Directive leadership has fallen out of favour recently. With new generations starting work, people are becoming less patient with managers and leaders who use a “command and control” style.
People want to feel included in decision making and feel as if they have choices regarding their work. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the millennial generation. Millennials value choice and flexibility, which makes collaboration a more favourable approach. Teams work together to come up with the best solutions, rather than having one person tell everybody how things should be done.
Directive leadership is about specifically directing the activities of your team members. Instead of working together to make a decision, sometimes you make the decision yourself. Instead of letting team members decide how they’d like to do the work, you tell them how to do things.
When you should use directive leadership
There is still a place for directive leadership. No single leadership style should be used at all times because it won’t suit every situation. Good leaders and managers understand when to change their style to suit the situation.
1. Use directive leadership when your team members are unskilled
If your team are new to a task, they will need greater direction as they learn. This is when you should be more directive, telling them how to do it. As your team members learn and develop, you will no longer need to monitor their work so closely. After a while, you may be able to leave them to work more autonomously.
The less skilled your team is, the more likely they will need direction to complete the work successfully.
2. Use directive leadership when its urgent
When there is an issue or emergency, time is of the essence. You can’t afford to make decisions by committee in these circumstances. This is where directive leadership really shines. It is possible that you may be a little abrupt as you work to fix the issue. Often this is necessary to solve a problem quickly.
Urgent situations can give leaders the leeway to be more direct than normal. Usually they need to quickly solve a problem. Team members usually understand this and obey orders when they understand that the stakes are high.
Remember that there is such a thing as real urgency and fake urgency. Real urgency is when there is a crisis, issue or deadline that has severe consequences for a lack of action. Fake urgency happens when leaders create deadlines which don’t really matter.
“This report needs to be done by Friday!”
If your team doesn’t think the deadline is real, directive leadership will be less useful.
3. Use directive leadership when you need people to follow the rules
There are situations where you need people to follow the rules and there can be no exceptions. This is usually in areas like compliance or health and safety. In these cases, rules are in place for the safety of team members.
This also applies when you have standards in your team that help work happen more effectively or to a minimum level of quality. For example, you may have mandatory daily meetings to understand what will be happening on a particular day. Or you may need information recorded in a particular way to be able to produce reports.
It is in these situations when sometimes it is best to say “this is how it needs to be”. You may have a discussion about changing the rules if people think they aren’t working. But while the rules still exist, your team should follow them.
4. Use directive leadership when you need a quick decision
It’s nice to be collaborative in decision making, because everyone gets to have their say. This takes longer than making the decision yourself, but can result in an outcome which everybody finds more acceptable.
Sometimes when you try to include everyone in making decisions, it prolongs the process. If you consult everybody in your team for a decision, it will take a long time.
Occasionally, it is better for a bad decision to be made, than for no decision to be made at all.
Any decision will move things forward. However, stalled decision making results in long periods of inactivity as people look for the perfect solution. Using directive leadership is more likely to break the deadlock and get things moving.
Directive leadership can be a useful leadership style when used at the right time. As a default style it may not be good for team morale, but it is required in some situations. Collaboration and inclusiveness is nice, but sometimes directive leadership is quicker.
It’s important to use a mixture of leadership styles in different situations. To learn more about leadership styles and when to use them, get the Adaptive Leadership Guide from Thoughtful Leader.
When have you found it more effective to show directive leadership when leading a team or project? Let me know in the comments below!