw a presentation on Situational Leadership that became a big influence on me and my work. Before this session I had pretty much subscribed to the point of view in many books that there was “one true way” to lead, and if I just could do this, I would be great. I was basically a “fad surfer!”
What made Situational Leadership so profound to me was the premise that when supervising staff, one size does not fit all – that the leader/supervisor should adapt to the needs and style of the follower, not the other way around. When one thinks about it, this makes a lot of sense, since people are individuals, all with varying degrees of knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform their work. A supervisor who doesn’t recognize and adapt to this ends up treating everyone the same, with widely varying success.
The basic principles of Situational Leadership are (the graphic at the bottom of this post does a good job of summarizing):
- Staff members have four levels of maturity, or readiness, to do the job (tasks):
- Unable and insecure (new staff member)
- Unable but confident (novice with enthusiasm)
- Capable but insecure about taking on responsibility (fully trained)
- Very capable and confident; self-directed (role model for others)
- Leaders have four levels of styles in response:
- Directing (one way, top-down; guiding)
- Coaching (two way but still directive; persuading and explaining)
- Supporting (two way, shared; encouraging and problem solving)
- Delegating (monitoring and observing)
No one leadership style is effective all the time; one needs to be flexible to fit the style to the situation – including being task-relevant. The right style will depend on the person or group being led. The goal is to work with staff to enable them to develop their skills and confidence so that they are self-motivated and not dependent on others (including the leader/supervisor) for direction and guidance. In essence, the leader diagnoses, adapts, communicates, and advances in tandem with staff members. Isn’t that what we all want, skilled and confident staff that need very little oversight?
As with any model, in reality things are much more fluid and one must apply these principles with care. One thing I have learned is that just because a staff member may have developed to the high level of being very self-directed, circumstances may change and their “readiness” may drop, necessitating the supervisor’s change of style in response. For example, a new computer program or system is installed, fundamentally revising the work processes – now the skill level of the staff member is much lower in that area. Or, what if there is a reorganization and the staff member is moved to a different group of employees (and even supervisor)? There will be an adjustment period for everyone, again necessitating an adjustment of communication, etc.
Over the course of my career I tried to implement the Situational Leadership model, and I think it made me a much better court administrator. If you haven’t been exposed to this model, I encourage you to take a closer look.
In the next Vantage Point post I will write about performance appraisals, which directly ties in to the practice of treating every staff member as an individual.
 Situational Leadership was developed by Hersey and Blanchard (along with Performance Readiness), and is trademarked by Leadership Studies, Inc. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situational_leadership_theory
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