Discussions about the effectiveness of a leader often refer to the romantic notions that are central to leadership theories. A good leader is described as inspirational, influential, always gets the job done, has willing followers, and basically drives their team effectively under any circumstance. Leadership workshops, books and seminars often present inspiring steps to becoming the ideal leader. Yet how are these steps implemented if leaders are not competent in the core skills? Without the intuition and the ability to dig and find the root of a problem, a leader is skipping over the fundamental steps to effective leadership.
The majority of leadership styles refer to either a task-centered or a person-centered approach, but these approaches are effective under different circumstances. In many cases, these approaches are effective in opposing contexts. For example, transformational leadership, or a more person-centered approach, is more effective in a familiar routine context where the leader can focus on the people instead of the task. In comparison, transactional or more task-centered approaches operate more effectively in a chaotic, unfamiliar situation to ensure the task gets completed.
This is all well and good, but how does a more person-centered leader know when and how to jump to task-centered behaviours? Further, task-centered leadership requires the leader to motivate employees to complete the task at hand. How can this be done without time-management skills? Transformational-style leadership espouses ideals about inspiration, vision, and other person-centered developments. How can this be developed without the appropriate communication skills? On top of this, how does either of these approaches enforce expected behaviours if the leader is not trained in enforcing accountability?
This is where situational leadership steps in. Situational leadership suggests that there is no ultimate model of leadership. Effective leadership is task relevant while being customised to the maturity of the followers. While it is repeatedly criticised for being a management theory as opposed to a leadership theory, I pose the question, how can a leader effectively drive their team without possessing the core managerial skills? If a leader is armed with effective communication skills, an employee is more likely to commit to the task at hand. They can be informed clearly of what the task is, why they are to do it, and how they are to do it. Further, from a person-centered approach an employee may align more closely with the goals of the task with the opportunity to participate in reciprocal communication, exploration of possible problems and outcomes, and being able to clarify and contribute. Additionally, coached employees are engaged and better developed employees. This requires leaders and managers to have the necessary skills in enforcing accountability, specifically ongoing coaching and performance evaluation.
Once these core skills have been developed, a leader can customise their own model of situational leadership through planning and experience. They can intuitively adapt the appropriate style of leadership to suit the situation and the followers at hand. Each core skill acts as a channel that can be adapted to the differing approaches of leadership. By learning the core underpinning skills, a leader gains the tools to be adaptable.