Our organisations are now more complex than ever. This means that each leadership situation we face will be unique, potentially involving many different perspectives and competing factors.
I’ve found that it’s helpful to have a way to break down the complexity so we can approach each leadership situation in a better way. This helps us to consider various perspectives, which can test our thinking and prevent us from going down a path that is likely to end in trouble!
I like to use the simple Rational, Emotional, Political model to help me consider three important factors. These three dimensions are almost always relevant to leadership situations in the workplace.
It’s important to note that the solutions that work best are often able to satisfy each of the different dimensions (the intersection in the diagram below).
Let’s take a quick look at how these three factors can help you examine your tricky leadership situations.
Rational = What Makes Logical Sense
The rational dimension is where many of us (including myself) start when it comes to tackling leadership challenges. This domain is concerned with what makes logical sense.
Many people see rational solutions to problems as practical, “obvious” and “common sense”. Unfortunately, solutions which make logical sense aren’t necessarily always the best solutions, because of the other contrasting parts of this model.
Rational Questions to Consider for Your Leadership Situation
To help you consider the Rational element when it comes to processing your leadership challenges, you can answer the following questions:
- What data or information might help me progress this leadership situation?
- What are the facts relevant to this situation?
- Are there any skills or expertise that will assist?
- What are the options to solve the problem, in order of most to least logical? Consider the pros and cons of each.
- What are the steps required to work through this leadership situation?
- How much will it cost to resolve this situation?
Failing to consider the Rational elements may result in a solution which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. However, taking it as the only dimension is likely to mean you’re missing out on some of the other “people” factors.
Emotional = Feelings & the “Softer” Side
As you might expect, the Emotional dimension deals with the “softer” side of a leadership situation. This includes feelings, emotions and the potential reactions.
You should never dismiss the Emotional elements because in leadership, you’re always dealing with people. Handling leadership situations often involves change, and the Emotional dimension can also help you to consider this.
Certain people will be concerned with facts and figures (those rational folk). But others will be more concerned with how situations make them feel. Emotions are powerful and have a large part to play in human behaviour.
Emotional Questions to Consider for Your Leadership Situation
To help you cater for the Emotional side of any leadership situation, you can ask and answer the following questions:
- Who will we impact when we resolve the situation?
- How are impacted parties likely to feel about any change?
- Who should you consult with or include when developing the potential solution or change?
- How could you communicate to reduce the impact or make it more tolerable?
- What strategies can you put in place to raise awareness and to help people overcome fear or resistance to change?
Failing to consider the Emotional aspects may have you developing solutions that seem logical, but don’t cater for the potential people impacts. This can be a large contributor to failure for many workplace initiatives!
Learn More: The Impact and Importance of Emotions in Leadership.
Learn More: Change Leadership is Not “My Way or the Highway”.
Political = Influential Stakeholders & Contrasting Views
Another powerful force in our organisations is of course, politics. Many leaders hate organisational politics, but it is a natural part of working in a complex environment, with many competing goals and priorities.
The Political dimension can be very frustrating, because it can force us to stray from “logical” and “common sense” solutions, if influential stakeholders happen to disagree with them.
Therefore, it’s never smart to ignore the Political elements. Failing to consider the political consequences of what you’re trying to do can often lead to roadblocks, delays and dead ends, thwarting your efforts to make positive change.
Political Questions to Consider
To help you consider the Political elements of your tricky leadership situation, ask and answer these questions:
- Are there any influential stakeholders who care about this situation? Who are they, and what is their interest?
- What goals do your key stakeholders have? Can we develop a solution that aligns with the different goals?
- Who gets to make the final decision to move forward? Is it clear, or does it involve multiple parties?
- Who should we consult with to ensure their opinion is considered?
- Who could stop us from implementing the solution? How could we get them on board?
- What are the competing views that need to be considered for this leadership situation?
- Are there any potential consequences from unhappy stakeholders if this solution is adopted? How could we reduce the risks?
People see politics as no fun, and it can certainly slow progress. But ignore it at your peril!
Learn More: Stakeholder Management Tips For the Everyday Leader.
An Example of the Model in Action
You lead a team, but you’re not happy with performance at the moment. You feel that restructuring the team will help you improve the situation.
The Rational part of you has created a new structure which is logical and will work perfectly. You’ve done your research, and looked at best practice models. You do need to hire a few people, but you have the forecast numbers that will help you justify the extra investment.
The Emotional part adds some complexity. You have a good worker in your team who has been with you for years, and is interested in a promotion. She’s excited about the restructure because of the potential opportunities. Unfortunately, you don’t think she is the right fit for the new leadership positions in the team.
Other people in the team are not so excited. They are nervous and think that they might lose their jobs. You saw one of them searching on a job website the other day.
Last, but certainly not least, comes the Political element, which can be tricky. Your company is currently under financial stress and your boss is being pressured to cut costs. Someone in your team is also good friends with one of the company executives and they speak every week.
Your team also works with another team quite closely. The manager of that team is concerned about the impact this change might have on the current working arrangements.
How Would You Handle This Complex Leadership Situation?
The situation described above is not uncommon and has some complexity. However, it is relatively simple compared to some of other leadership situations I have observed during my career!
Some questions I would consider based on the above situation are:
- How can you convince your boss to let you hire more people with the current financial pressures? (do you need to adjust your structure so you don’t need to hire more people?)
- How will you handle the restructure so that you don’t crush the spirit of your long-time team member? (or will you simply ignore that aspect?)
- Can you do anything to reduce the fear of the restructure in the team?
- Are there any risks associated with one of your team members being friends with the executive? How can you handle it?
- Can you do anything to reduce the concerns of your manager colleague about the structure change?
As you can see, even this relatively simple structure change could be complex. There are several ways that it could go wrong, or be stopped completely.
That’s why I find it so useful to use the Rational, Emotional and Political model to help consider the various elements. It can be helpful to “walk around” the problem and look at it from different angles.
There is no “right” answer. But thoughtful leaders will consider the various aspects and craft a solution accordingly.
It might not be the “perfect” solution. But often the perfect solution will never get traction, where an imperfect solution will at least make progress.