Thursday, October 22, 2015

Does Your Leadership (Parenting) Match Your Followers (Children)?

Last week, my family had an interaction that caused us to reflect a bit on leadership. My sixth grade daughter had to pack for an overnight retreat. This was the first time she had been on a trip of this kind and she was very excited! She had a list of things she needed and was eager to put it all together the night before the trip. Meanwhile, her sister was having a difficulty studying for a test. No problem! We've got two parents. I took on the science test study and I asked my husband to help with the packing.

This is an example of how not to pack a suitcase.
I came back to the packing party a few hours later and was surprised to see that my visiting sister had actually taken a bigger role in the packing task. My husband - not knowing there were potentially confusing choices or tricky words on the list - had delegated the packing to the 11 year old by saying, "You get started and come get me if you have problems." Nothing wrong with that at all! Except that she was such a beginner in packing that she had questions like, "What are toiletries?" This led to my sister stepping in to provide definitions and suggestions about how to choose items that would fit well in a bag and how to efficiently pack them in there.
Actually, Sarah Miller is a good RESULTS leader
and knows exactly what she's doing. She's just
posing a question to a group in this pic.

Later, we mused over the incident and how it reminded us of leadership modeling. The sixth grader was just too much of a packing novice to succeed with only a delegation. Even though she's an extremely mature kid, she doesn't have the experience needed for this particular "task maturity." Pure delegation wasn't working for her yet on that job. Just like it doesn't work with many activists I have led who don't have much experience advocating. So, what theory can help us see what people need so that we don't leave them wondering what in the world to do?

The situational leadership model is a theory developed by Paul Hersey, professor and author of the book "The Situational Leader," and Ken Blanchard, leadership trainer and author of "The One Minute Manager." I'm certainly no expert in it, but some the basics of it ring true to me.

As I understand situational leadership theory, there isn't really a "best" style of leadership. Effective leadership is specific to the task at hand and the person doing the task. Flexible leaders adapt their leadership style to the maturity and skill of the one(s) who are being led. Here are examples of different follower types you might be leading as a parent or a community organizer.

  • Enthusiastic BeginnerFollower is an enthusiastic beginner and with low competence but very high commitment to the task. This was my overnighting 6th grader. Or, think of the volunteer who wants to help advocate, but doesn't know how to write a letter to Congress...this volunteer might be 10 yrs old or 50 yrs old. Needs a Directing leader.
  • Disillusioned LearnerFollower is a disillusioned learner with limited competence and low commitment to the task. I think of the pre-schooler who doesn't know how to clean his room well and really doesn't want you to show them how. In activism terms, this person probably won't show up to meetings much, but when they do, they need a Coaching leader to answer questions about how to do something and why it matters.
  • Capable but Cautious Contributor; Follower is capable of performing task but is bit cautious with varying degree of commitment toward task. Kind of like an elementary school kid who knows how to rake leaves, but isn't sure what the benefit will be. Or the volunteer who knows how to make a phone call to Congress or write a letter, but isn't sure it will make a difference in the world. Needs a Supporting leader to help followers come to decisions on their own.
  • Self-Reliant Achiever; Follower is a self-reliant achiever with high competence and high commitment to the task. This is the kid taking the lead on her own science project. Or the volunteer organizing an event for a group. Needs a Delegating leader to sit back and let the person own the task and feel good about owning it.
So, what are these different kinds of leadership styles? What characteristics make up these different kinds of leaders?

  • Directing leader; "Telling" leader defines the roles/tasks and supervises closely; leader makes the decision; the communication is mostly going to be one-way 
  • Coaching leader; "Selling" leader involves follower in action planning, promotes independent thinking; seeks suggestions; leader still makes final decision; more two way communication
  • Supporting leader;  "Participating" leader listens, encourages to take lead, facilitates, participate in decision making but follower makes the decision
  • Delegating leader; "Delegating" leader allows goal setting, planning, decision making; rewards follower for good performance; leader’s involvement is dependent of follower
Do you have different kinds of people in your advocacy group who need different kinds of leadership for different types of tasks? If so, can you adapt your leadership style to give each follower what they need? Or, would it be helpful to find a co-leader who can take over for specific tasks or supervise certain people in your group?