MBA

TEAMBUILDING AND LEADERSHIP

PART 1

Question B: Solving a leadership problem using the based on the Situational Leadership theory of Blanchard

The Situational Leadership theory of Blanchard, is a model first introduced by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the mid-1970’s.  The theory bases itself on the principle that there is no single “best” leadership style. Indeed, both authors explain that the efficiency and effectiveness of the leadership style can differ from a situation to another, depending on the task and the resource[1]. The theory stipulates that successful leaders are those who can distinguish the ability and willingness of those they need to lead and adapt upon it. In clear, the situational leadership model is a very widespread theory in which the leader needs to apply two fundamental concepts: the leadership style, which he adapts and changes according to the individual he attempts to lead and the readiness to change of the same individual.  Indeed, the theory suggests that leaders need to provide both direction and support to the individuals they manage and lead.  Later, in the early 1980’s, Ken Blanchard decided to run his own company and continued working and extending the situational leadership theory in his work thus, introducing the situational leadership II (SLII)[2].  In this theory, Ken Blanchard defines the two four-category modes of analysis to successful leadership. First, he describes a scale for competence/commitment ratio in order to define the level of development of the follower:

  • Low competence, low commitment;
  • Low competence, high commitment;
  • High competence, low commitment;
  • High competence, high commitment.

The second mode of analysis is for leadership, where he defines 4 types of leadership style: Directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. Through this deeper analysis and structure of his management theory, Ken Blanchard leadership styles can differ for different situations and/or businesses.  He advocates mixing the right leadership style with the appropriate situation in order to solve a management problem[3].

Through my career as a middle manager, I have come across many management problems that required successful leadership style to be solved. I believe that every experience, either good or bad, are never disappointments but rather, learning opportunities. Hopefully, I have been through negative experiences that have brought me the most valuable lessons. As part of a big IT delivery program company, I have known very interesting management crisis. Indeed, in such environment, the challenge is getting customers’ needs fulfilled in line with our commitment and company goals. One of our major goal is to be able to deliver high quality products on time and budget. In order to reach this objective, we mostly rely on our human capital, who are at the core of our delivery plan. During these recent years, we developed a recruitment plan that helped managers defined their needs in terms of competencies and skills and plan their recruitment. However, this program failed at times thus generating critical management situations.

Earlier this year, I faced a stimulating leadership experience. A new employee was assigned to me through the recruitment program. Prior to this mobility, Ahmed had been working for our company for seven years. He was contacted by our Human resource department. Based on his profile and the good feedbacks we collected during the recruitment process, the company offered him an interesting package in term of salary and job position in order to fulfill his demands and grant him motivation. Indeed, the mission I assigned him was very crucial for me and our department. I was launching a new activity with my major client. The success of this project was the key factor for new business opportunities. Through this project I was aiming at convincing my client that our company can offer new nature of activities like operational support rather than the classical application maintenance services.  At first sight, the new team member profile fit well with the mission requirements. He had a very good technical background, good communication skills and owned a solid experience on operational support. I was happy to have him in my team because all the indicators were green, and risks were minimum. In order to prepare for his position taking, I carefully wrote a detailed job description that I shared with him during our first one-to-one meeting.  Through this first meeting, I explained to him my vision, my goals and answered all his questions he had regarding his new position. Also, I did my best to empower him since day 1 by introducing him to our client, who also explained him the importance of operational support and what they would expect in terms of communication and coordination.  This first meeting can be very crucial for the rest of a new collaboration. As a coaching manager, I usually try to guide my team member through our activity. My goal before this meeting was both to provide direction regarding the position but also provide all the support needed. This was a commitment meeting in which both me and my new team member would commit to making this project work, and our collaboration going well.  By the end of this meeting, I was satisfied with Ahmed, his motivation and I was thrilled to start this new project.

