Archive for October 2014

Quotable (Dr. Jeff McMaster, on doing something different)

“Maybe you are in a circumstance or environment where what you are doing is not working. The right thing is now the wrong thing (or perhaps it was never the right thing). Maybe it never has worked in the past, maybe it worked at one time but not any longer. Regardless, it doesn’t work; and when it doesn’t work, it’s time to do something different.”


Dr. Jeffrey S. McMaster

If It Doesn’t Work, Do Something Different

If It Doesn’t Work, Do Something Different

I have tried many different ways to lose weight, and yet, for 25 years, I have remained within the same 20-pound range. I’ve spent money on weight-loss programs, I’ve purchased books on specific weight-loss plans, I’ve followed pre-determined menus, and I’ve tried various exercise regimens. Every time, I would lose weight up to a point, then it would stop. Most of the time that was because I couldn’t maintain the routine or the plan, yet that didn’t stop me from trying to do it again anyway. I kept trying, but it kept not working.

Then something seemed to change. Perhaps it was a different plan that was more life-style based, perhaps it was motivation, perhaps it was simply personal choice, but I did something different, and it worked. Over a period of several months, I lost 50 pounds and increased my overall health, and over the next several months after that, I maintained the weight loss. What was different? Probably several things: I made use of an app on my phone to help me maintain awareness of what I was eating, I incorporated moderate exercise, I weighed myself daily (again, to help me stay aware), I ate a piece of chocolate every evening. I’ve done variations on these in this past, but this time, they were done in moderation and in combination, but not with radical, significant change. I continued to eat what I enjoyed, but modified and in moderation (smaller portions, more fresh foods, but still with lots of flavor); I exercised consistently but moderately (not trying to run a triathlon); I ate something sweet every day, but not in excess; and I maintained awareness every day. The other thing I did was an idea that came from my children: I set two mason jars next to each other where my family could see them, filled one with the number of marbles that equaled the number of pounds I wanted to lose, and each week would move marbles from one jar to the other (or back again) based on what I had lost (or not) until the original jar of marbles was empty, and the empty jar was full. The end result was that I successfully reached my goal weight. I did something different, and it worked. (And I learned some lessons on leadership along the way.)

I’ve experienced the same process numerous times in organizations. Several times, I’ve found myself doing the same thing over and over again even though it hasn’t worked before, and I needed someone or something to shock me into the realization that I needed to do something different. Other times, I’ve entered into a new organization and discovered frustrations over things that were not working, but when I confronted the issues, I was met with resistance because of tradition or history. It took me, approaching the issue with an outside perspective, to come up with a different way of doing things that worked much better. In one organization, it almost became my unofficial motto to say, “then we’ll try something different,” as I worked to resurrect a struggling school. In fact, it was in that environment that I recognized the importance of thinking differently, thinking outside the box, and being willing to question how things were done and explore doing them in different ways.

Jim Collins, in Great by Choice (2011), explains the importance of trying different things as part of the process of identifying what works. From his research, he identified several key practices that were necessary for maintaining long-term success. One of those was something he called “empirical creativity,” which he described as “relying upon direct observation, conducting practical experiments, and/or engaging directly with evidence rather than relying upon opinion, whim, conventional wisdom, authority, or untested ideas.” (p. 26) This concept is explained with the illustration of first firing bullets, then cannonballs; or, testing ideas in a low-risk and low-cost manner, using that information to empirically validate what will actually work, and then concentrating resources on those ideas that have been validated. The idea is, very simply – try different things until you find what works, then put your efforts into that.

One of the challenges for a leader is realizing the need to do something different. Sometimes tradition gets in the way – “we’ve always done it that way.” Sometimes we get stuck in routine and don’t think about doing something different. Sometimes we simply don’t see that we need to do something different, because we think that it will still work if we find what needs to be fixed. Then, we keep doing what we have been doing, it keeps not working, and we keep getting frustrated. Black and Gregersen talk about this in their book, Leading Strategic Change (2003), when they say, “the need for change is born of past success – of doing the right thing and doing it well . . . but then something happens: The environment shifts, and the right thing becomes the wrong thing” (p. 11). They go on to describe the process of change as something that happens in four stages (p. 13):

  • Stage 1: Do the right thing and do it well
  • Stage 2: Discover that the right thing is now the wrong thing
  • Stage 3: Do the new right thing, but do it poorly at first
  • Stage 4: Eventually do the new right thing well

Maybe you are in a circumstance or environment where what you are doing is not working. The right thing is now the wrong thing (or perhaps it was never the right thing). Maybe it never has worked in the past (like my previous weight loss attempts), maybe it worked at one time but not any longer. Regardless, it doesn’t work; and when it doesn’t work, it’s time to do something different.


