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5 Effective Leadership Contexts to Help Your Organization

Drea Zigarmi EdD

November 14, 2018

Like the great Rosetta Stone broke through language barriers, Leadership in Context could prove to breakthrough leaderships development barriers in the workplace.

We’re able to make sense of the last 100 or so years of leadership by gathering the different styles on each great leader (and our own leadership style) and putting them into a comprehensive framework. By doing this, we’ve come to realize the cornerstone of Leadership in Context is who, what, when and where you lead determines how you lead.

These contexts can be broken down and easily remembered with the acronym:

  • S - Self Context
  • O - One-to-One Context
  • T - Team Context
  • O - Organizational Context
  • A - Alliance Context

Although related, each context is different. We can build a foundation by recognizing each one, but to achieve leadership genius, you must adapt each practice depending on the context. To do this, observe your daily leadership routine.

You’re most likely not using the same context during every interaction you have throughout the day. Sometimes you may have to lead yourself through a project (S), other times you’ll have a one-to-one conversation with someone you lead (O), some days you have to lead a team (T), other moments you’re in charge of an all-unit meeting (O) and sometimes you have to lead a big partnership to benefit your organization (A).

The Importance of Self-Leadership

Leading yourself is often one of the most overlooked and under appreciated contexts in leadership development. If you’re able to influence yourself to get out of bed in the morning and get a project done at work, you’re already on your way to becoming an expert in this context.

To become a successful self-leader, you have to develop and manage what you do and make yourself perform on a higher level. This will help sustain and improve your organization on an individual level and make those around you a little better at self-leading. If they see what you’re doing is working, it will inspire them to pursue the same level of excellence.

Learn how to master each of the 5 Contexts of #Leadership in @InspireSoftware’s latest blog!Tweet This!

The three choices of self-leadership

To develop your self-leadership, you have to take into account not only what you’re doing and what you need, but what your organization needs from you. Self-leadership is a constant balance between pushing yourself to be the best for you and pushing yourself to be the best for your team. As a self-leader, you’ll come across these three choices at some point:

  1. Do it your way.
  2. Do it the organization’s way.
  3. Do it in a way that helps you and the organization grow and improve over time.

The key to having a solution and being successful in each of these situations is knowing when to implement one over the other. There are times when you’ll need to do it your way and there are times when you’ll need to do it the organization’s way. Whichever you choose, know how to turn the situation into something to benefit your leadership ability.

Leading in the One-to-One Context

When you’re talking to a co-worker, are you thinking about if the conversation is helping them become better in their role? Or are you thinking about getting the conversation done as quickly as possible so you can get back to what you’re working on? This is what separates someone who is leading in the One-to-One Context and someone who is not.

When you’re working on this context, think about placing emphasis on your leadership mindset and ensuring your efforts and actions are focused on teaching, encouraging, guiding and supporting the person you’re talking to. Have focused one-to-one conversations, discuss goals, give feedback and recognition where it’s deserved and motivate and establish trust to not only build your own One-to-One leadership but to build that person’s Self-Leadership

The One-to-One context is like dancing with the person you’re talking to. It takes constant finesse to assess their needs and provide leadership style or skill to fit the needs of the moment. Through getting the steps of the dance right, you’ll reach the end goal of developing the ability and energy to help the individual reach their goal.

The five key skills:

  1. Initiate Effective Goals
  2. Deliver Effective Feedback
  3. Listen to Your People
  4. Facilitate Problem Solving
  5. Optimize Motivation

In order to master the One-to-One context, you must be able to connect each of these skills. By doing this, you’re developing the individual's abilities and creating a life-long learning environment.

 The most effective teams are comprised of different types of team members with the knowledge and capability to work together cohesively.

Facilitating High-Impact Teams

There’s a difference between leading a team and leading a group. A group is comprised of people who, on their own, are able to reach goals and succeed. A team has members who rely on each other to reach goals and succeed. Being a successful team leader depends on if you’re working with a team mindset or group mindset. When leaders get the two confused, there are three things that could happen:

  1. If you’re working in a group, using team building exercises means you’re wasting time because the group members don’t have the same goal in mind.
  2. Assuming you’re in one or the other and using corresponding methods could mean failure to reach goals.
  3. Using collective team leadership can lead to overlooking the need for One-to-One leadership which is still necessary for individual success.

Some skills you use to organize a group will work to organize a team, but the first step in organizing either is understanding who you’re trying to lead and what the goals are. Often times great self-leaders are promoted to a management role and find themselves leading a team without truly knowing how to lead them. Leading high-impact teams involves how you organize the individual abilities of the team and use those abilities to set them up for success.

