3 Skills for Becoming a Best Boss

April 30, 2024 David Witt

In the new one-day design for Blanchard’s SLII® leadership development program, facilitators begin with a best boss / worst boss exercise.

“This activity is a terrific way for people to relate our model to their own personal experiences with both great leadership and not-so-great leadership,” says Blanchard trust practice leader Randy Conley. “Typically, people say their best boss exhibited common characteristics that we see in leaders who take a situational approach to bringing out the best in others.”

Comments shared by participants about their best boss include:

  • “They gave me appropriate levels of freedom for my skill set.”
  • “They built trust with me.”
  • “They listened to me.”
  • “They gave me direction.”
  • “They helped me solve my own problems.”

“We have learned from our research and our experience in the classroom that effective leadership is a mix of directive and supportive behaviors,” says Conley. “The best leaders adjust their style to meet the needs of their team members.”

Conley explains that leaders need to work in partnership with their people to help them grow and develop.

“A leader needs to flex their leadership style to meet the needs of the person they're helping. That’s what SLII® is all about. Because an individual’s levels of competence and commitment grow and develop over time regarding their goals, there's no single best leadership style. The leader has to use a variety of leadership styles to meet each person where they are in that development process.”

It's a relatively simple concept to understand intellectually, says Conley, but much harder to put into practice.

“Our Leader Behavior Analysis II® research shows that 54 percent of managers use only one leadership style, which means more than half of the managers out there are one-trick ponies. They have one style—and when it meets someone’s needs, everything's great. But when it doesn’t, it’s a mismatch and it won’t work.

“Let’s say you are a leader with a highly directive leadership style—you see your role as providing people with the what, when, where, and how of getting the job done. That might be appropriate for a direct report who is new to a task, but it could be perceived as micromanaging by people who don’t need that type of style.

“Now let’s say you lean more toward a hands-off, supportive style. You see the role of a leader as mostly supporting people in figuring out things for themselves. Your hands-off style may be perfect for someone who is highly qualified on a task, but you run the risk of being labeled by others as wishy-washy and unable to provide clear direction or priorities when needed.”

Leadership inflexibility can lead to hard feelings and poor performance. Conley recommends a three-step process from SLII®—goal setting, diagnosis, and matching—which helps leaders maintain a flexible approach that gives people what they need to succeed.

  1. Goal setting—it all starts with clear goals

“All good performance begins with clear goals,” says Conley. “Despite good intentions, a lot of leaders are not very good at setting clear goals, so their people are unclear on what's expected of them. When people are unclear and the leader is unclear, that's a recipe for dissatisfaction. People feel like they’re either not getting enough direction and support, or getting too much.

“As a leader, when someone is struggling or asking for help, ask yourself, ‘What’s the goal or task? What do we want to focus on? What do we need to accomplish, and by when?’ That gets to clarity.”

  1. Diagnosis—what is their level of development?

“In our new SLII® one-day design, we have a section called Diagnosing On the Go. It’s a fast, efficient way for leaders to quickly diagnose if a team member is going to need direction, support, or a combination of both. The leader uses two questions to diagnose the team member’s development level.

“The first question is ‘Have they successfully done the goal on their own?’ If they can accomplish the goal without direction, they are a doer. If they need direction to accomplish the goal, they are a learner.

“The second question gets at motivation and attitude: ‘Are they motivated and confident?’

“By asking these two questions, you can identify whether a team member is an Enthusiastic Beginner, a Disillusioned Learner, a Capable, but Cautious, Contributor, or a Self-Reliant Achiever on the goal or task.”

Someone who is an Enthusiastic Beginner on a goal will respond well to a highly directive style, including

  • Setting goals
  • Showing and telling how
  • Establishing timelines
  • Developing action plans
  • Monitoring and tracking performance

However, someone who is a Capable, but Cautious Contributor on a goal would see that level of direction as over-supervision—even micromanagement. This person would respond better to a leadership style that focuses more on support behaviors such as

  • Listening
  • Facilitating self-reliant problem solving
  • Asking for input
  • Providing rationale
  • Acknowledging and encouraging
  1. Matching—adjusting your style to the needs of the moment

The speed and pace of change require that leaders work smarter, not harder, says Conley.

“Very few goals make it all the way to the end of the year unchanged. You set a goal, circumstances change, and it's quickly out of date. Or a new initiative comes in and people are at different levels of competence and commitment on a task.”

In all cases, a manager has to have a way to quickly and effectively diagnose development level and provide a matching leadership style. Conley points to another SLII® activity, Matching On the Go, that highlights the in-the-moment realties of managing today.

“Start by asking the person, ‘Do you want me to tell you how to do this, or do you want to tell me your ideas for how to do it?’

“If a person wants you, their leader, to do the talking, you know you have permission to use directive behaviors. But if the team member wants to do the talking, they are looking for more supportive behaviors. In both cases, you’re providing the amount of direction and support that matches what the person is looking for.”

From intention to action

In an upcoming webinar, Conley will share some strategies for bringing a situational approach to your leadership skills.

“We will talk about how leaders can use SLII® concepts to become a ‘best boss.’ You’ll learn how to be smarter about setting goals, how to be more intentional about discovering each person’s development level on each of their goals, and how to respond more effectively by using the leadership style that will help each person move forward in their development.

“When you learn how to adjust your leadership style to match the needs of your people, you will become a trusted leader they will remember as one of their best bosses—because you put your SLII® skills into practice and helped your people grow, develop, and become better than they were before.

“Please join us!”

Becoming a Best Boss: Moving from Intention to Action

Wednesday, May 15, 2024, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

The best leaders know their effectiveness is measured by the success of their people. To develop their people into high performers, great leaders flex their style by using the right mix of directive and supportive behaviors. This situational approach to leadership develops the competence and commitment of team members that fuels their growth and sustains high performance. That’s the core principle of Blanchard’s SLII® leadership development model.

In this webinar, leadership expert Randy Conley will show you how to begin learning and applying the three leadership skills of SLII®. Participants will learn:

  • The importance of setting clear goals, diagnosing development levels, and providing matching leadership styles.
  • How to use SLII® in the flow of work to deepen your understanding and application of SLII® in different settings.
  • How to teach SLII® to others, get started with a peer, and build it into one-on-one conversations.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to begin providing people with the direction and support they need, when they need it.

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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