Once you’re able to diagnose the learner’s development level, then you need to know what leadership style you should provide for each of the development levels. So now, let’s put the second skill, flexibility, into play before we put the two of them together. Flexibility is about which leadership style you should use to match up with the four development levels. Because there are two dimensions to leadership: First is Directive Behavior. This is when you tell people what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, and you’ll closely supervise them. Second is Supportive Behavior. This is when you listen to people, when you involve them in the decision, you praise them, you facilitate their interactions with others.
Let me explain this further. From my parents who were both college professors, I learned that there are two philosophies of teaching. First, the Empty Barrel philosophy of teaching assumes that kids come to school with an empty barrel of knowledge. So, what’s the job of the teacher? To fill it up. Directive behavior is a barrel-filling style. The other approach to teaching employs a Full-Barrel philosophy, or the belief that students come to class with their barrels full of knowledge and experience but maybe not particularly organized for this particular course. So, what’s the job of the teacher? To draw that knowledge and experience out of them and help them organize it. This barrel-drawing style is supportive in nature.
Now, look at the combinations you see in the four leadership styles. So, for example, suppose I need to buy gift prizes for my workshop, if I say to Oliver, “Oliver, I need gift prizes for my workshop games. Now, what I want you to do is go to the convenience store and buy me a few bags of a specific brand of chocolates because people love receiving chocolates. And when you’re finished, report back to me.” Now, that’s the same approach my first boss did to me for more than one year! That’s leadership style one, high on directive behavior and low on supportive behavior – a barrel-filling style. If I wanted to use style three, which is high on supportive behavior, low on directive behavior, I would say, “Oliver, I need gift prizes for my workshop games. What do you think we buy that is quick and easy to get?” See, I draw the knowledge out of him. It’s a barrel-drawing out style.
Now, in between style 1 and 3 is style 2, which is developing. Everybody knows that coaching both directs and supports, but is both barrel-filling and barrel-drawing-out. And so, on buying prizes for my workshop games, if I said, “Oliver, I need prizes for my workshop games. What I think you ought to do is to go the convenient store and buy me a few bags of chocolates because people love receiving chocolates. What do you think? Do have any questions? Do you have any suggestions?” So, I fill his barrel, but I also draw out of his barrel.
Style 4, on the other hand, is commissioning or delegating, which is low on both direction and support. So if I was using the delegating style with Oliver for buying prizes, I’d say, “Oliver, I need prizes for my workshop today. Please take care of it.” But I’ll make sure to check on Oliver. I’ll probably call him when he is in the convenience store just to make sure he is not buying the wrong item or going out of budget. But more than that, I would want him to know that I trust him to do a great job.
Now, a lot of managers make a mistake and abdicate rather than delegate. When you delegate, you give them the responsibility, but you’re always there if they want to communicate with you when they need help. And that’s what absolutely went wrong with the second boss I mentioned in my story who freely delegated everything to a year-old junior executive.
Now you can see, I used the same example — buying gift prizes for my workshop — to show you all four leadership styles to demonstrate that situational leadership and the Way of the Carpenter are task-specific concepts. And so, for any one particular goal, you can use any one of the four leadership styles because the person could be in any one of the four development levels for that particular task. People are not globally at any one of the development levels; that varies depending on what you are asking him to do.
For example, I trained some sales staff about a year ago on four different responsibilities: sales, service, administration and team contribution. It’s not unheard of for one to be great at sales but lousy at administrative jobs. And so, with the same person, I had to employ one leadership style for training them on sales and a different one for training them in administrative responsibilities. Because there were people who were great in administrative responsibilities but could not sell a single unit even if they were selling to a family member.
Now, in partnering for performance, you match your leadership style with the development level of the person you are leading on a particular task. Then, you will want to agree on your goals and objectives on a task. Then both you and the person you are leading would separately assess his development level, and come back to agree on that, and therefore also the corresponding goals you would have for the task. Once you have done that, you can start to agree on the appropriate leadership style to use with them for that particular task. Then, deliver what you promised.
Now, in what ways can we know which leadership style goes with which development level? Well, a novice needs Directing, an apprentice needs Coaching or Developing, a journeyman some Supporting and for the self-reliant or master teacher, you can be Delegating or Commissioning. In each stage, the leader has to stay on track. And that track also beautifully follows the four stops on the development levels of the person.
The Way of the Carpenter carries a wonderful concept because it says that there is not one best leadership style; it all depends on the development level of people on particular tasks. We need to give them what they need when they need it. So there is no such thing as a best leadership style when it comes to defining what a good or bad boss is. Instead, a great leader is someone who can gradually change his or her leadership style so that the people under them can progress from one development level to another. That leader should be there to praise his people when they need it. He or she should be able to redirect their people when they need it. He or she should be there to turn things over to them when they need it. He or she must be a beautiful carpenter leader, one who leads like Jesus.