Leading Successfully in a Time-Challenged World

April 8, 2024 David Witt

One of the biggest challenges we face today is meeting the daily demands of leadership in a way that is consistent, empowering, helpful, and in the moment.

Most people will tell you that the percentage of truly helpful conversations they are having with their leader is low. In a recent webinar, most people said less than 10 percent!

An academic study conducted with researchers at Blanchard found that the majority of people surveyed would like to receive a leadership style that is high in levels of direction and support. When asked about the type of leadership they most often receive from their leader, they indicated just the opposite—low direction and low support.

Leaders today are incredibly overstretched. They don’t have any additional time to provide the direction and support their people need, even though they would like to and they know it would help. Yet, they are often disappointed by the performance of some of their people.

How do leaders bridge this gap? By taking a situational approach and providing the right level of direction when needed and the right level of support when needed.

“Leading situationally is the most efficient way to manage your time and energy,” says leadership expert Dr. Vicki Halsey. “And flexing your leadership style builds people’s competence and commitment by increasing their confidence and skill. This is exactly the type of culture most leaders are looking to develop—one that keeps team members growing and also is efficient, saves time, and builds trusting relationships.”

Leadership moves at the speed of business, with many competing priorities that are all vying for attention.

“That’s what leadership looks like today,” says Halsey. “And when a team member asks, ‘Got a minute?’ you have to be ready to deliver what’s needed in that moment of leadership. You must quickly focus on the task and diagnose the best way to help a person who is looking for direction or support on a goal. It’s usually going to be something they need help with. People rarely ask ‘got a minute?’ to share their latest success—it’s usually the first step toward a conversation about their needing help. So be ready!

“Here’s a new way to listen: First, listen for what goal or task they want to talk about. Sometimes you’ll have to dig into this. There may be a lot of emotion involved, given all the other things they are working on. Listen thoroughly to hear the exact challenge they are facing and what they want to discuss.

“Once you have that identified, then ask yourself, ‘Is this a task they have demonstrated competence in? Have they successfully done something like this in the past?’ If the answer is no, you know they will also need some direction. If the answer is yes, they are probably hoping for support and a chance to be heard.

“Thinking this way helps you to organize your thoughts—plus, it puts you in their shoes. It brings everything down to a thoughtful moment and gives you a chance to center yourself and be helpful in this moment. Now you are really listening—you are hearing what they are saying, processing it, thinking through what they might need, and providing a thoughtful response.

“Contrast this with what usually happens: Although the manager is trying to be helpful, the conversation usually ends up with, ‘Wow, that is a challenge. I know you can handle this. Let me know how it goes.’ This is exactly the type of low direction, low support response that most people report receiving from their manager when they ask for help. The manager is just giving the problem back to them.”

Having Useful Conversations

Conversations are useful for direct reports when their leader focuses on meeting their specific needs, says Halsey.

“That’s a key goal of Blanchard’s SLII® performance management model. It teaches leaders to slow down and take an extra minute to diagnose where a person is on a task.

“When leaders use the SLII® model, people walk away from conversations thinking ‘That was helpful.’ Why? Because an others-focused leader looks up from what they’re working on and is laser-like in their focus on the person who is talking to them. They are assessing: What does this person want from this conversation? What are they hoping to focus on? What's the person’s current development level on what they want to talk about? Are they competent? Committed? By the leader diagnosing where the person is and then gaining permission to give what's needed in terms of direction or support, people's appraisals of these conversations are positive. They walk away feeling like they had a voice, they were heard, and their leader cares about them and their success.”

Halsey also recommends teaching both managers and team members the same language and approach.

“It’s not that hard,” she says, “In the new one-day SLII® design, we focus on five key words in your new leadership language—goal, competence, commitment, direction, and support.

“When team members can speak the same language as their leader, they can identify for themselves where they are on different goals and tasks and more efficiently ask for the help they need.

“This approach has so many different applications. One, it is empowering. Two, it is a great addition to any type of quarterly goal setting. In addition to creating goals that are specific and trackable, managers and direct reports can identify each development level regarding those goals or tasks.

“Let’s think about you, the hard-working professional, for a minute, Picture your to-do list and diagnose yourself. For example, think about a new goal or task where you are an Enthusiastic Beginner. At this stage, you have high enthusiasm but low experience. You’ll need high direction from your leader to successfully get it done.

