Situational Following

Over the years I’ve attended more than my fair share of training workshops.  But the Situational Leadership workshop I took in the eighties still stands out in my mind.

It was based on the course developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey, and used clips from the movie “Twelve O’Clock High” to demonstrate various leadership styles across different situations.  To this day I can’t see that movie without picking apart the multiple leadership styles it so aptly displays.

But today, I was writing an article on the virtues and challenges of matrix management, and realized that while Situational Leadership is a valuable skill for all leaders, Middle Leaders must also develop and practice Situational Following.

You see, by definition, Middle Leaders both lead and follow at the same time.

As the model suggests we should select the leadership style of telling, selling, participating, or delegating – based on the competence, commitment, and behaviors of those we’re leading.

But we should be equally intentional to alter our following style based on a similar set of variables:

Situation – Not all situations are created equal.  The weight and visibility of the situation will drive your communications style and frequency when interacting with your boss.  We all get this one.

Style – Not all bosses are the same, either.  Some are naturally hungry for the details – others will want a short set of summary bullets.   Some insist on formal updates, while others want a simple email, and still others prefer the more casual approach over a cup of coffee, with a follow up email for documentation.

This means the same situation may require one method of interaction with your direct supervisor, another one for a matrix manager, and still another style when updating senior management.

Failing to match your interactions with the leader’s style can cause them to see you as less capable or even less caring than you are.  These impressions can have long term consequences – all because of your chosen style, not your competence or commitment.

Trust – Finally, your history and reputation with one boss doesn’t automatically transfer to a new boss, matrix boss, or a more senior leader.  Always be aware of the level of mutual trust you’ve developed with a leader as an individual – don’t assume your reputation will be enough.  The rapport you build with each of these leaders over time will serve you well in solving future problems, working together, or even that day when your name and picture pops up in the senior leader’s talent review program.