Situational Leadership

For a very long time, I deeply believed that treating everybody equally is the most unfair thing one could do. Instead, in order to treat everybody fair, you need to adjust your approach, you need to deal with situations differently. In everyday live, this can become a challenge especially if you lead a team that is diverse in culture, experience, expectations, and age.

Hence I was glad when I heard of the Situational Leadership approach. It gave me a framework for the believe that I have. Sometimes frameworks help to work in a structured way with difficult situations. There are various books about Situational Leadership. The one I read (though in German) is the following:

There are much more though, and also Youtube is a good source for shorter and longer clips about the topic.

In essence, Situational Leadership is differentiating between four development levels and four leadership styles.

Throughout D1 to D4 competence of employees in this group will grow. Their commitment or engagement, however, will fluctuate.

Someone new on a job might be very engaged, but not very competent yet. On the other end of the scale, a professional working in a field already for many years is highly committed and highly competent. In between, employees in D2 and D3 have a certain level of competence but either low (D2) or variable (D3) engagement. The reasons for this can be manifold, but it often comes from the realization that you know something and you have overcome the initial hurdles, but you also know that there is so much more that you are not familiar with. This may seem frightening and overwhelming.

The related four leadership styles differentiate from each other by the amount of direction and support an individual gets from their manager and in who is going to take a decision.

For an inexperienced D1, the S1 leadership style fits well. The person knows very little it needs to be directed a lot in order to learn. You will take all decisions. With growing competence of the employee, you will decrease the blunt direction and instead coach and support the employee so he can grow further by himself. You will talk through decisions with a D2, but you are the one that takes the decisions.

Finally, with S3 and S4 you are delegating the decision-making to the employee. Over time the employee will become more competent and confident and hence can make a decision; at first still consulting with you (S3) but ultimately completely independent from you (S4).

Some important additional points:

  • Assume everybody has potential and the willingness to use it.
  • Tell people that you are using situational leadership otherwise, people will be surprised by your change in behavior.
  • For the situational leadership model to be successful (and in my opinion any leadership model to be successful) it is key to agree on goals and to measure and rate them.
  • You can use more than one style on one person. Someone might be very experienced in one area, but very inexperienced in an area he just entered. Imagine a Senior Engineer with 15+ years of engineering experience who makes his first step into management. Those can be complex situations in day to day work live…

As usually, my goal with this article is not to dive into every detail of situational leadership, but just to give an overview and note down some key takeaways for my own purpose. There are plenty of resources on the internet as well as books that you consult for a lot more detail.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

Recently I came across a book that I read a couple of years ago: The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

As it usually is, you are excited about a book and then as time passes by you forget again. So it is always good to go back and remind yourself.

 

image3831

 

The book is really about the 5 dysfunctions listed in the left triangle. All dysfunctions are somewhat related with each other, hence the representation as a pyramid. It starts with the absence of trust meaning teams are not open with each other. This results in fear of conflict during discussions. Honest opinions will be held back and instead, everyone will just voice opinions that seem acceptable by everyone. Fear of conflict leads to lack of commitment. If you haven’t voiced your opinion you will not buy into the decision. If you haven’t bought into a decision you will avoid any accountability which ultimately results to inattention to results.

On the other hand, truly cohesive teams, trust each other and hence engage in conflict around ideas. As all team members participated in the discussion they are able to commit to decisions and speak with one voice. As they agreed to a decision as a group they hold each other accountable for delivering on the decided plans. By holding each other accountable they focus on the achievement of collective results.

While this probably makes sense to most people who are reading this, reality is often much more complicated. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize the dysfunctions and it is even harder to fix them in order to build a functional team.

For those who want to learn more about the topic, I’m highly recommending buying the book or you watch this video:

Open Positions On My Team

Over the last 1.5 years, my teams have been growing a lot. From only 6 developers in Europe, we present now about half of the global Concur Travel Development team. We are a very international team with 10+ nationalities from across the world and we are working on some of the most exciting functionalities within Concur Travel. We use a multitude of technologies. .NET, Go, Docker and Kubernetes being among them.

