Life as a retail manager can be busy, tedious, and demanding all in the same day. Managers have to interact with different groups of employees in order to provide good customer service and drive sales. The situational approach to leadership offers a framework to illustrate how leaders can use supportive and directional behaviors to achieve an organization’s goal (Northouse, 2016). The focus of this story will be on Tammy, the general manager of the large office supply store where I worked.
A leader’s ability to adapt to the situation they find themselves in is the basis of the situational approach. Interacting with others will require different tactics, depending upon the follower’s competence and commitment to achieving their shared goal. For instance, setting a store-wide goal with another manager is going to be vastly different from instructing an entry-level employee to perform a basic task. A leader’s approach to motivation will be dependent upon their assessment of the ability and willingness of their followers. The Situational Leadership II (SLII) model defines four different types of leadership styles that are used in the situational approach: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating (Northouse, 2016).
The directing style is aptly named because it’s characterized by a high amount of direction given (often one way, and in a declarative manner) and a low amount of supportive behavior. Tammy would utilize this approach with new hires in the customer service and sales floor departments. Because these employees were young (around 16-18 years old) they had little to no knowledge about how to perform their tasks and needed a leader who would instruct them and then inspect their work.
The second leadership style of coaching is the type of leadership Tammy would use with her department supervisors. Because these employees had at least a year’s worth of service time at the store and were competent in their tasks, they were promoted into this position. These roles were the first line when a customer complained or had an issue. Tammy would remind the supervisors of company policy and suggest how to speak with the customer. After the incidents were resolved she would often hold a “debriefing” to point out key aspects of the situation that could have been improved or were handled well. This high directive/high supportive style met the needs of her supervisors.
Administrative positions received the third type of leadership style: supporting. Characterized as “high supportive/low directive” in the SLII model, Tammy was still above them in the store’s hierarchy but were given a significant amount of discretion in their tasks (e.g. determining schedules and hours, purchasing). She would check in with them, ensure they had the tools and resources necessary for their work, and serve as a sort of compliance expert (she was well versed in the corporate rules and regulations).
While Tammy had a team of managers that could be considered peers she held the “general manager” title. Because of this, she was able to speak with the other managers as equals but was still the final authority. The delegating approach, or a low directive/low supporting style of leadership, allowed her to broadly state the store’s goals and redirect them as necessary.
Tammy was a good leader who understood different situations would require different approaches. She understood her follower’s abilities and level of willingness to achieve our shared goals and was able to successfully utilize the four leadership styles of the situational approach to meet and exceed them.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.