What's the positive difference this thing called 'leadership' actually makes? Another way of thinking about it is to ask what we wouldn't have if we didn't have leadership. Typically, a handful of key words or terms emerge from small group discussions: direction, support, motivation, morale, development.
Sometimes we engage in some debate around whether people need external motivation or whether it comes from within, but there's no doubt that, like morale, a motivating (or demotivating) environment or culture can be an expression of the type of leadership being experienced.
But these are typical responses. They're expectations and they're reasonable ones. The first two, Direction and Support, are also very clearly behavioural. They provide the foundation for other outcomes. They are things we expect to see leaders doing. They're also things that can be quite challenging to do effectively.
Situational Leadership® is a behavioural model. It's not a theory or an aspiration of what leadership should be like. It says that if we are actually going to 'lead', to influence, to make a positive difference, then we're going to have to be aware of, manage and adapt our behaviours according to the needs of the situation.
Now that's common sense. But of course common sense and common practice are two very different things. Situational Leadership® founder Dr Paul Hersey described the situational approach as 'organised common sense'. And the first thing a leader has to organise is him or her self.
This is where the Situational Leadership® model and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) are so practically linked. Because while providing direction and providing support are two essential elements of effective leadership, they're also often quite different preferences of human behaviour.
I wonder if you've noticed that, when a person's preferred leadership behaviour style isn't working effectively, they will automatically adapt their behaviour to provide more or less of what's required? No? You're probably right. Because what typically happens under pressure is that we do more of what we feel most comfortable with. Thinking things through in unfamiliar or pressured situations is hard. Adapting our behaviour doesn't naturally come to mind because that's hard too.
So we default to familiar patterns of thinking and behaviour. All that detail I gave you didn't make it clear? Here, have some more detail! All that encouragement and reassurance I gave you didn't give you the skills you needed? Don't worry, let me reassure you some more!
Every leader has a 'leadership style'. It's just that they don't always know what it actually is. Because our leadership style isn't what we believe or intend or know or think or hope it's what we do and how we do it. It's how we behave (including how we communicate). That's what other people notice and experience. And it's those other people who actually decide what the leader's style is.
An effective leader does provide both support and direction as those things are needed, not simply based on what feels right to them. That requires an understanding of the situation of what's actually needed to help others develop, perform and succeed.
EQ is about developing an accurate awareness of the self. With that awareness in place we can start managing our self more effectively (including by being able to adapt our behaviours). But EQ is also about others (like leadership) and so it involves developing understanding about others and how they differ from us (sometimes called 'social awareness'). Together, this awareness of self and others, combined with an ability to manage ourselves, can enable us to manage our relationships with others more effectively.
There's no one right or ideal leadership style. The key is to be able to adapt our behaviours to the situational needs of individuals, groups and contexts. Common sense, yes. But not common practice, because it isn't easy.
We all have strengths, limitations and preferences. And we can all develop our repertoire of behaviours and practices. When we do, we're better able to provide the support, direction and development that makes 'the leadership difference'. It starts with the principles of self awareness, social and situational awareness, and self management - EQ and Situational Leadership®.