            Unfortunately, my joy and satisfaction did not last very long. One month only after this meeting, I started noticing some behavioral problems.  First, he was absent from several training sessions. He rapidly showed a lack of motivation and often came late to the office.  But not only, he lacked professionalism and rigor, but he also had some technical gaps.  Indeed, he rarely delivered on time. When a document was asked from him, it was either never produced or very poor. Also, his English was not very fluent and could not communicate well with our clients. At first, I thought that these behaviors were related to the project and its context complexity, so I chose to leave him time, and talk to him about how badly his behavior impacted our entire performance during our monthly meeting. Two weeks later, things went bad and the client complained about the gap between the expected results and Ahmed’s performance. So, we decided to our first crisis meeting Ahmed and me.  the meeting resulted in several actions that Ahmed needed to take urgently and seriously. We agreed that he would start English lessons, so he would better his communication with the client. We also decided that we would make a weekly briefing point in order to review all the deliverables he oversaw. Also, in order to prevent his lateness and absence, I allowed to start his work at home.  Ahmed agreed to all these actions and indeed showed improvement during the couple of weeks following our meeting. He successfully made to the training session and indeed started his English lessons. His deliverables were satisfactory, and he only was absent once.  Nevertheless, I could not back him up with a new resource in case things went wrong since I had anyone available at this time.  After two months, we finally made through the transition phase. He had finished all the training sessions and we maintained two weekly meeting in order to keep track of all the deliverables. The overall review of the two months was positive, both with me and the client but rapidly, Ahmed went back to his old habits. Again, he was more and more absent and without notice just by presenting a medical certificate. Since I had no back up, his work could not progress until he was back. Every time he would be back, I would sit with him and we would talk about his misconduct and conclude that he needed to put more efforts but, as we say, what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.  After a month of repeated absences and bad behavior, these actions started having bad consequences on the moral of my entire team and my credibility towards my client. Indeed, Ahmed had one of the highest salaries among my team members but performed very badly which started demotivating the other team members. Therefore, I decided to have a plan to replace him very rapidly.  Yet, anytime I asked him to train someone on his duties and work he was never available.  Finally, I decided to grant him one last chance. I agreed that he would be able to work from home two days a week, and that if he failed me again, I would be forced to let him go. He understood the stakes and promised to be better and more dedicated. Unfortunately, despite all my efforts to keep him and support him, he never really changed and maintained the same behavior. I finally put an end to his contract and recruited a new person whom I gave the chance to manage the project while training and learning.  It was a very risky decision for me since the time and the delivery quality could be affected by a new resource, but it was my only decision.

To my memory, this was the trickiest leadership situation I had to experience. On the one side, I always strove to be a leader who would offer different types and combinations of leadership styles in order to both comply with the business orientation of my firm and which also focuses on empowering employees in order to release their strengths and full capacities that would enhance and improve the business and its productivity.  According to the situational leadership model, Ahmed was, at first sight, a high competence resource with high commitment. Indeed, his record within the firm showed that he could technically deliver and was committed to the business.  In theory, Ahmed belong to the D4 category where he combined both competence and commitment. Therefore, I was supposed to apply a delegating leadership style where I would allow the individual to take responsibility for his task decision.  Since he was a senior, I gave him less directions and relied on him to deliver very rapidly. Also, the project required an immediate effectiveness and reactivity. With hindsight, I realized that I had made a big mistake. In fact, despite of his seniority, Ahmed was new to the project and to the technical expertise. Indeed, the new job required more technical complexity and thus, Ahmed had low competences regarding his new position. Ahmed belonged to the D2 category where he presents high commitment but low expertise in this regard. He was committed since he was a senior resource and was granted a satisfying package he was not ready for the job, yet. I realized my mistake when the crisis happened with the client. By the end of our meeting, I realized that Ahmed required more attention and support from me.  I needed to emphasize more on the support and on directions since Ahmed had changed to category D1 (low competence and low commitment). So, I offered him the opportunity to be trained, I reviewed all his deliverables and followed his rise in competence step by step using weekly meetings. This method was successful for a short time period since Ahmed’s results and behavior bettered rapidly and was more satisfactory. Nevertheless, as the crisis had calmed down, Ahmed went back to his previous behavior, being less committed and often absent. Yet, in this last phase, Ahmed had no excuse: he had shown competence and he delivered to both me and the client.  Once again, he changed to the D3 category, showing high competence but low commitment. Accordingly, I used a directive leadership style wherein I gave very explicit directions and supervised his work closely but with less support. My directions were even more defined and clearer since it was his last chance to keep his job.  Ahmed and I rapidly agreed that due to his poor behavior and commitment, Ahmed could no longer be part of our team.

