In this handbook, I am producing my stack of context-specific leadership approaches. I am going deeper into different leadership approaches that build this stack. The exploration of the leadership approaches is based on my understood definition, my inspiration for the approach, my strengths, and my improvement areas that are based upon self-reflection and leadership instruments, if available. Lastly, I will conclude with possible stacks based upon my current contexts.
The behavioral approach is leaders’ behaviors towards their followers concerning Task and Relationship behaviors. Where task behaviors are goal-centric, and relationship behaviors are followers-centric. (Northouse, 2019, p. 136) I scored 34 on task and 44 on relationship aspect which falls under moderately low range (30–34) and high range (40–44) respectively. This can be plotted as (6.6, 5.1) on The Leadership Grid. This is close to Middle-of-the-Road Management and leans towards Country-Club Management. I interpret this as when there is a conflict between exhibiting a task or a relationship behavior, I lean towards a decision concerning people.
This resonates with me as I am aware that I focus well on supporting group members to get along with each other. My early and major work experience is through volunteering and later, in managing volunteers and young adults. The mission of my organization has been about building the leadership of this workforce. So, the primary task of my work was demonstrating relationship behaviors. I have a strong skill of initiating teams and projects from the scratch because of my experience of handling a fresh intake of volunteers every season and turnover after the end of programs. This speaks to my strength of co-creating roles and responsibilities within groups. These strengths work for me in the role of a volunteer mobilizer.
However, I struggle while leading in an organizational structure where the task is not relationship behavior and people-centric. I struggle to set a standard of performance for the group members and providing criteria for what is expected out of the group. This is also because of my inhibition to confront. I can work on my task behaviors by practicing Maternalism/Paternalism across The Leadership Grid. Being transparent about my transition can support me in the practice of a smoother movement between different grids. For example, making the followers aware of the transitioning from Country-Club management to Authority-Compliance Management by calling to attention. This is a strong relationship behavior, that supports the task behavior in the longer run.
This approach is defined as different situations that demand various kinds of leadership. These situations are defined as Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating. These situations demand a decrease in directive behavior as the development level of the follower increases. (Northouse, 2019, p. 169) The commitment level of the follower decreases drastically from high to low and then slowly increases as the situation progresses. The curve commitment is alike The Change Curve proposed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. (Kubler-Ross, 1969) in which the “Pit of despair” comes in between the second and the third stage. This “danger zone,” if poorly managed, can lead to crisis and chaos, not for the follower but also the team and the organization. So, to decrease the negative impact of change, one must better prepare themselves and followers for a transition between development levels.
My strength lies in sensing the situation and the development level of the followers. I have experienced all the situational stages, approaches, development levels, and directive behaviors both as a follower and a leader. This approach also resonates with me as it is transferable and prescriptive irrespective of the scale. My dominant approach is of a supporting nature. I have defined this approach as putting my trust in the followers as they learn the system. This approach pushes the follower out of their comfort zone. A safety net of high support assures a higher sense of accomplishment and ownership.
Although I can sense the situations, my approaches do not align as per the model. Directing makes me uncomfortable in both leadership and followership role. The primary reason is that as a follower, I do not feel trusted by the leader for the tasks. For a long time, I also have confused Coaching with Mentoring. As per the model, mentoring would be categorized as Supporting. I do see that the supportive role is a drastic step for a new follower. If it works, it works well as the follower has outperformed. For it to work well, there need to be specific conditions — the task and results must not be defined in the initial period. However, without a high directive behavior, the chances of pitfalls for the follower are high and the efficiency of the organization can come at a pedestal.
I notice that the high competence mentioned in the model is specific to a group. If a follower, who has been at a D4 level in some other group and task and was approached with S4, may go back to a D1 level with the change of their group or mission. At that point, I can minimize the time taken for a follower to travel from D1 to D4 through effective communication and following the required supportive and directive behaviors. A regular “Pit-of-despair” check-in conversation has helped me in the past which can make the stages and situations clearer.
This approach tries to put the followers first, empower them, and help them develop to their full capacities. This also means that the leader empathizes with their followers and grows and nurtures them in the process. Servant leadership is deep-rooted in social responsibility and a fight for social justice and inequalities. (Northouse, 2019, p. 348) In the leadership instrument, I scored excellent in all the parameters. The highest was in Conceptual Skills (27) and the lowest was in Behaving Ethically (17). I am inspired by this approach as my professional journey started with organizations that followed this model. I value the investment of the organization in me and I grew as a leader. Since then, there has been a strong component of this approach in my leadership behaviors, which has also defined my purpose.
Repeatedly, leadership instruments have questioned my ethical behaviors. I lack in holding high ethical standards and being honest in the system. To unpack this, I must refer to Transformational Leadership. I walk a thin line while distinguishing both leadership approaches. I struggle to see Transformational Leadership with high ethics because of the political sphere in and around my state and country. I am more exposed to pseudo transformational leadership during the current political situation in India. Another reason for not being fully honest in the system or hold high ethical standards is that somewhere it contradicts with the other behaviors. All the behaviors expect the leader to give all their efforts to the followers and nothing for themselves. In cases, where the leaders struggle with their work as there is too much on their plate, it is difficult for them to convey how they are feeling or say no to new projects as the self-ethics are defined well, neither in the model nor in the system. Hence, I would highlight the behavior of valuing self-care while implementing Servant Leadership.
The process of leading requires the process of following. Leaders and followers together create the leadership relationship, and without an understanding of the process of following, or understanding of leadership is incomplete. (Northouse, 2019, p. 437) A high score of both Independent thinking (45) and Active engagement (42) puts me in the Exemplary Followership style. I resonate with this as I have considered myself as a leader irrespective of my identity as a follower. I am actively engaged, and I use my skills and strengths for the benefit of the organization irrespective of the leadership guidance.
