Giving Specific Direction is Not Micromanagement—When It Is Needed and Wanted

In Ken Blanchard’s SLII® model, Leadership Style 1 is called the Directing style. This style includes a high level of directive behaviors to help build competence and a low level of supportive behaviors to maintain commitment.

A number of years ago when I went through Ken Blanchard’s SLII® workshop for the first time, I struggled with the concept of the Directing Leadership Style. I kept telling myself that I would never use that style.

In the years since, I have discovered that my initial fear of the Directing style came from my having been on the receiving end of that style when I didn’t need direction because I was already competent at the task.

It turns out the Directing style is a great style to use as a leader when the individual you are leading lacks competence at a particular goal or task, but is highly motivated and confident to accomplish the task. In addition, the person must recognize their lack of competence or the Directing style will still feel like micromanagement.

Five Steps to Better Direction

When a Directing style is needed, remember to do the following:

  1. Be clear and specific in describing the goal or task.
  2. Contract with the individual to use a Directing style. Use language such as: “Since you’ve never done this before, would it be helpful if I provided some direction to help you get started?”
  3. Adapt your direction to match the individual’s learning style. Ask: “How do you like to learn?” and adapt your direction to meet their needs.
  4. Check in often for understanding and provide feedback. Don’t just let the person go at this point. Continually check in to see how they are doing and provide praise for progress and redirection where needed.
  5. Adjust your style as the individual progresses. They won’t always need high levels of direction. As they demonstrate competence on the goal or task, gradually pull back on the direction and let them take more of a lead.

Dealing with Disagreement

What if they don’t agree? What if they believe they are already competent at the task? When that happens, follow these steps:

1. Clarify the goal or task. Chances are the person doesn’t fully understand the scope of the goal or task. Describe the goal in greater detail and clearly identify a standard for success. At this point, you are hoping they have an “aha” moment when they realize that they haven’t actually done the task before.

If Step 1 doesn’t work, move to Step 2.

2. Ask them for more information regarding their experience on the goal or task. Be open to the fact that they might have competence you haven’t seen and they don’t need as high a level of direction on this task.

If you still aren’t convinced, go to Step 3.

3. Compare their past experience to a clear standard of high performance on the goal. Try to help the individual see the gap between their experience and the level of competence needed for you to “let them go” on this task.

If the individual still believes they have demonstrated competence in the past and you disagree, move to Step 4.

4. In most instances, go with their perception and let the individual take the lead on how to accomplish the goal or task, but monitor them closely. For example, if you are asking them to lead a project team but have never seen them demonstrate competence as a project manager but they insist they are competent, give them the assignment to develop a project plan. Let them complete that “sub-task” without direction and then check in to see if they demonstrate competence.

Remember: The Directing style is highly directive but includes low levels of support—not no support. If it was no support, it would be a Dictator style! We’ve all been on the receiving end of a Dictator style at some point in our careers.

Share Your Experience

Recently, I asked participants in a workshop to do some field work between sessions and have a partnering conversation with one of their direct reports on a new goal or task. In many instances, they reported using a Directing style with very experienced employees on new tasks they had never done before. In the past, they had been afraid to provide direction for fear of micromanaging. What they discovered was, if used correctly, the Directing style was exactly what these individuals were looking for to help them get started.


About the author
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.

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