Delegate or Coach? How to Decide Which Approach is Best When Managing your Team

This blog post is part of our Truity @ Work series for those who are new to people management. In these posts, we’re creating useful content for managers and teams alike, helping you to understand personality, improve communication, and navigate conflict and change with ease. For an overview of the series, start with our introductory post here.

As managers, it is easy to default to using a single management style. We can assume that our preferred style of managing people will suit everyone when, in fact, different styles suit different people at different times. 

In 1969, Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey proposed the widely adopted model known as Situational Leadership. It proposed customizing your management approach on a person-by-person / task-by-task basis. This approach recognizes that our management style needs to adapt based on how skilled, capable or competent a person is at completing the assigned task, as well as how confident or motivated they are in their ability to do it. 

Basically, the model is saying that it's more important to be able to adapt to the needs of the situation than it is to stick with a single approach to managing people. 

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The four approaches Blanchard and Hersey proposed are: 

  1. Directing

  2. Supporting

  3. Coaching

  4. Delegating 

Directing is used when the employee has low skill and low confidence. It is akin to giving detailed instructions on how to do something and providing lots of supervision or assistance as they do it.  Situations where this is relevant include: with a graduate or someone new to the job or with someone who has little experience with a specific task. 

Supporting applies when someone has a high level of motivation to complete the task, but they lack the skills or capability to complete it. In these situations, you should explain how to complete the task, but given their motivation, this person does not need as much oversight. They can be managed without close supervision. 

Coaching applies when the employee has the skills and ability to complete the task, but has low motivation or confidence to do so. This may occur when they have experienced a setback, negative feedback, a loss or failure, or are simply nervous about stretching themselves in some way. Here the manager needs to ask open-ended questions to help the employee determine the issue and find a solution. 

Delegating applies when the employee has high motivation and high capability or skills to complete the task. Here, employees are self-reliant achievers who need minimal guidance or supervision to complete the task. 

It’s important to remember that you may need to use all four styles with a single employee based on the tasks they are being assigned, the goals in their professional development plans, the different stages of a project, or when strategy changes or setbacks occur. 

Defaulting to a single style

Most people are more comfortable in one of the four management styles. Learning to adapt to each situation, to assess their employees' levels of skill and confidence, takes time and practice. It can be helpful to know which style you default to so you can practice the other styles. 

Our main DISC approach can provide some clues as to which approach you default to. The four DISC styles are: Drive, Influence, Clarity and Support. 

Drive = Delegate

Those who lead with Drive tend to be more direct, decisive, and results-oriented. They are frustrated by things that slow them down, such as asking questions or listening to others. They tend to be clear on what needs to be done but aren't as worried about how it happens. Hence, they are more likely to delegate, expecting staff to be self-reliant and figure things out for themselves.  

Influence = Coach

Those who lead with Influence tend to be enthusiastic, optimistic and talkative. As they prefer to spend their time motivating people, they are more likely to use the coaching style to help someone be more confident and believe in themselves. 

Support = Support

Those who lead with Support tend to be great listeners who want to be as supportive of others as possible. They tend to default to a more collaborative approach, asking questions and patiently listening, and are available and dependable as the employee works through the issues. 

Clarity = Direct

Those who lead with Clarity, tend to be careful, analytical and detailed. They want to communicate clearly and accurately, and they may find themselves defaulting to a more telling or directing approach to ensure the employee clearly understands what needs to be done.   

How to adapt your style

The aim of the Situational Leadership model is to assist managers in assessing an employee's level of skill and confidence on a task-by-task basis, and then adapt as needed. The model asserts that no one style suits all employees all the time, and that a manager's role is to adapt to the employee as needed. 

Let’s start by assessing your ability in all four styles. Looking over the four Situational Leadership approaches above, review how you generally interact with and manage your team. Then, answer the following:

  • Which style do you use the most?
  • How confident are you at using each approach?
  • What holds you back from using the other styles?
  • What skills would you need to develop in order to flex between each style?
  • Do you avoid some styles because you lack confidence in your staff? How could you learn to trust your staff?

Once you have completed the self-assessment, you can start applying and practicing using the four styles of the Situational Leadership model with your team. Start small, but be consistent in your use of the model. 

Here is a suggested way you could apply it: 

  • Identify the task that needs to be done
  • Use your existing knowledge of your team, their expertise, existing workload and priorities to select a person for that task
  • Make an initial assessment about which Situational Leadership approach to use with that person
  • Discuss the task with them, and have them ask questions about the task
  • Use open-ended questions to assess how confident they feel about completing it
  • Determine if the style you initially chose is still appropriate and whether you need to add in more support
  • Based on your chosen approach, discuss with the person when that task is due and how you will monitor progress, making it clear that you are always available if they need help
  • Discuss how the task went based on the style you were using - did the person feel supported? Did they feel confident? Did they feel clear? Do they feel they have improved?
  • Based on that assessment, decide what you will do in the future to improve your use of this process and the relevant management style 

Next steps

Applying this process does hinge on having a good understanding of each of your employee's skills, talents, motivations, abilities and interests. In addition to talking with your staff and discussing their professional development plans, it can also be useful to know their personality type. 

To learn more about using personality type at work, visit the Truity@Work platform to access assessments and reports focused around specific workplace challenges. And if you want to go deeper, you can book a manager debrief for yourself and a workshop for your team

Samantha Mackay

Samantha is the Lead Trainer at Truity and will shortly be a certified Enneagram Coach. She believes our personality is the key to navigating life's strangest hurdles. Despite her best efforts Samantha is an ENTP and Enneagram 7, who is always surrounded by a pile of books, a steaming cup of tea and a block of her favourite chocolate. Samantha is currently studying with Beatrice Chestnut and Uranio Paes of CP Enneagram Academy undertaking their Professional Enneagram Certification. Currently located in Auckland, New Zealand. Find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samanthamackay/. Check out her course "Unlocking the Power of Your Personality" at www.truity.com/training

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