Sunday, February 20, 2022

Leading With a Swiss Army Knife Approach

How would one define great leadership?  What are the characteristics of influential leaders?  Each of these questions leads to various responses.  I am sure that each of you reading this post can develop a quick list of critical characteristics or behaviors that one must utilize to help move people to where they need to be to improve culture and performance.  Sure, some might naturally rise to the top, but the fact of the matter is that one is not necessarily better than the other.  Influential leaders tend to be great because they understand each situation requires a different approach.  Kendra Cherry provides an excellent synopsis below:

The situational theory of leadership suggests that no single leadership style is best.  Instead, it depends on which type of leadership and strategies are best-suited to the task.  According to this theory, the most effective leaders are those that are able to adapt their style to the situation and look at cues such as the type of task, the nature of the group, and other factors that might contribute to getting the job done.

Let me summarize the statement above.  There is no one best way to lead.  The landscape is changing at a frenetic pace, and this requires a multi-faceted approach, as detailed in Digital Leadership.  The key is understanding when and how to apply what is needed in different situations, and there isn’t a better analogy, in my opinion than a Swiss Army knife.  As a kid, I had one of these and loved the multi-functionality it provided.  While I tended to use some of the tools more than others, different problems or challenges required a different gadget.  Knowing what tool to select and when to use it helped to achieve success, even if it was just sawing small branches to make a habitat for all the creatures my brother and I collected as kids.  It was always reassuring to know that one device could do so many things. 

Leadership is a lot like a Swiss Army Knife.  First, leaders need to understand what strategies are the most critical in leading change, improving outcomes, and developing a thriving culture.  Second, they need to know when and where to employ these strategies based on the situation. Here is my attempt at creating the analogy. 

Communication (the right information at the right time the right way)

Consensus (sharing decision-making to build collective efficacy)

Storytelling (motivating and inspiring)

Modeling (practicing what is preached), Feedback (providing ways to grow and improve), and Support (professional learning, resources, empathy, time)

Research and Evidence (justifying changes to be implemented and validating strategies used to improve outcomes)

Vision (articulating where we are headed, how we’ll get there, and why)   

Reflection (thinking about what we do, why we do it that way, and how it can be done better)

Delegation (building capacity by empowering others)

To be effective, great leaders understand that they must be flexible if success is the goal.  While many of the elements above can happen simultaneously, different situations require a specific approach or strategy.  Leading with a Swiss Army approach empowers leaders to identify the context or challenge and readily adapt to employ a personalized approach to solve a problem, move an innovative idea forward, or improve culture.  In the words of Richie Norton, “That challenge you have right’s not a wall; it’s a door.  It's meant to be opened.  Get a handle on the situation and open it.” Sometimes you need a different key to open the door. 

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