3 Skills of Effective Leaders Begin with Understanding that Leadership is Situational – Context is King

I often ask supervisors and managers in our leadership workshops, what competency do they need to develop the most.  Almost all of them provide the same answer: Help us be more effective leaders.”

They know that effective leadership makes a big difference in their lives and the lives of the people that they supervise. It also improves the performance of their organizations. It’s common to feel that you cheated yourself somehow when you find out how much excellent leadership information has been available throughout your career.

Some organizations do not give supervisors any management training courses until they have been in the role for some time. By that time, the new supervisor is often repeating what their supervisor did. And not every supervisor is a role model to follow.

It is this gap in knowledge, which drives me to do what I do. I am compelled to share information, tools, ideas, and techniques. I want to help people become better and more effective supervisors and managers.

In my mind, there are three fundamental ideas about leadership that I want to share with you in this post.


Firstly, leadership is situational.

What leaders do will always be influenced by the situation they find themselves in. As an effective leader, you will recognize that your leadership is situational, and knowing the landscape where you lead is critical to your success.

History is full of examples of leaders who found their time and place or whose quality had lost their appeal when things moved on. Winston Churchill was an inspirational wartime leader, but his style did not do well when trying to rebuild postwar Britain.

There are parallels in organizational life as well. Some hard-edged cost-cutting-turnaround managers are often unable to lead when there is a need to build. Their more adaptable colleagues, adjust well to shifting agendas and carry their teams high.


Secondly, leadership is non-hierarchical.

Much of today’s leadership literature focuses only on those who reach the top of organizations. There is a misconception that it is only those individuals who occupy senior positions who are leaders. Inaccurate information like this can hinder our ability to understand and appreciate what leadership is.

The exact nature of leadership is about our ability to influence and impact another person.


Best Boss and Worst Boss

We see this repeatedly in our workshop exercise called BEST BOSS – WORST BOSS. We ask participants to think about the best boss that they have ever worked for in their adult lives. We then ask them to identify three behaviors that this best boss demonstrated towards them regularly. They write these behaviors on small recipe cards and then tape them onto a wall at the front of the room. We then ask them to do the same with the person whom they would think of as their worst boss.

We find that the best boss behaviors are actions such as listening, encouraging, mentoring, and coaching.

These qualities are not required to be a leader.

They needed to be a human being. They are proving again that leadership is non-hierarchical.


Thirdly, leadership is about relationships.

Much of the early information about leadership tried to ignore this fact. In reality, leadership is always a social connection between leaders and those they aspire to lead.  But they are not trying to be someone that they’re not.

Authentic leaders tend to display consistency between their words and their deeds.

They do what they say.

They practice what they preach.

They walk the talk.

As a result, they are likely to be seen as genuine.

Nothing betrays the aspiring leader quite so much as the attempt to persuade others to do things that they would never do themselves.


You must also act as a leader.

The ability to do what you say is not enough on its own.

Knowing who you are, and being authentic still falls short.

Thinking like a leader does not make you one. Reading material or taking courses alone won’t make you productive.

You must take action on the things you learn and practice the skills to become a master.

  • Can you grow and nurture relationships?
  • Do you empathize with others and how to build relationships of warmth, loyalty, and affection?
  • Can you create some distance from the pack when you need to for their benefit?

Keep people focused on the goal, and if they perform poorly, they need you to call them on it without superiority and an air of hierarchy.

Hierarchical behavior ends up on the list of worst boss behaviors in our workshops.

If you are in a supervisory role or want to be in a supervisory role, seek to be a sponge for information. Learn about the different ways you can improve and how you show up in your workplace. 


Let Your Bookshelf Be Your Friend

What I Learned from an NBA Player












What’s on your bookshelf? What book is on the bedside table? What’s book is on the kitchen table?

A lot of research supports the benefits of picking up a physical book and reading, uninterrupted, for 10 minutes. If you did that every day, you would read 12 books a year.

When was the last time you read 12 books in a year?

You may not remember everything you read in the twelve books.  I don’t, but if you remember half a dozen key points from each, that’s 72 lessons you will have learned about how to be a more effective leader.

Tell me that having 72 more tools in your toolbox wouldn’t improve your chances of success!

Go on, give it a try.

In a way, today you have.

By reading this post, you have learned that there are three elements to leadership.

Leadership is situational, non-hierarchical, and relational.