Transformational leadership

Contextual Leadership: Different Strokes for Different Folks

Leadership can be exercised in many different styles. One can be authoritarian or democratic, thought-driven or action-oriented, systematic or intuitive, supportive or directive. A leadership style that works in one context or culture may or may not work in another.
While you read this article think and ponder about the leadership style of Steve Balmer or Steve Jobs versus Satya Nadella.
The concept of contextual leadership helps us to understand the relationship between a leader’s style and the background against which it is effective. Contextual leadership is the ability to understand and adapt leadership to the situation and culture. Contextual leaders read the signs of the times, emerging trends, future directions et cetera and capitalize on them ahead of others.
Developing Contextual Leadership
So how does one develop the skill that requires adapting leadership style to the needs of culture and context? The following are certain ways you can develop your ability for contextual leadership.
Begin with self-awareness:
You can only develop flexibility and adaptability if you reflect on your shortcomings. This is developed in many ways. Seek active feedback from others about your shortcomings. Avoid being judgmental and defensive about that feedback and remove your ego from the equation. Observe with detachment the effect your actions and speech have on others. If it is not what will profit you, it’s time for reflection. Active introspection and feedback helps bring many hidden aspects of ourselves into consciousness. After introspection make a list of areas where you need to consciously break habits in order to be flexible, agile and adaptable.
Avoid fixed commitment to a leadership style:
Everyone has a hardwired intuitive approach to leadership developed through habits formed over years. This need not be abandoned because it has been formed in response to certain situations and may still be effective in those. However, think about what you need to change according to the situation or context or culture. Will you deal with self-motivated people the same way as demoralized people? Or highly intelligent and skilful people the same way as untrained people? While we do have ‘dominant’ styles we also have a range of strategies for dealing with situations. Think in terms of if-then scenarios.
Explore a range of styles to see what works:
So how do you know what style works? Start by trying the democratic style of delegation. See if it yields the result. If it doesn’t, listen to your team’s problems. See if that works. If the team seems to require direction, try a direct approach. Know what style you need to accent. Then, use a combined style of listening and directing and delegating, keeping in mind the accent that worked and the need of the situation. As your team grows in competence, be ready to change your style to a more hands off one. Note that you and your team will be measured for results, so take care not to waste excess time in exploration.
Four Styles of Contextual Leadership
Contextual leadership involves mastery of four different styles. These are: delegating, directing, developing and problem-solving.
• Delegating: This style involves expecting the team to deliver on its own initiative with low leadership involvement in either supporting the team or directing it. It is completely hands off.
• Directing This style involves a great deal of initiative in providing direction to the team and controlling and monitoring the team for results. However, the role is not supportive.
• Developing: This style involves actively listening to the team’s problems and proposed solutions and providing the resource support necessary without intensely managing the team’s output.
Problem-Solving:This style involves active listening and support, as well as, providing all the direction necessary to ensure that problems are solved and tasks accomplished.
Hope this article will help you to think about your leadership style and flex according to the situation. Let me know your thoughts and experiences as you practice Contextual Leadership.

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