situational leadership – is your manager mature enough?

The theory of situational leadership (Hershey, Blanchard) is simply thus – if you have employees with low maturity (M1), i.e. they are new to the job, then chances are they need a leader to show them the ropes, a leader who can tell them what to do (S1).  Conversely, an M4 person is capable, knows what to do, can be left alone to get on with the job and so requires a leader who can delegate, a person who trusts (S4).  However, there’s a major flaw in this theory, as far as I’m concerned – it assumes that the leader himself has progressed through the maturity ranks from M1 to M4 and and can alter his leadership style to suit the situation; it requires a mature manager to delegate, after all – but management and leadership, like anything else is a set of skills that one acquires over time.

Managers don’t automatically become mature when they put on a suit and learn how to use Excel (despite what they might think) – i’m pretty sure that managers go through the same experiential learning cycle as any other employee.  When I started teaching I was pretty hopeless – I know because my student (actually my girlfriend at the time) told me so.  I also knew that I wanted to get better at teaching, so I took the Diploma, got a job as a Director of Studies and became an M2 teacher and M0.5 DoS.  I got better (I hope) and after 13 years (or over 10,000 hours) of teaching and training I feel fairly confident that I’m an M4 teacher and maybe even an M4 teacher trainer. This competency and level of maturity took time, trial and error to achieve.

So, what happens when M4 teachers are managed by M1 or M2 managers?  Well, the M1/M2 manager has some choices to make (we’ll talk about M4 teachers’ choices later) – either he gets mature real quick so that he can support and delegate and set targets and do all the things that mature managers do, or he doesn’t, i.e. he simply tells people what to do – the M4 people under his supervision might not like it, but so what.  Another thing our M1 managers can do is to get rid of the M4 people – the primadonnas, the moaners, the ones who ask for autonomy, for support, for more training, etc and replace them with M1 employees, eager to learn, eager to please and who don’t complain and who don’t know any better.

But what about the poor M4 teachers?  What choices do they have?  They can of course, moan about it -they can go to the pub with all the other M4 teachers and whinge about their managers, how crap they are, how they don’t know what they are doing, and so on.  But there is another way to think about this – you M4 teachers (you know who you are) – aren’t you the mature ones?  Flip this situation on its head and demand S4 leadership from your manager – get him up to speed, teach and train him how to be mature, how to delegate and set targets.  Don’t just assume that he knows that’s what he should be doing.  Remember what it was like for you when you started teaching – how many of your students went to the pub after your lesson and complained about how crap you were? But you got better, didn’t you.  You got better because you kind of knew you were crap and you wanted to change, but you also needed help, you needed feedback and training and so on.  And so it is with your manager – your manager needs your help, not your animosity.  Give your manager the kind of feedback that you would like to receive from him – honest, forthright and constructive – use the same tools that your managers use to evaluate you.  It is your only recourse, your only weapon.  Oh, I nearly forgot, there is one other choice.  Find yourself a job where there are no M1 managers – good luck with that.


2 thoughts on “situational leadership – is your manager mature enough?

  1. I totally agree with the point about feedback for managers. We shouldn’t expect managers to be perfect. Although, giving an M1 teacher a management job seems ludicrous. Surely it’s the responsibility of recruitment to ensure we have ample M4s in management positions. Otherwise the M1 manager would be too busy developing rather than getting on with the job.

    1. I think all managers start off as novices or M1 (to some extent), and need to have a couple of years of on the job training. Recruiters need to look more seriously at the management position itself and ask whether it calls for a more mature manager or whether a new less mature manager can be drafted in. But I agree with your point and ideally there would always be an M4 manager mentoring or coaching an M1 manager in any organisation

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