Interactional Leadership: Are You a Fluid Leader?

Employing interactional leadership to personalize approach

All leaders and managers have had cause to manage conflict in the workplace. Difficult situations can lead to breakdown in communication and the need for managers to adopt care-fronting or confronting styles to resolve issues.

Effective leaders can turn conflict into innovation, but to do so they must manage people flexibly. This brings us to the interactional theory of leadership.

What is the interactional approach in leadership?

We understand that people react differently in different situations, and that their behavior can be out of character. We also expect leaders to be ‘level-headed’ and non-emotional. Yet, emotion is a human characteristic that cannot be separated from leaders or managers – who aren’t (yet) robots.

Interactional leadership theory acknowledges that a leader’s behavior is determined by their own personality and the situation in which they find themselves. These situations can exhibit any one or more elements, including:

  • Circumstance
  • Events
  • People
  • Outside influences (such as rules and regulations)

In short, leaders – just like others – respond to a complex environment in which many elements interact. Reactions are not always constant because:

  • People themselves are complex
  • Motivations change over time
  • Objectives evolve
  • Nature of task, ability, experience, and emotional intelligence all play their part

How to increase your effectiveness as a leader

Understanding the effects of your environment on your reactions is the first step to understanding that you must be flexible in your approach.

There is a relationship between you and your people, and this develops through two-way communication. This communication affects action and reaction, and your ability to personalize your behavior is key to resolving disputes, inspiring actions, solving problems, and empowering collaboration and teamwork.

Are you task-oriented or relationship-oriented?

Leaders who focus on task manage plans and actions to achieve objectives.

Leaders who focus on relationships interact with employees and operate in a culture of trust, open communication, and mutual respect.

To lead effectively you must transition between these two modes, personalizing your approach to situation and individuals. In emergencies, it is likely that you will employ a more authoritarian approach to benefit from quick and decisive action.

Flexibility in your leadership style enables you to be fluid in your approach, matching it to the complex set of elements in the situational environment.

Situations can encourage acceptance of leadership

A complicating factor in assessing the effectiveness of leadership style is that situations can also determine acceptance of your leadership style by your employees.

For example, an authoritarian approach peppered with a streak of stubbornness may be deemed inappropriate in normal working conditions. It can lead to distrust, indignance, and a lack of commitment from employees. However, during times of emergency, such an approach could be exactly what is needed to steer a team or organization into calmer waters.

An example of this is Sir Winston Churchill. Prior to World War II, Churchill was relatively unpopular in Great Britain. He was viewed as stubborn, single-minded, and even a little dictatorial. However, it was these qualities that made him the perfect wartime leader, and that catapulted him into being considered one of the greatest leaders the world has seen.

It must be remembered, though, that Churchill was summarily voted out of office after the end of the Second World War. He was viewed by the public as not being a suitable leader for peacetime. Perhaps if he had been more flexible in his leadership style, with the ability to adapt his approach to evolving circumstance and complexities, he may have remained in office longer.

In summary

To lead different people and teams effectively, through different circumstances, it is essential that leaders are equipped with the ability to be flexible and lead fluidly.

For your leadership to remain authentic, you must not only have the skillset and emotional intelligence to personalize your approach; you must also ensure that your decisions and actions align with your organization’s values and purpose.

To learn more about developing effective leadership and management skills, connect with Forward Focus today.

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