Most leaders we coach describe themselves as having a primary leadership style which effectively helps build his/her brand based on values and strengths. This blog begins a series about when varying leadership styles are useful.  Think of a “home base” style where you are most comfortable, and that style may be effective in some, but not all, contexts.  When refining your ideal leadership vision for yourself, consider a variety of leadership contexts where you may need to move out of your comfort zone.

Said differently, leadership style is much like playing a piano.  You may be most comfortable with your fingers in a certain position (e.g., C position), and that may be great for most songs.  But, the piano has 8 notes that can be played in sharps and flats across 7 octaves.  Each note has individual value just as all leadership styles have value when played at the right time, and you need to know when to shift your position.

While the term Directive Leadership may evoke images of a controlling and dogmatic leader, this style simply refers to leadership that provides direction and expecting prompt cooperation from team members. There are several benefits to this style when leveraged appropriately.

For example, a directive approach includes creating a clear plan of action for the team to execute when uncertainty is high. During times of chaos or with a brand-new team, there can be a stabilizing effect to directive leadership.  Our whitewater rafting guide became very directive through the rapids which gave the group a sense of confidence and focus.  This elevated our teamwork and confidence during the rest of the trip.

For one of our clients, Jill, the directive approach was called for when she saw her team having trouble with the lack of clarity around their latest project. Her typical style was to allow team’s a great deal of flexibility in their work.  However, she saw frustration and tension building and thought perhaps she could flex her style. With a short deadline and two new team members still learning their roles, she decided the most effective way to move her team forward was to give them clear and direct scope and task guidelines. When each team member followed her direction, the project came into clear focus and the team was brought closer through their shared success.

In Jill’s context, there were three factors that led to her approach. First, the project had more ambiguity than the team was ready to handle, so Jill stepped in to direct her team’s work in a hands-on way. Second, the short timeline left little room for exploring options or making mistakes. Finally, with new members on the team, Jill knew she needed to provide action steps to help them navigate their new roles. By recognizing what her team needed and demonstrating a directive leadership style for the situational demands, Jill’s team succeeded and gained trust that she was there for them when she was needed.

Jill learned to play the right note for this particular song.

You know you are using this leadership style when… This style works best when… The drawbacks are…
  • You give task directives to achieve a short-term goal
  • You expect compliance rather than consensus
  • Providing quick role or project clarity
  • Tight deadlines leave no time for discussion
  • Limited discussion and low consensus on solutions
  • Becomes micromanagement when overused