Two situations arise because of this. One, I am considered as a star follower who needs the least guidance and maximum delegation of tasks. Two, I can surpass the hierarchy and legitimate power of the leaders to take my own decisions and actions. Followers must serve the purpose of teaching the leader as well as learning from the reader. (Northouse, 2019, p. 464) This clubbed with the later situation can disrupt the Legitimate, Expert, and Referent power. Leaders with such followers may feel that their powers are being blurred and, in some cases, taken away. At this point, the role of the follower is to keep the leader in the loop through communication and be aware of the defined roles and responsibilities.
This is defined with 3 capabilities of the leader — the ability to see the larger system, fostering reflection and generative conversation, and a shift from “Reflective problem solving” to “Co-creating the future”. Gateways to this leadership approach are in re-directing attention and re-orienting strategy. Re-directing attention to understand that self and society are intertwined in the system. Re-orienting strategy to enable collective intelligence and systems and hence, creating the space for change. Deep listening, a network of trust and collaboration that brings intelligence, wisdom, information, and data to bring the desired change activates this approach. (Peter M. Senge, 2015)
I resonate with this approach as it is based on a connection of micro to macro-level perspectives to change. Irrespective of the scale, the tools mentioned to support this approach are transferable to an individual as well as to an organization and the larger system. My strengths from relationship behaviors, ability to sense different development situations, putting followers, their learning, and concern first empower me with tools to foster reflection and generative conversations. My strength of Input (Schubring, 2014) enables me to continuously build my toolkit for this leadership approach. This supports me to build my network of system leaders and activate the relationships when required. A stronger Active engagement and Independent thinking enable me to move out of my comfort zone and engage with people across boundaries.
My areas of improvement here are to build a stronger non-reactive approach to situations. I can use “Calling in” and “Calling to (attention)” tools in such situations. This allows me to put my emotions out there for my followers to be aware of and call me in, wherever necessary.
Social Identity Theory
This has 3 components — Reflecting, Representing, and Realizing. Reflecting is when the leader understands the nature, history, and identity of the group. Representing is when the leader sets up the beliefs/norms of the group and co-creates the shared values and aspirations. Realizing is when the leader creates a world that reflects the group identity. Highlighting a portion of the social identity that the leader chooses gives them the identity power apart from the other 6 bases of power — (i) Referent power, (ii) Coercive power, (iii) Reward power, (iv) Legitimate power, (v) Expert power, and (vi) Informational power. These powers allow the leader to either Power over or Power through (the group). The fundamental distinction is that Power over is the predominant model where the leader exhibits their power over the followers. Power through on the other hand is modern and nuanced where the leader shares their power with the follower group. Social Identity theory requires the leader to define an in-group and an out-group. An out-group is the one that makes the in-group work. When that line is not drawn, the leader struggles to apply this theory. Lastly, Social Identity Theory requires the leader to be prototypical of the group. A leader is perceived as “One of us,” “Doing it for us,” “Crafting a sense of us,” and “making us matter.” (S. Alexander Haslam, 2011)
I look forward to this leadership theory as it is an underlying connection between all the leadership approaches mentioned above. Social identities are playing a strong role in a system irrespective of the fact that one is consciously deploying a Social Identity theory or not. The leader must define the line between an in-group and an out-group sooner than later. Otherwise, blurred lines would only hurt the leadership in the longer run.
Social Identity theory and an in-group create a safe space for me and the followers to express my social, political, and ideological stand. This further strengthens the Systems Leadership component of fostering reflection and generative conversations. Being able to identify different situations and developments further adds to my strength of being able to create an in-group and an out-group. One of my reflections from this theory is when one does not have the same social identity as the group, the concept of Power over does not work as the leader is the out-group themselves. Code-switching allows the leader to Power through as they are now a part of the social identity of the group.
It is easy for me to deploy this approach when I subscribe to the larger cause of the task and the organization. However, I anticipate a struggle to be prototypical of the in-group if the in-group already exists with their previously defined norms, values, and aspirations. At that moment, a Systems approach intervention would be necessary. I also need a conscious effort to increase my reflecting skills by practicing Social Identity Theory more in my upcoming projects.
With my current social reality, I foresee four different contexts — an external group-facilitation consultant, a team leader leading a program in an organization, and a leader in a social movement. My stack of leadership approaches would also vary with the time duration and various stages involved in the contexts.
Primarily, I look forward to applying a stack of Social Identity theory, and systems leadership at all stages. At a consultant stage, I would prioritize the Behavioral approach with a less dominant Servant Leadership approach. While working within an organization, I would dominantly apply the Situational approach with a less dominant Behavioral approach. Finally, in leading in a social movement context, I would dominantly apply Servant leadership behaviors, Situational leadership strengths, and promote the followership approach amongst my in-group.
Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). Death and Dying. Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Northouse, P. G. (2019). Leadership Theory and Practice.
Peter M. Senge, H. H. (2015). Co-Creating the Future: The Dawn of System Leadership. Harvard Business Review.
S. Alexander Haslam, S. D. (2011). The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence, and Power. New York: Psychology Press, a Taylor and Francis group.
Schubring, B. (2014, June 5). Input Strength. Retrieved from Leadershipvisionconsulting.com: https://www.leadershipvisionconsulting.com/what-you-should-know-about-the-strengthsfinder-theme-of-input/#:~:text=The%20strength%20of%20Input%20is%20generative%20when%20it,or%20important%2C%20here%20is%20where%20Input%20is%20valuable.