One of the Principles of Contingent Leadership

March 8, 2024

The higher one ascends the organizational hierarchy, the more complex are the problems that a manager or a leader have to address and deal with. As one moves up the hierarchy it requires a change in how one manages.

As a shift supervisor, which would be the lowest level managerial role in the hierarchy, what needs to be done is relatively clear and the task is well defined with boundaries. The role of management is almost exclusively to see to it that the plan gets executed appropriately. At that level of the hierarchy, the uncertainty that needs to be managed is very low, and the expected style of management is mostly one of command and control. It should be carried out, however with a style that considers people’s needs to be respected and appreciated.

When one gets to the top of the hierarchy, the level of uncertainty is high; One needs to lead the company into the future which is uncertain. Also, one has to coordinate and integrate multiple subsystems of the company and deal with conflicts between people and between tasks and priorities. There its most desirable style is that the top executive listens to the different points of view, different judgments, and reasonings, to reduce uncertainty and make the best possible decision.

These differences also apply to where the company is on the life cycle. In the Startup and the Go-Go stages, the role of the top executive is (P) & (E) and their style is usually one of command and control as if they are running a shift or a mama-papa store. When the organization gets into Adolescence, and now it needs to redefine its mission, the style of command and control can become dysfunctional. What is needed now is the capability to listen, think, create, and integrate. When the company gets to Prime the main roles are mostly listening and integrating the decisions of the team rather than deciding by oneself, ordering execution, and following up on implementation.

The higher one goes on the organizational chart, and the more advanced the company is on the life cycle (excluding aging), the bigger should be the ears of managers and leaders and the smaller should be their mouths.

  • Observe more >>> Manage less.
  • Ask more >>> Answer less.
  • Teach more >>> Instruct less.
  • Listen more >>> Speak less.                                   
  • Feel more >>> Think less.                                     

One should convert one’s style from being a soccer or a football coach to an instructor in a doctoral colloquium, where one leads a debate on a subject, trying to find sense in what the problem is and nurturing a climate of mutual learning that leads to educated conclusions.

One has to change also what makes one feel rewarded. When managing with the command-and-control style, the reward is in seeing results, tangible and intangible, outputs that the leader can identify with personally that it is they that added the value. When the style is one of creating a constructive learning and productive environment, one should be more like a piano teacher, sitting in the concert hall, feeling rewarded that their student playing the piano is getting incredible applause. An analogy could be how parenting style has to change as the offspring grows and matures. Up to adolescence one can instruct what the child should do. From adolescence, a parent should bask in the glory their children get. The reward is that they parented and reproduced themselves well.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes