Leading teams: how to choose your leadership approach

Drake Editorial Team

There are probably many situations where you might be placed in the role of team leader. Think about the annual tradeshow, the committee on performance improvement, or the task force responsible for installing new computers. In such instances, you want to use a leadership approach that encourages team members to cooperate with you and with each other. This is especially true if you are leading a team of peers or colleagues.

As the team leader, the approach you use to direct your members might fall into three areas. It might be High Direction, where you do more telling and instructing. It might be Low Direction, where you do more facilitating and advising. Or, it might be a combination of High Direction and Low Direction, where you use both leadership approaches.

The challenge is to know which leadership approach to use. In general, you want to provide low direction if team members perform effectively, high direction if team members perform ineffectively, and High and Low Direction if team members perform somewhere in-between.

Below are three examples of when you might use a Low Direction leadership approach. If your team members do not meet these criteria, adjust your leadership style accordingly.

Team members come to the team highly committed to their role: This might be the case if members are excited about working with the team. Or it might be the case if members know there will be benefits in working on the team. If members feel this way, you do not have to "sell" them on the importance of doing their part. Instead, your role as team leader will be to reinforce their commitment. You can do that by letting members know that you appreciate their contributions. You will also want to keep team members informed of how their role affects the achievement of team goals.

Team members are skilled at handling conflicts, differences, and other relationship issues: This might happen if members have worked together before. Or, members might have been in situations where they needed to work through differences or find common ground when working with difficult people. If this is the case, give members some breathing room to work through conflicts. Do not jump in and act as referee at the first sign of relationship troubles. Also, you should not need to "tell" members how to talk to each other when disagreeing. Instead, your role as the team leader will be to monitor the discussion for constructive, high-quality ideas. You will also want to provide input that keeps the dialogue focused on team goals and ends with everyone seeing the value of diverse ideas.

Team members are experts at handling assigned tasks: This will be especially true if your team is composed of members who possess unique skills to perform the tasks. It could also be true if members have worked on a similar team. Or maybe they already know everything about the team and what they will contribute. If this is the case, you will not have to constantly tell people what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Your role as the team leader will be to coordinate assignments and keep members informed about factors that might affect tasks or performance expectations. You will also want to make sure members have the resources and information needed to perform well and meet goals.

Effective Team Leadership Is About Making AdjustmentsThere is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to being a team leader. Sometimes you might need to provide in-depth instruction and guidance. Other times you might need to use a total "hands off" approach. You can decide on your leadership approach by looking at areas where your team members might be effective. This article offers three to consider: role commitment, conflict skills, and task expertise.

Barbara Brown, PhD shows managers how to improve employee performance by linking performance to results. She publishes handbooks that contain phrases for linking employee performance to workplace results. Handbook topics include Linking Time Management To Results, Linking Customer Service To Results, and others. Dr. Brown also offers E-Courses and E-Consulting as well as onsite training and consulting. Website: http://www.LinkToResults.net; Email: Barbara@LinkToResults.net


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