If you want to be part of a growing and successful team, if you want to create a career and if you are interested in solving technical challenges in order to create business value these are the right positions for you:

 

Natural Project Planning

Allen’s Getting Things Done is a resourceful book in many ways. If someone asked me for the two most valuable / interesting passages of the booking I’d probably point out the „Getting Things Done“ diagram which I wrote about here and the „Natural Project Planning“ which I want to write about in this post.

Natural Project Planning consists out of five steps:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions

If you’re like me you will probably read over that list and think „yep, that’s how it should be, so what’s the big deal here“. Well, the big deal is, that while this model is very natural it won’t be followed most of the time.

Think back to your last kickstart meeting for the latest and greatest project. For sure someone said, „let’s brainstorm“. That just sounds right and very actionable. The problem: If you didn’t talk about the purpose of the new project yet and if you have no idea about possible desired outcomes for the project the brainstorming will lead to absolutely nothing constructive. Without knowing the purpose of the project and without any vision you won’t be able to separate the good ideas from the bad ones. So next time someone says „Let’s brainstorm“ make sure everybody is clear about the purpose, principles and outcome visions.

Once these are defined and you successfully brainstormed the new project everybody leaves the room and now what? If you?were lucky someone took a photo of the whiteboard with all the good and bad results of the brainstorming on it. Since most teams don’t have the luxury of working on one project at a time it is fairly certain that other things come up and get prioritized. After a week nobody will understand anymore what all the words in the photo of the whiteboard are really about and we have to start the process all over again.
Brainstorming is important but it will be for nothing if you don’t take the time and organize all the unordered ideas into actionable items. Start writing a project plan. I don’t have to be a huge formal document. Simply make a list of „next actions“. Prioritize them and assign them to concrete people.

Following these five easy steps helps to get projects started and keep them going. It works for small and big projects, however, for big projects, you’ll likely need more formal approaches…

Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson

If you ever were curious about how innovation actually works this video is probably what you should start with:

If you found this video interesting, you definitely want to get a copy of Johnson’s awesome book „Where Good Ideas Come From“.

Johnson found, that there are re-occurring patterns which support innovation. He describes these patterns in seven chapters which there are

  1. The Adjacent Possible – New innovations more often than not take existing pieces and put them together in a new way. Each new innovation increases the space of the adjacent possible.
  2. Liquid Networks – History of innovation shows that networks support good ideas and innovation. People connecting with other people and multiple disciplines are more likely to have an innovative thought.
  3. The Slow Hunch – Great new ideas often don’t break through in a Eureka moment. Much more often they linger in the back of someone’s head and need months, sometimes years or decades to develop into something real. Liquid networks at this point can help to bring slow hunches together and then these combined slow hunches lead to a new idea.
  4. Serendipity – Sometimes great ideas come to you in unexpected moments. Johnson talks about a whole bunch of good examples in his book. Sometimes it’s just necessary to free your mind, go for a walk, watch a soccer game, go on vacation and eventually a brilliant connection will occur to you which didn’t come to your mind before.
  5. Error – Innovation is also a history of error. If you don’t want to make any error you likely will never invent anything. By making errors you learn from every single one and if you’re lucky and interpret the errors correctly you might come up with something wonderfully new.
  6. Exaptation – Exaptation is a term coming from biology. The feathers of birds, for instance, were first developed by mother nature by means of isolation. Later on, however, they turned out to be essential for flying. So feathers were adapted for flying. Looking at innovations of the recent centuries from the viewpoint of exaptation, you’ll find that many innovations were possible by using an existing thing in a different way.
  7. Platforms – Platforms support innovation. Platforms allow you to _not_ think about certain things and instead concentrate on the solution of the actual problem you’re trying to solve.

This is a very short summary of a great book, so I hope you got an appetite and are going to read it. You can get a copy for example at Amazon.de