To sum up, situational leadership theory fails to provide a single best way to effective leadership but rather advocates for an adaptive leadership style. This model inspires leaders to distinguish the competencies and abilities of their team members and align their leadership style accordingly but also by keeping in mind their business constraints and variables. Ken Blanchard explains that “in the past a leader was a boss. Today’s leaders can no longer lead solely based on positional power.”[4] Indeed, today’s management requires that a leader be very flexible, agile, reactive and adaptive to their resources versatility. As shown in Ahmed case, one resource can switch very rapidly to a category to another and thus, can impede the development goals set for the business. My company aims at developing people and workgroup by empowering them in order to bring out the best in them. Also, since it is a global company it requires a common leadership style across all our units, be they local, national or international. In order to fulfill these goals, situational leadership is the best model to be applied.

Part 2

Question: Teamwork and Leadership module: A self-assessment and review

Self-awareness and self-management are the most important steps of the leadership continuous learning. Indeed, during the three days of this first module “Team building and Leadership”, I learned a lot about my leadership style, my strengths, my rising edges, and about myself in general. Indeed, this first module aimed at bringing us all together as groups and as a class but also introducing us the fundamental concepts of teamwork and leadership. Thanks to the course material and to the professor, we have been through several theories and points of views through which management and leadership have been analyzed and studied. Among, the many leadership’s theories that have been proposed, we have focused on two: The Four frames and Situational Leadership theories.

Before exploring each of these theories, it was essential to introduce the emotional intelligence as a key factor for the leader’s success. Thanks to the questionnaires given to us, we were able to define a starting point and assess our emotional capacities and competencies, our empathy and, intelligence. This insight and analysis allowed me to distinguish both my strengths and weaknesses and learn more about how I was dealing with each situation and exercise.

I started the first group exercise as an observer. I have always considered myself as a good spectator. I used to spend hours observing people, imaging how they think, their names, their stories and the way they might behave. In my personal blog, I wrote a lot of stories and articles based on random observations and scenes I had lived. For me, this first exercise was amazing. Indeed, when you have guidelines to use and follow, the observation exercise becomes more efficient and interesting. I was looking how the builder, I chose to observe, will deal with the situation. Building a tour is a difficult exercise when you’re not a construction engineer, and especially when you work with a new team. My builder was a collaborating leader. From the beginning he asked questions, tried to clarify and to elaborate the answers to avoid confusions. He was smiling and made some good jokes to reduce tension and break the ice. He also shared his observations about group process. At the end, he participated on the construction and kept the group somehow in positive stress to get the result done.

The second part of the exercise was also very interesting. Giving honest feedback is an important part of the observer role. I tried to choose my words and to base all my observation notes on facts and not just perceptions. I appreciated the way my builder accepted my feedback. He was actively listening and analyzing every single remark I have told him.

For me, playing the builder role in the second exercise was different, since it was more difficult and more challenging but also interesting and more formative. I built upon my observer role and remarks to avoid the same mistakes made by the previous group. Indeed, I decided to start with taking stock of my team and their respective skills. So, I put their names on a paper and we developed together the global guidelines of our plan. Dealing with time and different personalities was a big challenge for several reasons:

  • Each team member had his own ideas;
  • Some of them were not listening;
  • Different characters and skills;
  • Having two tasks to accomplish for this exercise.

During my life experience, I used to manage different teams and people. Thus, for me as builder, the most difficult task was to choose the direction we needed to take, to be sure that we will deliver on time using a participative leadership style. Indeed, the exercise was not an individual work but rather a team effort. As I described earlier, one of my team members was not listening and wanted to “impose” his point of view and force his ideas. So, I needed to be more directive with him and chose to ignore his ideas, at times, to get the job done. I think now that I should have given him more attention and time. I realized that we didn’t have the same leadership frames.

