Leadership of the Self: Applying Situational Leadership to Self Management

In my management classes, we often discuss what it means to be an effective leader.

The other day, we were introduced to a concept called “situational leadership” which describes six different leadership styles to be applied in different circumstances. These six styles utilize different aspects of emotional intelligence. We learned about each of them as follows:

  1. Coercive – “do what I say”
    This style of leadership takes a very stern, delegating approach where the leader will be assigning tasks to their team in a “my way or the highway” approach. Although helpful in certain, tight-turnaround or disastrous situations, this approach has a very negative impact on the culture of the team.
  2. Authoritative – “come with me”
    This style is all about the bigger picture. The leader will inspire and motivate their team by reminding them of the why of what they’re doing, and leave the how up to them. This approach is a solid default and has a positive impact on culture.
  3. Affiliative – “our people come first”
    The affiliative style is all about the people. The leader will focus on building relationships with and among team members, with an emphasis on harmony. Although positive for the culture of the team, it can sometimes lack accountability when team members are not performing highly.
  4. Democratic – “what do you think?”
    The democratic style takes everyone’s input into account, and is very helpful when the leader needs ideas and wants the team to all be on the same page and moving in the same direction. Although positive for culture, this style can be extremely time-consuming.
  5. Pace-setting – “do as I do”
    The pace-setting style has the leader in the trenches with their team, and is actively demonstrating their work ethic and drive. Further, they expect their team to live up to the same standards the leader is setting for themselves. This can lead to a highly competitive, and long-term toxic culture that can only work for short periods of time.
  6. Coaching – “try this”
    The coaching style takes the emphasis off of what the leader wants, and focuses on the ambitions of the team member as an individual, and works with them to achieve those goals. This is a very positive, although time-consuming leadership strategy.

Each of these leadership styles likely makes you think of someone in your life who you have either been led by, or have observed lead. You can probably see how these six would scale into the Situational Leadership Theory quadrants below:

Now that you have a basis for understanding the six leadership styles, I want to share a story with you from the other day.

I was doing yoga with my friend Jacob, and I remember distinctly as I was resting for a moment in child’s pose, that I was thinking, “okay, okay, I need to slow down. I can allow myself to slow down right now. Gosh, I’m always acting like such a pace-setter.”

This little slip of knowledge from my management class earlier that day led me to an entirely different way of thinking of the six leadership styles: they also reflect how we lead and manage ourselves.

Let’s look at the leadership styles from a different lens:

  1. Coercive: “you HAVE to do this thing, now, or else!”
    A coercive self-leadership style would be forcing yourself to do things, just because they need to get done. You might have an end-of-the-world mentality as you go about the tasks, because you are putting so much pressure on yourself to get it done. This could be on a deadline crunch, and you are getting down on yourself as you are forcing yourself to do it. Sometimes, yes, you may need to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do, but in non-dire situations this can be a very toxic approach.
  2. Authoritative: “let’s look at the big picture here…”
    This style allows you to take a step back and recognize the why of what you’re doing, rather than just the how. It allows you to look at the big picture and motivate yourself to do the things you have to. For instance, you may need to get an assignment done that isn’t very exciting, but you remind yourself that this is contributing to your understanding of an important topic, or even as broad as helping you get closer to your degree. This will almost always be a positive approach, but is sometimes difficult when in the moment.
  3. Affiliative: “alright. I feel good. I’ve got this.”
    The affiliative style helps you feel more in harmony with yourself. It contributes to a feeling of groundedness and confidence. There is a lot of self-awareness in this approach, but also a healthy amount of acceptance and kindness. You are easier on yourself when you make mistakes, and you are careful about limiting negative self-talk.
  4. Democratic: “what are the different feelings I have right now, and how can I honor them?”
    Have you ever been so torn that you made a pro con list? Often times, we feel like we are being pulled in different directions by different aspects of self. The democratic self-leader will take into account all parts of feeling rather than trying to ignore a thought, and act accordingly. It’s almost like you’re having a mini, civil inner-debate. While this doesn’t lead to decisiveness, it can help one feel at peace with their decisions.
  5. Pace-Setting: “why aren’t you performing like you were before? What’s wrong with you?”
    The pace-setting style is one where you are constantly comparing yourself to yourself. You are hard on yourself for not performing the same way you were at another point in time. This can be helpful if you’re in a rut and need to have some more self-awareness about that, but often times it’s toxic and not taking all factors into account. It may be motivating to some extent, but it can become toxic over time.
  6. Coaching: “how can I grow stronger from this?”
    The coaching approach focuses on bigger goals and aspirations, and keeps those in mind when making decisions. They focus on self-development and the ways in which they can improve from their experiences. It’s very growth-focused, but also has the self-awareness to know when they are off track. It can be difficult to be so removed as to have a coaching mentality toward yourself, but it can be especially healthy when faced with big projects or decisions.

We have all likely said all of the above to ourselves, and can relate to every style in different circumstances. All can be healthy depending on the context, but not all are always appropriate.

So, what do you do with this information? For me, it is yet another tool to improve my self-awareness. If I notice (like I did when I was doing yoga) when I am being too harsh on myself, or if I could use a little bit more self-understanding, then I can shift my style. Likewise, if I have been slacking off and need a little more coercive-ness, I can adjust accordingly as well. Or, if I’m feeling a lack of confidence and disbelief in myself, I can be more pace-setting by reminding myself, briefly, how well I have done in the past and try to replicate that. Each style, like the original leadership styles, can be beneficial or detrimental in certain contexts.

Which one are you feeling now? Take this quiz to find out!

Tell me which style you want to implement more in your daily life on Instagram @alicia_life_tips.

❤ Alicia

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