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Art of Lean on Situational Leadership, Part 1: An Introduction

by Art Smalley
January 15, 2021

Art of Lean on Situational Leadership, Part 1: An Introduction

by Art Smalley
January 15, 2021 | Comments (0)

Art Smalley is back and ready to teach all about situational leadership in this five-part series. The transcript for the first part can be found below.

Hello, this is Art Smalley, president of Art of Lean, Incorporated. Today, on behalf of the Lean Enterprise Institute, I have another short video clip for you, this time on the topic of situational leadership. Now, it doesn't matter whether you're doing Lean, Six Sigma or any general flavor of improvement. I think this topic is of high relevance to any organization seeking to improve. So stick around, I think you'll enjoy it.

Some of you might have a pretty strong background in situational leadership, and others might be fairly new to the topic. So, I thought what I'd do in this first video is introduce the general concept. Then in subsequent videos, I'm going to share some of my personal experiences working with Toyota, in Japan, and how I viewed situational leadership being applied in a very good way.

Understanding the Origins

For those of you who don't know the background of situational leadership, it goes back to research in the latter part of the 1960s. Three gentlemen by the name of Paul Hersey, Ken Blanchard, and Dewey Johnson wrote a book, I think in 1969, called The Management of Organizational Behavior. Then in subsequent decades, some of them, in particular Blanchard and Hersey, went on to write follow-up books and help develop what we call modern situational leadership.

I also want to call out a quote by Stephen Covey while we're on the beginning of this topic. Steven didn't have a lot to do with situational leadership, but he did have this really interesting quote, which I think matters. He says, Managers manage things. Leaders lead people. You cannot lead things, and you cannot manage people.

“Managers manage things. Leaders lead people. You cannot lead things, and you cannot manage people.” I think that's important to keep in mind because, at the end of the day, you do have to lead people. You can't manage them just like an object.

Now, situational leadership theory and introduction can be boiled down to roughly something like this situation: leadership as a process for developing people by providing the most effective leadership style over time.

So, the individual can achieve their highest level of performance -- and that I think is very much in tune with the Toyota Production System, lean thinking, or any company striving to improve. You want to get the best of both scenarios. You want to get results, and you want to develop people for the better while you do it. In Toyota, we call this “respect for people and continuous improvement.” Situational leadership theory provides a structure for thinking about that by breaking it up into four cases. Let's look into those four cases in the steps of situational leadership.

The first thing you have to do is diagnose the situation, which is very lean in and of itself. What do we usually do? We go to the facts, go to the gemba, get the facts, grasp the situation, go and see what's actually happening, right? And the same thing in leadership. That's a good practice: diagnose the situations to understand what's going on with the individual.

Leaders who use the situational coaching approach place people into four categories. There's more to it than this, but they put people in categories D1, D2, D3, or D4 for their development level. Your development level depends upon the task. It's not static; it changes over time and is task-specific. Someone in D1 is low competence but very high commitment. We sometimes call them the eager beginner. D2 is low-to-some competence but low commitment. We call that the disillusioned or frustrated learner. D3 is the moderate-to-high competence individual with variable commitment. We call that person sometimes the reluctant contributor. AndD4 is the high competence and high commitment case or the peak performer, like an Olympic athlete. Obviously, you want to progress as many people through these development levels toward the green area of D4 as much as possible. But the point is, you can't treat them all the same.

Now, to further emphasize that point, they emphasize that you must have flexibility in your leadership style. One size doesn't fit all, and they break leadership styles again into four categories. And these will match with the D development zones: S1, S2, S3, and S4. S1 is for directing and providing good quality direction. S2 is actual coaching, teaching how, what, and why, with key points and motivation. S3 is giving people support. Less direction, less guidance, but support and help when they get stuck. S4 is the delegating bucket, which is lower levels of support and less direction because those people are obviously highly, highly capable. And the point is you can't mix and match these four styles. Most people have a favorite in most organizations.

I see S3 and S4 as the favorite style, but that's a mismatch if the person is in what we call the developing categories of D1 D2, and I'll share some examples of that. But as simple as this sounds, I see organizations screwing this up again and again and again, okay.

Also, in situational leadership, there's a section called partnering for performance. And this is what I believe is fundamentally in line and very much in sync with lean thinking and TPS. You want to agree upon goals with the individual or team. You want to diagnose the situation, the development level, and the situation. You want to determine the right leadership style and course of action. You want to work together. And you want to follow through during the process of improvement, working with the approvement, changing your leadership style over time to reflect performance. And again, as simplistic and easy as this sounds, I see organizations and individuals stumbling over this time and time again, which is why I want to go over it in the next several videos.

So today, we just hit the high level of what is situational leadership. In upcoming videos, I want to take you through why I think it really relates nicely with lean thinking and the Toyota production system. I'll share examples of how I experienced this in Toyota throughout my career and development process--when I was given good direction, good coaching, good support, and when they delegated things to me. But again, one size didn't fit all. There were some excellent managers and leaders at this, and Toyota was very, very good. I'll share those stories in upcoming videos. So stay tuned if you're interested, stay safe, and have a great day.

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