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3 Skills for Becoming a Best Boss

In the new one-day design for Blanchard’s SLII® leadership development program, facilitators begin with a best boss / worst boss exercise.

“This activity is a terrific way for people to relate our model to their own personal experiences with both great leadership and not-so-great leadership,” says Blanchard trust practice leader Randy Conley. “Typically, people say their best boss exhibited common characteristics that we see in leaders who take a situational approach to bringing out the best in others.”

Comments shared by participants about their best boss include:

  • “They gave me appropriate levels of freedom for my skill set.”
  • “They built trust with me.”
  • “They listened to me.”
  • “They gave me direction.”
  • “They helped me solve my own problems.”

“We have learned from our research and our experience in the classroom that effective leadership is a mix of directive and supportive behaviors,” says Conley. “The best leaders adjust their style to meet the needs of their team members.”

Conley explains that leaders need to work in partnership with their people to help them grow and develop.

“A leader needs to flex their leadership style to meet the needs of the person they’re helping. That’s what SLII® is all about. Because an individual’s levels of competence and commitment grow and develop over time regarding their goals, there’s no single best leadership style. The leader has to use a variety of leadership styles to meet each person where they are in that development process.”

It’s a relatively simple concept to understand intellectually, says Conley, but much harder to put into practice.

“Our Leader Behavior Analysis II® research shows that 54 percent of managers use only one leadership style, which means more than half of the managers out there are one-trick ponies. They have one style—and when it meets someone’s needs, everything’s great. But when it doesn’t, it’s a mismatch and it won’t work.

“Let’s say you are a leader with a highly directive leadership style—you see your role as providing people with the whatwhenwhere, and how of getting the job done. That might be appropriate for a direct report who is new to a task, but it could be perceived as micromanaging by people who don’t need that type of style.

“Now let’s say you lean more toward a hands-off, supportive style. You see the role of a leader as mostly supporting people in figuring out things for themselves. Your hands-off style may be perfect for someone who is highly qualified on a task, but you run the risk of being labeled by others as wishy-washy and unable to provide clear direction or priorities when needed.”

Leadership inflexibility can lead to hard feelings and poor performance. Conley recommends a three-step process from SLII®—goal setting, diagnosis, and matching—which helps leaders maintain a flexible approach that gives people what they need to succeed.

  1. Goal setting—it all starts with clear goals

“All good performance begins with clear goals,” says Conley. “Despite good intentions, a lot of leaders are not very good at setting clear goals, so their people are unclear on what’s expected of them. When people are unclear and the leader is unclear, that’s a recipe for dissatisfaction. People feel like they’re either not getting enough direction and support, or getting too much.

“As a leader, when someone is struggling or asking for help, ask yourself, ‘What’s the goal or task? What do we want to focus on? What do we need to accomplish, and by when?’ That gets to clarity.”

  1. Diagnosis—what is their level of development?

“In our new SLII® one-day design, we have a section called Diagnosing On the Go. It’s a fast, efficient way for leaders to quickly diagnose if a team member is going to need direction, support, or a combination of both. The leader uses two questions to diagnose the team member’s development level.

“The first question is ‘Have they successfully done the goal on their own?’ If they can accomplish the goal without direction, they are a doer. If they need direction to accomplish the goal, they are a learner.

“The second question gets at motivation and attitude: ‘Are they motivated and confident?’

“By asking these two questions, you can identify whether a team member is an Enthusiastic Beginner, a Disillusioned Learner, a Capable, but Cautious, Contributor, or a Self-Reliant Achiever on the goal or task.”

Someone who is an Enthusiastic Beginner on a goal will respond well to a highly directive style, including

  • Setting goals
  • Showing and telling how
  • Establishing timelines
  • Developing action plans
  • Monitoring and tracking performance

However, someone who is a Capable, but Cautious Contributor on a goal would see that level of direction as over-supervision—even micromanagement. This person would respond better to a leadership style that focuses more on support behaviors such as

  • Listening
  • Facilitating self-reliant problem solving
  • Asking for input
  • Providing rationale
  • Acknowledging and encouraging
  1. Matching—adjusting your style to the needs of the moment

The speed and pace of change require that leaders work smarter, not harder, says Conley.

“Very few goals make it all the way to the end of the year unchanged. You set a goal, circumstances change, and it’s quickly out of date. Or a new initiative comes in and people are at different levels of competence and commitment on a task.”

In all cases, a manager has to have a way to quickly and effectively diagnose development level and provide a matching leadership style. Conley points to another SLII® activity, Matching On the Go, that highlights the in-the-moment realties of managing today.

“Start by asking the person, ‘Do you want me to tell you how to do this, or do you want to tell me your ideas for how to do it?’

“If a person wants you, their leader, to do the talking, you know you have permission to use directive behaviors. But if the team member wants to do the talking, they are looking for more supportive behaviors. In both cases, you’re providing the amount of direction and support that matches what the person is looking for.”


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