‘One size fits all’…really? In actuality, one size rarely fits all in any situation. Interesting piece of trivia, did you know we have been using that phrase since 1975 when Frank Zappa released his ‘One size fits all’ album? For over 4 ½ decades the idea that a product, concept, principle or process could proclaim this phrase as their pièce de resistance is quite astounding.
“Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, ‘I agree, I would never suggest one size fits all!’” Let’s consider an area we might be applying this maxim without much thought, leadership. Most leaders want to get better at their ‘craft’. That applies to both positional and relational leaders. How many times have you found yourself reaching for the newest leadership book, secretly praying that this book will have the key – the magic bullet that will allow you to realize that desire to be a great leader. I know I have! I’m not trying to stir the pot here, at least not too much. Let me assure you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading these books. Even as I write this, I glance at the many books on my shelves on whose pages I have highlighted and underlined words of wisdom and insight offered by amazing authors—men and women alike—who have taught me much about leadership. What I’m saying is that in our pursuit of leadership excellence, sometimes we are unwittingly influenced by mantras like one size fits all. It’s entirely possible to read a fantastic book with amazing ideas that simply won’t fit you, or your area of influence.
At my college, we teach leadership theories to developing entrepreneurs, business executives, intrapreneurs, tech start-ups, change makers, social entrepreneurs… you get the idea. We know that laying a solid foundation is important in creating critical thinkers who take those theories and analyze their relevance in a business world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and the need for great adaptability. We know that leadership is no longer limited to traditional face to face contexts. Leaders are called to lead remote teams, hybrid teams, teams that are made up of employees, freelancers, contractors, and even volunteers. Some of these theories we teach have been around since the 19th century where The Great Man Theory (later changed to the great woman theory) was popularized. Out of this came the belief that leaders are born, not made. This alone is great fodder for discussions that could build chasms between friends!
Back to today and our one size fits all discussion. As leaders we know that people are not clones, we are unique. In the words of King David, ‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made’. So this is where leadership theories, at least one specific leadership theory, moves to the top of the pile. Hersey and Blanchard are responsible for introducing the ‘Situational Theory of Leadership’.
“The situational model of leadership focuses on flexibility so that leaders are able to adapt according to the needs of their followers and the demands of the situation.“
Read that quote again. ”…leaders…adapt…to the needs of their followers.” There is no one size fits all here. Hersey and Blanchard remind us that we need to focus on those we are leading, to determine what they need then respond accordingly. Our team members come with varying experiences, level of risk taking, knowledge and skill base, personalities, work approaches, cultures; in other words, leaders are responsible for managing and supporting great diversity of culture, belief, value, thought and much more.
Have you ever heard someone glibly say, “if it weren’t for the people, my job would be easy!” The truth is your job IS the people. The Great Person Theory is just that…a theory. The greatest leaders are not those who show up as the hero or heroine to save the day. The greatest leaders are those who show up and ask ‘What do you need from me? What barriers can I remove for you? How can I best support you? What do you think? How can I help?
The greatest gift we can give those we lead and support, is to act on the fact that one size does not, and never will, fit all. This is easier said than done, but it is important. Perhaps the best leadership approach is to start each day, with a posture of humility, intentionally seeking to serve those we are called to lead.