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  • Writer's pictureOlivier S.E. Courtois

Progress Lies in Simplicity, Not in the Latest Hype! (You Have Everything in Store!)

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

When working with executives, I am often asked to suggest recent, new and sophisticated models to quench their thirst for novelty.

I readily comply with this request. However, from my observations, great transformations sometimes start with simple concepts or models. I am a great believer in the value of simple things, especially when it comes to leadership.

Models by themselves have little value if they don't serve as catalysts for change.

Sacred texts do not change. Billions of people go to their church, temple, or mosque not to learn new texts, but to remember the foundational texts and check their progress daily or weekly.

Rituals and repetitions are more valuable than static reading of new texts. The same is true of models. New models do not always solve a problem. Sometimes even, the search for new models only serves to avoid taking action.

A concrete example: Situational leadership. When it comes to disengagement, stress or lack of ownership, this "simple" model provides many answers. And it calls for the responsibility of the leader.

According to this model, each employee has a level of competence (horizontal axis) and confidence (vertical axis). Based on this, line managers can determine the appropriate leadership approach that the employee needs, with an appropriate mix of direction, autonomy, support and/or remote control.

The combination of the two axes results in 4 situations (S) and 4 corresponding leadership styles (L): S1/L1 (calls for direction or L1 leadership style), S2/L2, S3/L3, and S4/L4 (full autonomy, open door policy).

When I use this model, I am surprised to find that few leaders use it optimally, if at all. In this regard, I see two opportunities to optimize the use of the model:

- First, many leaders (due to lack of time, at least that's the reason most often mentioned) swing between L1 and L4. "Let me explain, let me show you! Now it's up to you! My door is open if you need help." No L2/L3, i.e., little time devoted to bringing the employee up to speed through appropriate coaching and a presence proportional to the employee's coaching or support needs.

- Secondly, the model does not apply to people as such, but to the key roles expected of a person. I may have a manager who is very autonomous in his or her area of expertise, and in organizational and managerial skills for example, but uncomfortable with the idea of networking in certain circles. As a leader-coach, I can help this manager on this particular point. So I shouldn't be too quick to put my people in a box, based on an overall impression.

My goal here is to highlight the value of simplicity when it comes to leadership or organizational development. Often, leaders have all the keys in their hands.

What they need is not always new keys, but insight, purpose, discipline, perseverance and patience.


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