The most effective teams are comprised of different types of team members with the knowledge and capability to work together cohesively. To visualize this, we use the DISC behavioral analysis tool:

  • Dominant - completes tasks, may overstep authority, like challenges
  • Influencing - strong communication, motivational, people-oriented
  • Steady - reliable, team player, traditional approach, slower paced, cautious
  • Compliant - fact/data-oriented, detail-oriented, traditional approach, more passive

It’s easy to get frustrated walking onto a team that’s unclear about what the goals are and how everyone’s role plays into achieving the goal. But, with a successful team leader at the forefront who understands the combined skills and talents of the individuals, reaching goals becomes a little easier. Team leadership is a great opportunity to help people with diverse skills, backgrounds, talents and passion come together for a common purpose to achieve organizational goals.

Do you SOTOA? Do you even know what it means? If not, you’re not #leading to your fullest potential. Find out how #SOTOA can help you from @InspireSoftware:Tweet this!

Generating an Organization’s Vitality

Leaders in the Organizational Context have the primary goal of shaping the environment for the people who think, feel and work in an organization. They cultivate an environment to develop the ability and energy of all the people in it. Leadership at this level should be sophisticated because you have more complex issues to handle.

As a leader in this context, you need to have the mindset of having equal responsibility of fostering the economic health of the organization and fostering the effectiveness and happiness of those working there. This requires a strong perspective from the head of the organization and each part of the strategy needs to support the rest. To understand how one part correlates with the rest, look at the organizational framework you’re working with.

Organizations are created in response to the demand of a certain market. From there, the organization develops a vision, values and principles it wants to work with. Each one of these things can be looked at as the framework making up an organization. Each part helps the other out and together forms a system for processes, performance and infrastructure. To lead in this context, work with and improve each part of the system.

Being a #SelfLeader requires more work than you might think! Learn how to master this context, along with the other 4, in @InspireSoftware’s latest blog.Tweet this!

Like with any other context, understanding what goes on to be successful comes with its challenges. Being an organizational leader requires a large understanding of what happens when something goes wrong, or right, in the lifecycle stages you’re working with. You also need to understand the Phases of Performance and the five critical skills that go with it. Some challenges you may face in understanding these things are:

  • Having leaders who aren’t aware of the stages and what stage their company is in.
  • Leaders who don’t take time to asses the Phases of Performance.
  • Leaders who aren’t developed in any of the other contexts of leadership.

As stated earlier, this context requires you to ensure your employees are happy with what is happening in the organization. Employee engagement and work passion both predict long-term performance. There are some indicators as to whether your employees are engaged including employee intention to leave is low, employee citizenship morale is high and employee trust in leaders is high. When these indicators are checked off, you’re probably on the right path to great organizational leadership skills.

Leading Alliances

To develop your self-leadership, you have to take into account not only what you’re doing and what you need, but what your organization needs from you.How do you forge, nurture and manage collaborative relationships to expand and leverage your organization’s assets, services and potential? Do you have an answer? It’s a difficult question to answer for a lot of leaders and many arent able to answer it until they get the hang of the Alliance Context.

Once you have an understanding of what your role is as an individual leader, you can start to attempt to lead an alliance. There are two different types of alliances you may be faced with leading: internal and external. Internal alliances are formed between departments within your organization whereas external alliances are formed between your organization and another corporate entity. Whichever one you’re tasked with leading (and you could be leading both), they were likely formed with the purpose of achieving a common goal.

Developing and maintaining alliances is what makes an organization run smoothly. If you don’t have a good relationship with the company that ships your products, your customers are going to be unhappy. Leading an alliance and owning your leadership in an alliance can make all the difference. But, even if you think you’re being a successful leader, alliances can still fail if you don’t keep up with the most effective leadership practices. If they do, see if it’s because of one of these factors:

  • The strategic purpose was unclear.
  • The leader failed to ensure compatibility.
  • The alliance charter was not explicitly defined.

To help ensure you don’t face any of these problems, it helps to know what challenges you’ll face as an alliance leader. Accountability can be a big problem in alliances (especially external) because self-leadership plays a big role in getting things done. Holding yourself and the person at the other end accountable will help keep the relationship going.

When alliances are led properly, obstacles don’t stand a chance and you’ll have all the tools you need to nurture your organization. If you look at the major companies today, they wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t have friends with other corporate entities.

Leading in all of the Five Contexts of Leadership is no easy feat, and it’s one that many leaders find themselves struggling to achieve throughout their entire career. But, once you understand what your leadership style is on a daily basis and which setting to use the related context, mastering each of the five gets easier.

To learn more about the Five Contexts of Leadership, check out our eCourse.