For more than a generation, countless studies conclusively link leadership behavior to engagement, and engagement to business outcomes. It stands to reason then that the greatest effect a leader can have on a team is through the leader’s behavioral agility. Even while the notion of leadership styles goes in and out of favor in business circles, one concept has remained constant — leadership style is highly situational.
For the sake of this article, we will focus on two areas. First, “style” will be used as a descriptor of those situational moments, not a leader’s comfort zone. Every leader works in a dynamic, fluid environment. On top of that, leaders lead people, and anything can happen with people. A truly successful leader continually experiments, learns, changes and improves their craft and behaviors.
Second, we will discuss leadership “behavior,” not vision and strategy. While these are important aspects of leadership, research strongly suggests that leadership behaviors are far more influential on engagement, retention and productivity.
How do you effectively apply the idea of agility to leadership behavior and outcomes, and what can you do about it?
Start With Data
The best place to start is to assess the environment, and you should do it through the eyes of your team members since they are the recipients of leadership practices.
The following six key indicators are based on large-scale research and market validation conducted by Vivo Team Development. Assessing these indicators will reflect how the team is operating, and what the barriers and strengths are relative to productivity. Within these six key indicators are measures of competence, motivation and collaboration.
- Communication — Clear and open communication reduces misunderstanding, minimizes work delays and enhances overall productivity.
- Interactive feedback — Ongoing interactive feedback between team members is a basic essential requirement for improving team effectiveness and performance.
- Accountability — Holding one another respectfully accountable drives innovation, trust and productivity.
- Emotional intelligence — Self-awareness and management, empathy, leader assertiveness and social skills are required for building psychological safety among team members, which leads to more collaboration.
- Structures — Unifying and streamlining work processes builds the foundation for efficient and successful teams.
- Cohesion — Team cohesion increases satisfaction, engagement and collaboration, resulting in increased success and productivity.
Analyze the Data
What do the measures of these six key indicators tell you? First, the leader gains a clear picture of how effective and productive the team is, and perhaps where to focus team leadership. For instance, a team with deadline or output challenges might score poorly on work processes and communication. This will guide the leader’s behavior to help the team address that particular set of problems.
However, much of leadership is one-to-one, so deciding which leadership style to apply requires an understanding of an individual’s competence and motivation on a per-task basis.
Diagnose Competence & Motivation
Competence and motivation are very different and require different approaches. You must first answer the question: Does this person or team have the competencies required to build on and sustain their motivation?
Competence is about skill — the ability to carry out a task to consistently produce the desired result. But skill is not universal.
A person can be highly competent as a crane operator but have low competence at managing people. An effective leader deals differently with the same person based on their different levels of competence relative to a specific task.
Competence is determined by:
- Technical skills that a performer can apply successfully
- Emotional intelligence (self-awareness; self-management)
- Job knowledge that a performer can clearly explain to others
- The ability to collaborate with others in the company and get their cooperation
An individual’s technical skills, emotional intelligence, job knowledge and organizational power and/or influence to do the task consistently and well determine the level of supervision necessary.
Motivation is task-specific and can be observed by a person’s willingness to keep going despite set-backs. Motivation is determined by:
- Interest as evidenced in actions, not words
- Willingness to take calculated risks
- Ability and willingness to take individual responsibility
- Ability and willingness to be accountable to the team
How an individual meets or exceeds expectations on a specific task, as shown in their interest, risk taking, alignment with company goals, individual responsibility or team accountability determines their level of motivation.
By assessing and analyzing each of these factors — the six key indicators plus competence and motivation — a leader is now ready to apply the most effective leadership behavior, or style, to support and direct the team or individual. Obviously, this is very difficult to do “on the fly.”
Regularly assessing teams and individuals before problems appear is highly preferable, and likely results in a much more successful approach.
Choose the Behavior That Best Fits the Situation
In “Leadership for Einsteins,” Dr. Jim Sellner defines two fundamental, universally applicable sets of leadership behaviors.
- Showing outlines how to do it, who will do what, by when and how it will get done. This also allows for specific feedback throughout the process to increase individual and team sense of achievement and competencies.
- Encouraging individuals and teams helps to improve their performance in order to leverage their competencies into higher value to the company. Encouragement increases people’s motivation and personal satisfaction.
These are further broken down into four very practical applications:
- Showing — To develop and support people and teams whose task-specific competence and motivation levels are low, leaders are most effective when they concentrate on showing while providing some encouragement.
- Focusing — To develop and support people and teams who have moderate competence and motivation in a specific task, leaders are most effective when they concentrate on both heavy showing and encouragement.
- Facilitating — To develop and support people and teams whose task-specific competence is moving into the higher zone, but their motivation varies, leaders are most effective when providing some showing, accompanied by measured encouragement.
- Delegating — To develop and support people and teams who are self-reliant achievers to a specific task, leaders are most effective when providing a small amount of showing, some encouragement, and very importantly, the leader should keep themselves open to influence.
We refer to the following statistics from Gallup’s massive State of the American Workplace survey as evidence of how effective leadership can influence success.
- Highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity.
- Highly engaged business units achieve 24% lower turnover. In low-turnover organizations, the gains are even more dramatic: Highly engaged business units achieve 59% lower turnover.
- Highly engaged business units experience a 28% reduction in shrinkage (the dollar amount of unaccounted-for lost merchandise) and a 40% reduction in quality defects.
- Highly engaged business units realize a 70% decrease in employee safety incidents and a 58% decrease in patient
- safety incidents.
- Highly engaged business units achieve a 10% increase in customer metrics and a 20% increase in sales.
- Highly engaged business units result in 21% greater profitability.
While we do not discount the critical need for strong leadership vision and intelligent strategy, teams and team members experience and react to the leader through the leader’s day-to-day behaviors.
Data insights coupled with leadership agility is the one style everyone should adopt if they want to quickly see noticeable improvement in team performance and collaboration.