It's easy to recognize effective leadership when others are exhibiting the right behaviors. An effective leader is able to obtain great results when faced with significant challenges.
Seeing this type of leader at work can be pretty exciting. After all, who wouldn't like to be a little more effective at work or even at home?
We all know persons, or have heard stories about individuals, that were extremely successful leaders at one time; but for some reason had trouble sustaining their effectiveness. It's natural to think that person simply lost their "edge" or desire to be a great leader.
But when examining the situation a bit more closely, it's often clear the person was faced with a different set of circumstances when they failed. Their formula for success worked at one time, but they were no longer effective when faced with a significant change in their work environment. This is what the study of conditional leadership is all about.
Situational versus Behavioral Leadership
It's important to understand the differences between the following two theoretical models:
- Behavioral Leadership is the study of the actions or behaviors that define a leadership style. For example, charismatic leaders rely a great deal on personal charm to convince their followers that change is necessary.
- Situational Leadership theory, on the other hand, focuses on the application and effectiveness of different styles to various environments - at work or in the home.
So what skills or attributes makes a leader effective? The answer points towards situational theory.
Conditional Leadership Styles
The theory of conditional leadership helps to explain why one person is effective under certain conditions but not successful when placed in a different set of conditions. That person could have a very charismatic personality, but relied too much on charisma and didn't bother to flex their leadership style to a new condition or situation at work.
Not only doesn't one leadership style work in all situations, but all theories talk at length about applying combinations of styles. In other words, effective leaders are able to "master" all of these styles, and recognize when they should be used, and with whom.
For example, a company may need a coercive leader to help turn the profitability of a company around. But when dealing with a subordinate that agrees with the approach and is experienced in executing a tactic, then a coaching style will be the more effective approach.
There are several styles referred to here and elsewhere in this publication. It's possible to drill down into more specifics by following the links created in this article. Following along with Goleman's emotional intelligence model, he was able to identify seven conditional leadership styles:
The coercive leader is effective in getting results by bullying their employees. This style works best when a company needs a fast turnaround. This style has short-term value because, over the long haul, this approach is damaging to employee morale.
The authoritative leader is an expert that knows exactly what needs to get done to achieve good results. This leadership style is most effective when encountering a workgroup that is relatively inexperienced, and has been previously operating without clear direction.
The affiliative leader is good at promoting harmony and helping with problems. This style works best when morale is low and teambuilding is needed.
A democratic leader gives their followers a vote in nearly every decision. This style is extremely time consuming and is effective when the followers are knowledgeable.
The pacesetting leader has very high work standards for themselves and for their followers. This style works best when followers are skilled and morale is high.
Finally, there are coaching leaders, which clearly define roles and tasks for their followers. The coaching style focuses on two-way communications and is most effective when the followers are experienced and agree with what needs to be accomplished.
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