I remember hearing sports commentators debate the rightness and fairness of Phil Jackson’s admission that he led each of his players differently—that he treated Michael Jordan differently from another player on the team. Some cried foul, insisting that a coach is responsible to ensure equity, and in doing so, each player must be treated the same way. Others insisted that Phil Jackson was displaying wise leadership.
It is not fair for a leader to lead everyone the same way because every person on the team is different and needs different leadership. To lead every person the same way is to discount each person’s development, each person’s experience, and each person’s level of commitment. It would be unfair to lead someone who is highly capable and fully committed in the same manner as someone who is less developed or is negative.
Ken Blanchard is known for his model of “situational leadership.” He challenges leaders to adjust their leadership to the development of the people they lead. And the adjustment should be for different aspects of the person’s role—meaning, because I display different levels of competency for different aspects of my job, I need varying levels of leadership.
- Someone who displays low competence and high commitment needs “directing” leadership.
- Someone who displays low competence and low commitment needs “coaching” leadership.
- Someone who displays high competence and varying commitment needs “supporting” leadership.
- Someone who displays high competence and high commitment needs “delegating” leadership.
It is not fair to neglect someone who needs directing by delegating to them. And it is not fair to direct someone who is able to handle wise delegation. It is not fair to lead everyone the same.
I find Blanchard’s model counter-cultural to how many people view leadership. I imagine executives at companies reading his thoughts and thinking, “So leadership is not about me asking all the people I lead to adjust to me? I am to adjust to them? I am to adjust my leadership style to the people I lead?”
Wise leaders adjust their leadership to the people they lead. In other words, wise leaders are servants.
As Christians, we have been served by our Savior-King, who came not to be served but to serve, who took off His kingly garments and took on the nature of a servant so He could suffer and die to win our hearts to Himself. Serving others is not distinctly Christian, but Jesus serving us is. And because He has served us, we are now able to follow His example and serve those we lead by adjusting our leadership to them.