The four frames leadership theory is based on describing the leadership style by four frames: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. Besides being a “human resource”, I was first surprised to discover, using the four frames questionnaires, that I was more “symbolic” than “structural”. Now, I think this result was correct. For me, empowering people, listening and collaborating with them is as important as providing them with meaning and a clear vision of what we were working on. Based on that, I decided to join the Human Resource group for the second exercise. I was lucky for the following reasons:

  • They were a smaller group (7 persons)
  • The group members came from different backgrounds
  • The high school case was difficult
  • I’ve been chosen by the group to play David King’s role.

I learned valuable lessons from this case study. The first lesson was that eventually the same problem might have several solutions depending on the used frame. So, when facing a leadership problem, the first thing to do was to apply to four frames to the situation and think about the variety of possibilities they could offer and finally select the most appropriate and optimal one regarding the problematic and its variables. Another learned lesson is that our body language ought to deliver the same message we are communicating. Consequently, when you are using one of the frames, you need to visualize every part of the picture before acting. Otherwise, the chosen frame won’t be efficient and perhaps you will need to use one of the situational leadership practices to solve the problem.

The Situational leadership theory has a different approach. This school believes that we must consider every situation separately, define what we are dealing with and the problem to solve. Data analysis and flexibility are therefore the two key factors for success. For the group exercise, the challenge was to get the maximum correct answers in a short period of time. I noticed that the group developed rapidly and instinctively elaborated a strategy to analyze each case, to find the good answer and to communicate it to get the points. The game rules added some real-life constraints and obliged the group to respect the process: each group have a leader and he’s the only one who could communicate the group answer.

In my opinion, this group exercise allowed us, to understand and to practice more efficiently the situational leadership theory. In a real-life management situation, we generally don’t have enough time to react. Therefore, it becomes important to analyze the entire picture, in a short time, and to make the good choice. The situational leadership theory advocates that there is no “one best way” to solve a problem. So, I consider my daily work as the best place to practice all the learned lessons from the situational leadership exercise. I also share these practices and principles with my team in order to improve, side by side, our teamwork competencies.

Giving and asking feedback is one of the teamwork important competencies. Indeed, being able to work in teams is a fundamental skill and competency a leader should have. The last group assignment gave me the opportunity to work, once again, with a new team. Throughout the weekend, I have had the chance to work with three different teams in which I was always careful about both giving and getting feedback. It was all the more necessary since I had to work with people I was getting to know at the same time and we all needed to perform as a team. Listening, paraphrasing and asking questions were the main technics I used. Yet, I learned new technics and characteristics that an effective feedback should have.  For example, I learned that specificity is very important when giving feedback since it enhances its efficiency. Also, I worked on more interactive feedback. It was necessary for me to get both my teammate feedback and make sure that he understood perfectly my point leaving aside perceptions. By interacting with my teammate, I got to know them more closely and understand how they view the problem we were all facing and the way they interacted with it. Interactive feedback is a two-way process in which we learn about the other but mainly about ourselves and what we produce as a perception.

Finally, I think that I have a great chance to be part of this executive MBA program. I am also grateful to my team members who allowed me to learn more about my emotional intelligence, my strengths and my growing edges. I think that the most appropriate way to show my gratefulness is to share and develop with them all this knowledge.

References

Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P. & Zigarmi, D. (1977). Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness through Situational Leadership. New York: Morrow.

Blanchard, K. (1985).  Situational Leadership II: Prepare to lead differently. New York: The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Papworth, M., Milne, D. & Boak, G. (2009). An exploratory content analysis of situational leadership. Journal of Management Development. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235296772_An_exploratory_content_analysis_of_situational_leadership


[1] Papworth, M., Milne, D. & Boak, G. (2009). An exploratory content analysis of situational leadership. Journal of Management Development. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235296772_An_exploratory_content_analysis_of_situational_leadership

[2] Blanchard, K. (1985).  Situational Leadership II: Prepare to lead differently. New York: The Ken Blanchard Companies.

[3] Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P. & Zigarmi, D. (1977). Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness through Situational Leadership. New York: Morrow.

[4] Blanchard, K. (1985).  Situational Leadership II: Prepare to lead differently. New York: The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Mohammed Boukoutaya passionné du web, Directeur de projet, spécialisé en innovation, solutions Web et mobilité entreprise. Fondateur des sites : RabatKid.com, Maroc-trip.com, jeveuxsortir.com, SortirauMaroc.com et YallaCine.com.

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