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Flex Time

Learning to be flexible in any situation can be the key to effective leadership.

When David "WhiteThunder" Trottier wanted to drum up in-line skaters' interest in a new skate wheel he planned to distribute, he dropped by the place skaters go near his St. Michael, North Dakota, three-employee company, WhiteThunder Inc. He didn't bring any wheels to show the four skaters he found there. Instead, he brought a supply of skater jargon and a tantalizing offer.

"I asked them, `Do you grind? Do you do any half-pipes?' " Trottier says. "The kids looked at me and asked, `How do you know all this?' I just said I wanted to give a kid a set of wheels to test for me. The next night I came back, and there were 20 kids waiting to see the wheel."

Trottier's interest-building ploy is a tactic of situational leadership, a model of leading that says there is no one right way to influence people. Rather, there are several ways, any one of which may be appropriate depending on the level of readiness and the ability of the people who are to be led.

Although it sounds simple or even obvious, situational leadership has been taught to millions of managers worldwide. The source of situational leadership's popularity is its effectiveness and ease of application, says Dewey Johnson, a professor of management at California State University, Fresno.

"The reason it works is that it puts the focus on the follower," explains Johnson. "You find out where the follower is as far as ability and willingness. Then, based on where the follower is in relationship to the objective, you see the right leadership style that goes along with it. The concept is elegant in its simplicity."

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Flex Time.

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