“Is there something else that you’ve had some experience with in the past, maybe some transferable skills, but your motivation is low or variable for what you’re being asked to do? You are a Disillusioned Learner. Your manager is going to have to add some support into the mix by listening, helping you to problem solve, and providing feedback on your progress.

“Or are you highly experienced and highly motivated on a task? You’ve reached the Self-Reliant Achiever stage, which is good news for your manager. They can enjoy letting you run with the ball, knowing that you won’t require as much direction and support from them to succeed.

“Using this new language, managers can pick up some time they might need to apply to others. And time savings begin to compound as managers move more and more of their people along the SLII® development continuum. Of course, as individuals and teams develop increased skills and competencies, performance improves across the organization.”

One on Ones

Identifying development level also provides some structure for one-on-one conversations, says Halsey.

“Having an agreed-upon development level makes it easier to ask for the help you need. Development levels can change as you progress with a task. Maybe last week you were an Enthusiastic Beginner, but this week, after seeing exactly what the task entails, you’re not quite as motivated as before. With this shared language, you can more easily discuss what has happened in terms of unanticipated challenges, possible disappointment with a lack of progress, and a need for additional help. It’s so much easier when you have a shared language in place that you can lean on when you need to have a heartfelt conversation about a task you’re struggling with.”

Help Managers Be More Efficient with Their Time

“When teaching SLII®, I often ask people: ‘Whose time is being wasted anytime we're giving direction to someone who is already competent on a task? Whose time is being wasted when we're not giving direction to someone who has no idea how to proceed?

“The answer: both are double time-wasters.”

Bringing SLII® into your organization is a great way to change how people talk with each other, including:

  • Focused conversations that speak to the heart of the matter
  • Time-efficient conversations that bring both parties into the same moment in time
  • An increased sense of empathy as you both think through development levels and needs for direction and support
  • A sense of partnership as managers and team members work through issues together

“With your new language of SLII®, you are increasing the quality of conversations throughout the company,” says Halsey. “Conversations are happening more frequently, more purposefully, and are undeniably more useful—which is so important when you have a full plate that needs attention.”


Would you like to learn more about taking a situational approach to leadership conversations? Join us for a free webinar!

Empower and Inspire: Using SLII® to Bring Out the Best in Others

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

7:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time

In today's rapidly changing business environment, the ability to adapt your leadership style to meet the evolving needs of your team is more critical than ever. The SLII® model offers a proven framework to achieve this, empowering leaders to become more versatile and effective. Join Dr. Vicki Halsey, Blanchard’s VP of applied learning, for an enlightening webinar designed to explore the depths of the SLII® leadership model and how you can apply it to elevate your team's performance and engagement.

This engaging session will introduce you to the core principles of the SLII® model, including its unique approach to diagnosing the development needs of team members across different competence and commitment levels. You'll learn how to effectively transition between the four leadership styles—Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating—to provide the right balance of guidance and autonomy at each stage of your team's development.

Key takeaways:

  • Understanding SLII®: Gain a deep understanding of the SLII® model, including its foundational concepts of leadership flexibility and situational adaptation.
  • Diagnosing Development Levels: Learn how to accurately assess the development level of your team members in terms of their competence and commitment, allowing for more targeted leadership strategies.
  • Applying Matching Leadership Styles: Discover how to apply the four leadership styles effectively to inspire, motivate, and guide your team through various challenges and growth phases.
  • Enhancing Team Performance: Explore strategies to enhance team performance and morale by adopting the most appropriate leadership style for each situation.

Whether you're a new manager or a seasoned leader looking to refine your leadership approach, this webinar will equip you with the tools and insights needed to adopt a more flexible and effective management style. By the end of our session, you'll be better prepared to navigate the complexities of modern leadership, fostering an environment where your team can thrive and achieve its full potential.

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.

More Content by David Witt
Previous Resource
Procrastinating with a Writing Assignment? Ask Madeleine
Procrastinating with a Writing Assignment? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, I am a marketing director for a medical devices company. I manage all our social media and ...

Next Resource
Questioning the Work Ethic of New Hires? Ask Madeleine
Questioning the Work Ethic of New Hires? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, I read your last blog Not Sure How to Address Burnout? with interest. I work in consulting ...