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Changing Times – Try These 3 Contingency Leadership Theories!

Organizations today are dynamic and in a state of continuous change that passes the virtual boundaries of the past. They are constantly innovating, creating and adding value, strategizing, and moving forward. They rely less on past ways of doing business and bureaucratic structures, and more on project teams and ad hoc committees to compete on a global market platform. Within these teams and committees, leadership is an extremely important component. Effective team leaders understand their team’s purpose, participants, and plans. They know how to communicate, establish controls, and debrief projects. Effective leaders also understand the context and culture of leadership situations (Weiss, 2011).

The most important thing team leaders do is manage resources. As teams form, leaders take the time to evaluate the team environment, including available resources, to understand the interests and strengths of the team. Evaluation is important, especially if the leader is going to apply a contingency leadership theory. Contingency theory tells us there is no one best way to lead; instead, leading is contingent upon the situation. Thus, a leader needs to understand the culture, context, and situational variables of leadership situations. Three leadership theories that can increase a leader’s effectiveness and move a team to greater levels of success are team-oriented leadership, situational leadership, and virtual leadership. When applied, any of these theories can enhance a leader’s style.

Let’s examine these three theories (ideas) by breaking them down into simpler parts. Our goal is to provide a basic understanding of these theories and show how easily each can be applied. As we work toward our goal, we are reminded of what the late Steve Jobs said about focus and simplicity, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it is worth it in the end because once you do it, you can move mountains.” Our intent is to present the theories in a clear and logical manner so you see the benefits of applying the ideas behind them.

Team-Oriented Leadership

In team-oriented leadership, the team leader collaborates with team members to share in the leadership process. It is an inclusive approach where team members work together to create a unique culture, and all are committed to and involved in the leadership process. Members take on various roles within the team. All members require a deep understanding of the team’s purpose, plans, participants, communication processes, and task deadlines. This is a logical step to drive the creative process (bring something new into existence) and produce results. Teams can collaborate on a process that identifies existing problems. If problems exist, they can gather resources, cooperate and support one another, seek out others who can help, experience an incubation period, and formulate new and unique solutions.  “Teams are more than just a collection of people; teams produce synergy and create an outcome that is greater than the simple sum of its individual members” (Davis and Sadeghinejad, 2015, para.1).

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership helps the team leader to understand, connect, and support the team by recognizing team member’s strengths, skills, and experience. It also allows the leader to choose how they want to develop specific team members based on individual developmental levels. This style can be combined with team-oriented leadership to increase leadership effectiveness.

What is the basic premise of situational leadership? Simply that the leader adjusts his or her style to the needs of employees or followers he or she is  trying to influence. It is both adaptable and flexible by appealing to the developmental level (maturity, skills, and experience) of each employee. If the developmental level of the employee is high, the leader delegates and maintains a low supportive relationship; if the developmental level is above average to high, the leader delegates and maintains a higher supportive relationship.  If the developmental level is average and developing, the leader directs and provides low supportive behavior; and finally, if the employee is new, learning, and developing, the leader directs and provides higher supportive behavior (Anthony, n.d.).

Virtual Leadership

Virtual leadership prepares and supports the team leader to lead and engage team members (remote employees) from across the globe. As changes in the global market platform occur, such as increases in global competition, more organizations are turning to virtual teams as a cost effective solution. Organizations and employees can save time and money by working remotely and communicating using technology (phone, e-mail, and video conference). Erin Meyer, in her Forbes article, The Four Keys to Success with Virtual Teams, states, “The latest research shows that leadership skills are not simply different from those needed for running co-located teams, they are often the exact opposite.  Here are four principal ways they’re very different” (para 2):

1.  Encourage team leaders to formalize roles and responsibilities.

2.  Provide explicit descriptions of how decisions will be made.

3.  Try out different decision-making processes, develop trust based on reliability, communicate consistently with a broader skill set, and be able to switch skill sets based on the diversity of the team.

4.  Welcoming everyone to the new virtual world of business.

Contingency Theories and Changing Times

Effective leadership is an important component in organizations, especially in the global, fast changing environment we compete in. Change leaders are adaptive, creating agile organizations and employing teams more today than ever. Leaders and managers allocate and manage resources to achieve company goals and objectives.  Being adaptive to situations, change, and situational variables is what effective leaders do. There is no one best way to lead; it is contingent upon the situation. Contingency theories, such as team-oriented leadership, situational leadership and virtual leadership, are logical and sound choices. They provide leaders and organizations with a solid foundation for learning, leading, and managing change. They help leaders develop resources, sustain successful change, and further profitable growth.

Author: Bill Davis, CM

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