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Directive is about nuts and bolts of a task. Consider enthusiastic beginner, they have low competence and simply need direction on how to do it. That is being directive.
Supportive style is about targeting commitment of staff member. Working on both staff member's confidence to task, as well as their motivation, supports them to use competence they have.
Putting it all together The enthusiastic beginner is fairly obvious - Directive.
From then on, as both competence and commitment grow, staff member moves through three remaining levels. As competence grows need for directive leadership falls away. As confidence and motivation develop, supportive style coaching can be reduced.
The real art is in both assessing levels of competence, confidence and motivation and then deciding what level of directive/supportive coaching are needed for individual. This is where skill of leader comes to play.
I had a case where a staff member had never needed much direction at all. She was used to taking initiative and had started to venture outside her normal comfort zone. While her competence and motivation remained, her confidence was low for this area of work. I was caught off guard and did not support her enough, based on my experience with previous tasks.
I have also found people have different sensitivity to leadership. In above case, I was lucky. With just a small amount of supportive behaviour she responded and was back on track. In other cases I have not been so lucky. Some people are less sensitive to coaching - ie when they need it, they need a lot. These are ticking bombs. Again a self reliant achiever moving outside their comfort zone. They simply lacked confidence. However being less sensitive to coaching, I had to work hard to convince them enough to give it a try. These people would often be seen as high maintenance. But if we understand Blanchard model we can more efficiently direct our leadership efforts to confidence, motivation or task direction.
I have been trying this approach, and I have not found it easy. I tend to get wrapped up in definitions of D1 to D4 and have to stop and step back. I feel value may not be so much in specific answers but asking of questions. It certainly has made a difference and I often find myself not jumping in, but stopping, considering developmental level of person and only then acting. I feel this in itself is a good result.
Try it for a month, and at end step back and try to observe how you have been behaving differently, I think you will be impressed.
After years as a successful consultant I found myself leading a team. In an effort to move from being a leader to showing Leadership I am on a journey of discovery. If you have found yourself in a similar position, join with me at http://2leadership.com. - Steve