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Situational Leadership: 6 Elements of a Successful Corporate Leadership Development Program

Dave DeFreitas

Dave DeFreitas

retired Group CFO at Caterpillar

Dave DeFreitas presentation slide

Becoming a great leader takes time. Unfortunately, once you become a great leader, getting out of the habit of doing all of the things that made you great is easy to do. By applying a concept known as Situational Leadership, you can inspire your people to achieve more than they ever thought possible, gain their trust and loyalty, and help them develop into the next generation of great leaders for your organization.

By adopting a proactive and confident leadership style based on a positive mental attitude, where your primary role is to remove obstacles for your people and enable them to flourish in their jobs, you can move and inspire others through your own positive outlook.

Situational Leadership is the Key to Becoming a Great Leader

As a retired Group CFO at Caterpillar, I am most proud of the leadership skills I developed during my 32-year-career at the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment. From my earliest days as a 30-something finance guy leading a team of direct reports, with several twice my age, I sought to build trust and connect on a personal level so that these individuals understood I was there to make things better for them.

I was direct in asking my team what they needed from me, and I made sure to deliver on what they asked of me.  And I was genuine when giving my word that I trusted their extensive knowledge and I would back them up when they needed it.

You won’t be successful unless everyone knows where the finish line is and are rowing in the same direction, in unison, toward the same goal.

Dave DeFreitas, retired Group CFO at Caterpillar

It’s important to establish that becoming a manager does not automatically make you a leader. Much like a single trip to the gym won’t turn you into a bodybuilder. It takes time and regular practice to form a habit…then regular repetition to remain strong.

There is a fine distinction between managing and being a leader. Organizations that foster these 6 elements of Situational Leadership can help develop the next generation of inspirational leaders:

1. When to inspire, when to coach, and when to do

You must tailor your leadership style to the experience level of those on your team, and you need to know what motivates them. By tapping into the logic of the task at hand and addressing the emotion of the people involved, you can unleash the individual and collective talents of your entire team.

2. Surround yourself with the best

This may sound obvious, but hire the smartest people to build your team. It is OK for those on your team to know more about what your group does than you do. If you focus on enabling them to be the best they can be, your team will accomplish more than anyone ever thought possible. This will drive employee engagement and job satisfaction to their highest levels.

3. Listen to your team

Your team is closer to the details. They know how your team’s processes actually work on a day to day basis. Don’t assume the way you did those jobs earlier in your career is still the way they are done today. Either on purpose or by accident, the way things are done may have changed.

4. Make sure your team knows “what done looks like”

Clearly define and communicate objectives so everyone is on the same page and can accomplish the agreed-upon goal. You won’t be successful unless everyone knows where the finish line is and are rowing in the same direction, in unison, toward the same goal.

5. Demonstrate commitment to the cause

Lead by example. Be willing to roll-up your sleeves and work with your team. Be part of the solution.

6. Be a flexible and patient leader

Get into the habit of practicing Situational Leadership every day by adapting your management style to each new situation while meeting the needs of your team. Take the time to ensure your team knows how their work is being used and its importance to your company’s success.

Becoming a Successful Leader

Wouldn’t it be nice if just one trip to the gym was all you needed to get into the best shape of your life. If you could count on your muscles to grow stronger with each passing day, without any additional effort on your part.

Unfortunately, that’s not how things work. To get better at something you must practice. A new hobby takes at least one month of repetition to become a habit.

Developing great leadership skills also takes time. But with simple changes such as reflecting for 30 minutes at the end of each workweek, you can decide what improvements you want to make in the coming week and take one new step toward being a great leader every day.

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