Thanks to Scott Mutchler, MBA – Wellspring Professional Coaching Services, LLC for providing this article posted on GRAPE – Grand Rapids Area Professionals for Excellence.
Leadership is situational. It emerges from the context of a specific situation and with a group of willing followers who share common goals, beliefs, and culture. Within that context, however, different situations call for emphasizing different leadership skills. One size does not fit all.
Let’s illustrate with a thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that you have just witnessed a traffic accident. Your body chemistry automatically changes. Your heart pounds in your chest. As you approach the scene and assess the situation, you see a car, its windshield is cracked, the driver is bleeding from the forehead and he is unresponsive. Other people are gathering around. No one seems quite sure what to do.
(a) Initiate a subcommittee to formulate a revised strategy on preventing traffic accidents
(b) Talk with other bystanders about the fact that there has been an accident
(c) Approach the vehicle and speak directly to the driver, asking, “Sir? Sir? Can you hear me You’ve been in accident and have bumped your head. Do you need assistance?”
(d) Direct another person to call 911 NOW
The most appropriate leadership responses in this situation are both (c) and (d). But how do I know that? Previously, I’ve taken first aid training, which involved learning and rehearsing what to do in this situation in a practice and teaching environment. In fact, in my adult life I have been present and able to assist at the scene of a traffic accident on four different occasions. I was prepared and had the skills in my repertoire to act quickly, decisively, and appropriately until the professional EMTs arrived. Happily, all four of those situations ended well.
On a broader scale, another example of situational leadership comes from recent US history. Specifically, let’s look at Rudy Giuliani’s leadership following the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Giuliani was the mayor of NYC at that time. Prior to the attacks, his popularity was waning as he approached the end of his 2nd term . Whether you love or loathe Giuliani’s politics, most everyone will agree that he did an absolutely fabulous job of communicating with New Yorkers, Americans, and the world at large in the hours and days following the calamity.
He knew what needed to be done to calm everyone’s nerves, to communicate the spirit of this great country, and that New York in particular would rebuild. Beautifully, skillfully, brilliantly done, Mr. Mayor.
However, when Guliani entered the 2008 Presidential race and sought the Republican Party’s nomination, he placed entirely too much emphasis on how he handled 9/11. At one point during the campaign, his opponents criticized him for responding to all political discourse with a noun, a verb, and 9/11.
My purpose here is not to criticize Mr. Guliani. Rather, my purpose is to use this as a concrete and specific example of how leadership is situational. What was perfectly suited to the days and weeks following 9/11 did not translate into the broader context of running for President. Rudolph William Louis Giuliani. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 12:25, Apr 12, 12014, from http://www.biography.com/people/rudolph-giuliani-9312674.
Being an effective leader means many things. It means different things at different times. Take a moment right now for yourself and reflect on a recent leadership opportunity. Did you play the same noun, verb, and 9/11 response that is comfortable, familiar, and always ready to deploy?
Maybe that was exactly the right thing for that situation. You’ll know. Or was there something else that would have been even more effective? What leadership skill is top of mind for you, one that you know would serve you, your organization, and your followers well if you were to cultivate it? Back to that recent leadership situation you are reflecting on: Did you dictate what needed to be done or did you empower your people to take ownership of the issue at hand? If you empowered them, did you say the words or did you fully give them the authority, the responsibility, and the accountability to see it to completion?
As leaders, our growth and development are never done. We must prepare ourselves not only for what we face today. We must also look ahead and anticipate what will be needed in the future and take steps to cultivate and practice those skills. When the time comes, we will be ready to serve and lead our followers.
To your growing leadership success,
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