Tip for the DON: Identify the best leadership style for the situation

There is no best way to influence others. The right choice of leadership style depends on your ability to determine whether your staff have all the skills and experience they need to do the job they are assigned and your sense of whether they want to or believe they can do it.


Assess readiness as determined by the level of competence and commitment the person or group brings to the job to be done. Taking the time to accurately diagnose how to best align leadership style with staff needs is the characteristic feature of situational leadership. Leaders who fail to accurately assess these needs often rely on instinct, assumptions, or their own favorite styles and miss the opportunity to really engage with their staff.


Micromanagement and being left to “sink or swim” are just two examples of the lack of alignmentbetween a leader and follower(s). To increase the chances of aligning with the readiness of staff or the group, give thought to the concepts of competence and commitment, as they are equally important to successful completion of a task.

Competence—Competence is a function of knowledge and skills, which can be gained from education,
training, and experience. Competence is not another word for ability. Competence develops with the appropriate direction and support. You are not born with competence—you learn it.


Commitment—Commitment is a combination of confidence and motivation. Confidence is a measure of a person’s self-assuredness—a feeling of being able to do a task well without much supervision—and motivation is a person’s interest in and enthusiasm for doing a task well. If employees have the competence and confidence but no motivation, they are not committed to the job. People lose motivation for a myriad of reasons. One of the most common is realizing the task is going to be harder to complete than they thought.

When we examine the relationship between the four leadership styles, commitment, and competence,we find the following:

  • Directing is for those who lack competence and because of their insecurity (e.g., orientees or new grads in their first year of employmen.
  • Coaching is for those who are committed and more secure but need guidance, praise, and feedback to continue developing their competence (e.g., staff with 15–36 months on the job.
  • Supporting is for those who are competent with well-developed skills, but need support and guidance in trusting their own judgment and making decisions that build their self esteem (e.g., a proficient staff nurse who is chosen to chair a task force of her peers).
  • Delegating is for those who have both competence and commitment. They are willing and able to work on a project by themselves and with little supervision or support.

Consider explaining your choices. The proficient staff nurse who has never been involved in a problem-solving task force will need a great deal of direction. The competent charge nurse who has been a preceptor for new grads will probably need direction and support when dealing with an irate or disruptive physician. Reviewing the leadership styles—directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating—in a staff meeting assists staff in understanding why you may be using “different strokes for different folks” and intentionally treating people differently
as their needs change.

Self-assessments
It is important for the leader to thoughtfully assess the style needed by a person or group, but it is also helpful to have the person or group use these ideas to assess themselves and ask for the style they need from the leader. This framework can shed light on what staff need in terms of guidance and support. They may report to a director who naturally prefers a delegating style. However, if  they are new to management, a directing style is often best. Seasoned expert managers may find themselves micromanaged as a new director determines how much guidance they need. Candid and honestdiscussions about such alignments can be instrumental to everyone’s overall effectiveness. Use situational leadership as a framework for these important conversations.

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