Black, J. S., & Gregersen, H. B. (2003). Leading Strategic Change: Breaking Through the Brain Barrier. Prentice-Hall: New York, NY.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Week of October 27, 2014

What Do You Think . . . is an example of situational leadership in your own experience?

The situational approach to leadership is one that focuses on adapting style to the demands of different situations.  In other words, it is doing what works best in any given situation or environment.  We have probably all done this to some extent; I know I have. I learned fairly quickly that what works well in one organization may not necessarily work well in another, when I tried using the same method of motivation for team that had been well-received in a previous organization, only to have it meet strong resistance in the new one.   What about you? What is an example of a time when you adapted your leadership style to fit a particular circumstance or need?  Please share in the comment box below.

What is Situational Leadership?

I was once hired into an organization that was experiencing a time of high employee turnover, combined with low employee morale (not surprising!), resulting in a lower level of performance and support.  In my leadership role, this context required me to be quite directive in my approach.  I had to establish clear expectations, policies, and procedures, with frequent communication and consistent enforcement, while building relationships.  It reflected the classic management principle of “you can’t expect what you don’t inspect.”  The result was significant growth in the level of competence and morale, resulting in improved performance, happier employees, and a better product.

Then I transitioned to a new organization, and found myself in an environment of highly competent and loyal employees.  In this new environment, I knew that the same type of directive approach was not the right way to lead, because these employees already knew what to do and were doing it well.  Instead, I needed to take much more of supportive role in my leadership, with more back-and-forth dialogue and input from the employees.  Rather than directing their tasks (they were doing a great job of that before I got there), I focused on building relationships, reinforcing and affirming their competence, and giving them support.  I had to modify my style of leadership to match the culture and situation in which I found myself.  This, the modification of leadership stye to match the circumstances, is called situational leadership.

The situational approach to leadership was first developed by Hersey and Blanchard, and is just what the name suggests – adjusting the leadership style to fit to the situation.  As Peter Northouse says in Leadership: Theory and Practice, “The premise of the theory is that different situations demand different kinds of leadership. From this perspective, to be an effective leader requires that a person adapt his or her style to the demands of different situations” (p. 99).

There are two different sides in situational leadership: the leader and the subordinates. The leader’s side involves the leader style, or the behavior that the leader is attempting to exhibit in order to influence others, which includes both task behavior (“directive”) and relationship behavior (“supportive”).  These behavior patterns are classified in four different categories, or leadership styles:

1)    Directing (S1) = high level of “directive,” low level of “supportive”

2)    Coaching (S2) = high level of “directive,” high level of “supportive”

3)    Supporting (S3) = low level of “directive,” high level of “supportive”

4)    Delegating (S4) = low level of “directive,” low level of” supportive”

The subordinates’ side in the situation involves their development level, or “the degree to which the subordinates have the competence and commitment necessary to accomplish a given task or activity” (Northouse, p. 102). These behavior patterns are also classified in four different categories:

1)    D1 = low level of competence, high level of commitment

2)    D2 = medium level of competence, low level of commitment

3)    D3 = medium/high level of competence, medium level of commitment

4)    D4 = high level of competence, high level of commitment

Situational leadership happens when the leadership style is adapted to match the development level of the subordinates, and each level of subordinate development corresponds with a specific matching leadership style:  “D1” subordinate level requires “S1” leadership style, “D2” development level requires “S2” leadership style, and so on.  The idea is that differing styles of leadership work better in different situations or circumstances.  That means that leadership will be most effective when the leader is able to “accurately diagnose the development level of subordinates in a task situation and then exhibit the prescribed leadership style that matches that situation” (Northouse, p. 119).  And keep in mind, this can change from organization to organization, but it can also happen at various times or in various situations within the life and culture of the same organization.

I have personally experienced the application of situational leadership.  Having worked in several organizations (and having gone through different phases within the same organization), it makes sense to me that leadership styles have to change to match different situations.  A uniform, “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work in every situation, therefore effective leadership will analyze the culture, environment, or situation, and adjust the leadership style to best fit.  When you do that, you are using “situational leadership.”


Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.


Week of October 20, 2014