Directive leadership has fallen out of favour in recent times. With new generations entering the workforce, there is a tendency to be less accepting of leaders who exercise a “command and control” style.
People want to feel included in decision making and to feel as if they have autonomy over the work that they do. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the millennial generation, who value choice, flexibility and want to change the world. This has given rise to more collaborative leadership styles where teams work together to come up with the best solutions, rather than having one person tell everybody how it’s going to be.
Directive leadership is largely about guiding the activities of your team members. Instead of working together to make a decision, you may 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 definitely still a place for directive leadership. No single leadership style should be used at all times because they won’t suit every situation. Great leaders in today’s organisations understand when to change their style to suit the situation.
Show directive leadership when your team members are unskilled
If your team are new to a particular task, it is likely that they will need greater direction as they learn. This is the time to be more directive, telling them how it needs to be done. As your team members learn and develop, you will no longer need to monitor their work so closely. After a time, you may be able to leave them to work more autonomously.
The less skilled your team is in regard to a given task, the more likely they will need direction to complete the work successfully.
Show directive leadership when there is urgency
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 rectify the issue, but often this is necessary to solve a problem quickly.
Urgent situations can give leaders the leeway to be more direct than normal, 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 for which failure doesn’t really matter.
“We need to get this report done by Friday!”
If your team don’t understand the reasons for a deadline (or believe there really is one), directive leadership will be less likely to be tolerated.
Show directive leadership when you need rules to be followed
There are situations where rules need to be followed and there can be no exceptions. This is particularly evident in areas such as compliance or health and safety, where rules are in place to safeguard the staff and organisation.
This also applies when you have rules or 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 data recorded in a particular way to be able to calculate some metrics you require.
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 the general perception is that they are too cumbersome, but while the rules still exist, they should be followed.
Show directive leadership when decision-making has stalled
It’s nice to be collaborative in decision making, because everyone gets their say. This also 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 everybody in your team needs to be consulted for a decision, the process could 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 drive activity forward, while stalled decision making results in weeks and months of inactivity as people look for the perfect resolution to the problem. Showing directive leadership in this case is 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 great for team morale, but in many situations it is often required. Collaboration and inclusiveness is nice, but sometimes directive leadership is faster.
It’s important to use a mix of leadership styles in different situations. To learn more about leadership styles and when to use them, download 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!