Effective Leadership Is Situational

One of the talents of great leaders is the ability to respond differentially depending on the situation at hand. For example, some situations call for the extra time and effort required for consensus while others require quick, executive decisions. Recognizing which situation one is in is critical to effective leadership.

As it relates to personnel, this differential treatment is particularly important.

The conventional wisdom is that a manager/leader should treat everyone equally. That would be a big mistake. Treating folks fairly should be the goal. The fact is that individuals are so different—temperament, abilities, experience, personality, goals, motivation, etc.—that if we were to treat everyone the same, we would quickly find ourselves in serious trouble. In fact, even the same person changes from day to day (what they’ve learned, how they are feeling physically, whether they had a fight with a significant other) that what “worked” on Monday may be ineffective on Wednesday.

As it relates to operational issues, effective situational leadership also requires the time to assess each situation individually before making a decision or choosing an operational path. We often believe that time is so short that we have to act immediately. This is rarely true–quickly and immediately are not the same thing. In fact, if we don’t take the time to make a thoughtful decision, it is more likely that we will spend far more time dealing with the consequences of an inadequate decision after the fact. Moreover, we sometimes fall into a trap of “I’ve seen this problem/issue/situation before so I know the answer.” There was a time when that approach was probably fairly effective. However, today’s environment is so dynamic and the variables we have to deal with are so transient, that the underlying drivers of a given situation are likely quite different than the last time you dealt with what looks like a similar situation.

So, regardless of the situation at hand—operational, financial, personnel—good leaders understand that even if the issue looks just like one they dealt with a certain way previously, that the circumstances that influence the situation may be quite different and the way they respond may need to be equally different.

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