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Situational Leadership for Superior Results

By Mark J. Cappone

Key Takeaways:

  • Effective leaders can receive superior results by applying different leadership styles based on the situation.
  • The ability to exercise multiple styles of leadership requires significant emotional intelligence. 

The author of a recent IncMagazine article suggested that the ‘command and control’ leadership style found in hierarchical businesses and organizations like the military is dead.[i]

Replacing it, the author argued, must be a more flexible, agile leadership style that provides employee empowerment and autonomy in decision making. Today’s businesses will survive only by fostering an environment where employees can speak their minds to their superiors while conflict and disagreement are encouraged, so the best solutions rise to the top.

It’s a good article and I tend to agree with the author — with one exception: While still very much alive, I believe that the ‘command and control’ leadership style is only one of several that leaders must be able to apply, depending on the situation.

In his legendary article, “Leadership That Gets Results,” Daniel Goleman cited research which confirmed that leaders who achieved the best results were the ones who applied different leadership styles in different situations.[ii]

Goleman outlined six styles:

  1. Coercive (aka ‘Command and Control’) – ‘Do as I say’ / Immediate Compliance
  2. Authoritative (aka ‘Visionary’) – Inspires Others to Move Toward a Vision
  3. Affiliative – Builds Harmony and Emotional Bonds
  4. Democratic – Builds Consensus through Inclusion & Participation
  5. Pacesetting – High Standards & Expectations for Performance
  6. Coaching – Developing for Future Performance

While we won’t dive into the meaning of each of these styles here, it’s important to note that the situation dictates which one may be most effective. It is also vital that the leader possesses a high level of emotional intelligence to most accurately assess the situation and effectively apply the leadership style best suited for it.

Leaders must also be aware that while the affiliative, democratic, authoritative and coaching styles encourage commitment; the coercive and pace-setting styles often result only in temporary compliance or even resistance. Therefore, they should be used sparingly and not for extended periods of time.

So the next time there’s a crisis that requires immediate action and decisive leadership, know that a ‘command and control’ leadership style may actually be appropriate for the situation.

However when the situation warrants, deliberate use of emotional intelligence to employ the most appropriate leadership style will deliver the best results.

[i] “Command and Control Leadership Is Dead. Here’s What’s Taking Its Place.” Inc. Magazine found at: https://www.inc.com/robert-glazer/command-control-leadership-is-dead-heres-whats-taking-its-place.html

[ii] “Leadership That Gets Results.” Harvard Business Review. Found at: https://hbr.org/2000/03/leadership-that-gets-results