Every great leader strives to treat their people fairly and equitably. But leaders who think that means they need to treat all their people the same are doing their people a disservice. One of the most unfair things a leader can do is give everybody the same broad-brush treatment.
If you’re thinking, “I have to use the same leadership style with everyone or it will look like I am playing favorites,” remember that each person is skilled in different areas and at different levels. Brad may be an ace at creating graphs and managing data on spreadsheets and Ginger may be highly skilled in designing online presentations. Although you would be able to delegate a spreadsheet task to Brad, Ginger would need to start with specific direction on how to create a spreadsheet. And Brad would need to begin at square one with presentation software while Ginger would be able to sail through a design project on her own.
Let’s look at this topic situationally using our SLII® leadership training model.
Every person is at a specific development level (amount of both competence and commitment) on each task or goal they are pursuing. For example, a professional editor (let’s call him JT) with 20 years of experience is what we call a self-reliant achiever—the highest development level (D4)—at editing. JT has internal clients who send him documents to edit but he needs almost no direction or support to do the job well.
Now let’s say JT decides he really wants to learn to play guitar. When he begins working toward this goal, he is initially at the lowest development level (D1—enthusiastic beginner) at playing guitar. He is excited about learning but has no idea what he is doing. He needs specific direction (S1) from his instructor on every aspect of playing, starting with how to hold the instrument and position his hands.
After a short time of learning and practicing, JT is discouraged. His fingertips are sore and he can’t get the rhythm of strumming. He thought playing guitar would be easy and fun, but it’s not. JT is now at the development stage we call disillusioned learner (D2). He needs direction as well as coaching (S2) from his instructor to help him power through this stage.
Fortunately, JT doesn’t give up. With continued instruction, he slowly gains confidence and becomes a capable, but cautious, contributor (D3). He is still learning, but he knows how to play guitar competently and enjoys practicing and challenging himself. He continues to get support (S3) and encouragement from his instructor but needs only occasional direction.
After months of continuous practice, a bit more instruction, and some performing in front of friends and family, JT has reached D4 as a guitar player. He is confident in his skill and proud of his accomplishment. He will still keep his day job as an editor, but has developed his original spark of interest into an enjoyable pastime. JT’s instructor knew how to set him up for success by using different leadership styles—specific amounts of direction and support—depending on JT’s level of expertise at the task at hand.
As you can see, even though someone is a seasoned expert (D4) at one task, they can be a beginner (D1) at another. The concepts of SLII® can be applied to relationships at work, at home, and in the community by leaders, parents, partners, teachers, coaches—anyone who wants to help others accomplish goals.
Most likely, each of your direct reports has areas where you can simply delegate to them—and they also have new tasks or goals where they need your specific direction. Let your people know you care about helping them develop their skills. Work with them to diagnose their development level on each of their tasks, and flex your leadership style to match by giving them the amount of direction and support they need to accomplish their goals. Your people, your organization, and your leadership will be all the better for it! “There’s nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals” is Simple Truth #40 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Download an eBook summary for a preview here!