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Being a Dynamic Leader


When we think about how we grow our people as leaders, our focus is often simply on getting them promoted. But promotion isn’t the only way to help someone progress in their career. As leaders we need to be dynamic in how we help people navigate towards new roles and opportunities. What follows are some thoughts that have helped me be effective in adjusting to unique circumstances when helping someone progress in their career.

One size does not fit all

We have a range of tools at Etsy that help move our people forward. Not an exhaustive list, but a few key tools worth considering:

  • Stretch assignments - Specifically giving someone a challenge that is outside the expectations of their current role or level. This can give someone a chance to experience what it’s like to be in the next position and also reveal new things to work on or skills to be gained.
  • Rotations with another team - Working with another team can provide new perspectives and encourage people to network more widely.
  • Training - Though it seems obvious, training is easy to overlook, and opportunities for training change frequently. It can be useful to remind your reports of what's available and to guide them towards specific training that focuses on areas in which they're trying to excel.
  • Mentorship opportunities - Giving someone the chance to mentor more junior personnel encourages growth in empathy and other non-technical skills. You can also bring in mentors from outside your team to offer coaching: not only will your people benefit, it's a way for you yourself to get valuable perspectives on the challenges you and your team may be facing.

Quarterly development check ins (QDCs) are a great opportunity to discuss with your reports how they're progressing and identify which development methods might best address their long-term goals (though these conversations don’t need to be reserved for QDCs!).

Who will you be? A model for leading growth

As leaders, we all must inhabit different roles to support our different reports.

When you and one of your reports have identified a growth opportunity that makes sense for their career, don't forget to consider how you will show up for them as they pursue it.

One tool I find myself going back to often is the Situational Leadership® Model. Depending on where they are in the learning process, the person you're mentoring or leading will need different levels of support and direction from you. As the person matures, they progress from needing many details and explicit direction, eventually being able to handle you simply delegating tasks to them. Your support needs to change along with their growth.

Some detail regarding the various styles that you will need to employ:

  • Directing: this is an appropriate style when someone is learning something for the first time and involves you as the leader providing explicit guidance. This is simply telling someone to do something.
  • Coaching: if someone is very motivated to learn in a given area but still needs some extra guidance, this is a good style to use and involves bringing them into the process a bit more. This style is certainly still directive though and requires clarity in all communication between you and those you coach. This is essentially directing with less detail and letting the motivation drive someone to fill in the details as they go with you checking in frequently. There is a great article about the dynamic between coaching and directing by Lara Hogan that goes into this more deeply and is very much worth the read.
  • Supporting: if the person has the skills and tools needed to complete the task but may lack the confidence to complete it, you may want to consider this mode and lean into supportive behaviors. Asking them how you can help is a frequent question you should be surfacing in conversations when in this stage. Use this style when you are confident the person can handle the challenge but just needs reinforcement along the way.
  • Delegation: finally, if they have both the skill, motivation and confidence to handle the challenge, then delegation is more appropriate. It’s important to be clear however that you are in this mode and are there when needed. In this situation, you give the person the task and check in along the way.

While the model is simple, it is effective in that it offers a clear protocol for you and your report to talk about something that is very nuanced. This also helps them know if a challenge is of the appropriate level. For instance, you may assume they need less support than they feel they need. This may lead to them not delivering and feeling as though they failed.

Checking in

Shortening feedback loops is critical when leading someone that is growing in an area that is new to them. Keep the situational model in mind: there may be times when your report feels less confident than normal. You may find them giving you short, uninformative answers or just saying flatly that everything is going well. When that happens, it's a good idea to switch up the format of your 1:1 and begin asking more open-ended questions designed to help foster discussion. Some good ones to consider:

  • What has surprised you most so far in this experience?
  • What are you most worried about next?
  • What is the hardest part of this experience so far?
  • What else do you need from me to succeed?

You can't expect your report to have all the answers, so don't expect yourself to either. Remember that you're working through your own growth process. Admitting that, being forthright about it, can help lower the guard of someone who finds themselves working through new challenges day in and day out. Let them see they're not going through it alone.

I frequently share areas that I’m working on with my own reports. For example, I’m currently trying to establish more clear and compelling roadmaps for my team. This is something that my manager and I have on the agenda for discussion in our own weekly 1:1s. I brought this up recently in a 1:1 with one of my direct reports, and found that by putting us both on the same playing field it made our conversation much easier.

To summarize, we as leaders have a wide array of options that we can use when faced with the challenge of having reports with different goals, strengths and weaknesses. Being dynamic and clear about how you are going to be there for them is key as they navigate career growth.

Situational Leadership® is a trademark of Leadership Studies, Inc. References to particular programs, trademarks, services, or other content appearing in this post do not constitute or imply endorsement.