When and How the Telling Leadership Style is Used

In the intricate dance of leadership, one style stands out for its decisiveness and clarity – the Telling Leadership Style. But when does this direct approach become your best move on the chessboard of team management? And how can you wield it without crossing the fine line between assertive guidance and autocratic command?

I’ve often leaned into a “just tell ’em what to do” leadership style when I’ve needed things done in a super specific way. It’s all about giving crystal-clear directions to make sure everything ticks along perfectly. But let’s keep it real: not everyone digs being told every little thing. I’ve seen this approach go sideways when it was used on folks who weren’t having it or when the situation called for a bit more finesse. It’s a reminder that being the boss is a bit like being a DJ, you’ve got to read the room and switch up your style to keep the party jumping.

Discover the pivotal moments that call for the Telling Leadership Style and master the art of employing it effectively. This journey will not only enhance your leadership toolkit but will also empower you to steer your team toward success with unwavering confidence and precision. Prepare to unlock the secrets of applying this powerful leadership style, transforming challenges into victories with each directive move.

What is the Telling Leadership Style?

The telling leadership style is one of the four leadership styles identified in the situational leadership model developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. It is characterized by high directive and low supportive behavior from the leader.

Telling leaders focus on providing specific directions and closely supervising task execution. They clearly tell followers what to do, how to do it, and when it needs to be done. This leadership style is very directive and leaves little room for discussion, collaboration, or questions from followers.

Leaders using a telling style take full responsibility for the direction and execution of the task. They give instructions, set deadlines, establish workflows, and closely monitor performance. Their communication tends to be one-way, with an emphasis on explaining requirements and providing guidance.

The telling style is necessary when followers lack knowledge, experience, confidence, or motivation to complete a task. It is especially appropriate for inexperienced teams, new recruits, or in crisis or emergency situations where urgent action is required. Telling provides the clear, direct leadership that followers need to quickly achieve goals and objectives.

When is the Telling Leadership Style Most Effective?

The telling leadership style is most effective in situations where employees lack knowledge, experience, or competence in their roles. New hires or recently promoted employees often benefit from a highly directive telling style as they learn the skills and expectations required for their jobs. These inexperienced employees appreciate and require clear, concise instructions and directions from managers as they acclimate to their responsibilities.

The telling style also succeeds when employees need to complete a time-sensitive, urgent task. In crisis situations or scenarios with tight deadlines, leaders using a telling approach can rapidly communicate the specific steps followers need to take to achieve goals. Employees appreciate direct instructions when working under high-pressure constraints.

Additionally, the telling style works well for one-off tasks or projects requiring the execution of a predetermined plan. If leaders have already devised an effective strategy or process, they can use telling to ensure employees implement it correctly. Telling provides the clear, unambiguous communication needed for employees to proceed with confidence.

In summary, new hires, urgent tasks, and execution of established plans all lend themselves to a highly directive, telling approach from leaders. When employees require direct instructions and lack the knowledge to work independently, the telling style provides necessary guidance.

Advantages of the Telling Leadership Style

The telling leadership style has several key advantages:

  • Provides Clear Direction and Instructions

One of the main benefits of the telling style is that it allows leaders to provide very direct, specific, and unambiguous instructions to followers. Leaders can clearly lay out exact expectations, processes, objectives, and goals. This clarity of direction can be especially useful for newer employees who require more guidance. It also allows leaders to rapidly align teams and get everyone working effectively toward the same aims.

  • Allows Leaders to Communicate Expectations

Related to the point above, the telling style enables leaders to explicitly communicate expected standards and outcomes. Managers can directly explain what targets need to be hit, what success looks like, and how work should be approached. This allows for efficient task execution and performance management. When people have a clear understanding of expectations, they can be held more accountable.

  • Useful for Getting Quick Compliance in Crisis Situations

The telling approach can be advantageous when urgent action or compliance is required. In crisis or emergency scenarios, leaders using a directing style can take swift, decisive action by telling teams exactly what to do. This allows for rapid coordinated responses, which is often vital in high-pressure situations where there is little time for discussion or debate. The telling approach helps leaders take control in chaotic times to bring order and drive toward solutions.

Disadvantages and Weaknesses of Telling

The telling leadership style has some potential disadvantages and weaknesses that leaders should be aware of:

  • Can demotivate experienced employees. The telling approach may frustrate experienced employees who expect more autonomy and input. Constantly being ‘told’ what to do can make employees feel undervalued, stifled, and demotivated over time. Leaders need to gauge when experienced team members require a different style.
  • Overuse can lead to a lack of employee engagement. Excessive telling without any flexibility or employee input may lead to poor engagement and satisfaction. Employees can feel like passive ‘order takers’ rather than active participants in the organization’s success. This reduces their sense of investment and commitment.
  • Limits employee initiative and independent thinking. By focusing so heavily on telling employees exactly what to do, the telling style restricts opportunities for employees to show initiative, creativity, and independent problem-solving. Employees may become dependent on instructions and reluctant to make decisions themselves. This can limit an organization’s agility and innovation.

Effective Communication with the Telling Style

The telling leadership style relies heavily on clear, concise communication from the leader. Leaders using this style must be skilled at giving instructions and explaining tasks efficiently.

When communicating with the telling style, leaders should:

  • Give clear, direct instructions about what needs to be done. Telling leaders don’t leave room for ambiguity or confusion. They are specific about assigning tasks and responsibilities.
  • Provide context and explain why the task is important. Telling leaders give employees and followers insight into how their work fits into the bigger picture. Understanding the purpose leads to better motivation and execution.
  • Follow up frequently to ensure understanding. Telling leaders don’t just give instructions and walk away. They check in with employees to ensure the directions were properly understood. This also gives employees a chance to ask clarifying questions.
  • Answer questions directly and specifically. Telling leaders are comfortable fielding questions from employees. They take time to address concerns clearly without getting frustrated or impatient.
  • Give regular feedback on performance. Telling leaders to follow through after assigning tasks. They provide frequent feedback so employees know if they are meeting expectations.

The telling style requires concise, unambiguous communication at every step. Leaders must issue clear directions, provide context, follow up regularly, directly answer questions, and give regular performance feedback. With frequent, high-quality communication, telling leaders can maximize productivity and efficiency.

When is Telling Leadership Inappropriate?

The telling leadership style can be detrimental or ineffective in certain situations. Leaders should avoid relying solely on a telling approach when:

  • Managing highly experienced employees who want autonomy. Telling tenured staff what to do at every step can undermine morale and frustrate talented team members. It signals a lack of trust in their expertise.
  • Developing long-term strategy that requires creative insight. Telling leadership focuses on the short-term execution of tasks. However, it lacks the collaborative, innovative approach often needed for strategic planning and vision setting. Leaders should enable input from others rather than dictate strategy.
  • Leading creative tasks with no clear solution. The telling style works for challenges with defined steps and outcomes. However open-ended, ambiguous projects require more flexibility. Simply telling people what to do stifles the imagination needed for inventive problem-solving.

In these situations, an overreliance on telling leadership can limit success. Leaders need versatility to adapt their style to fit the context. Telling has its place as one tool in a broader leadership toolkit. But used inappropriately, its weaknesses are exposed. Leaders must recognize when other approaches are more suitable.

Combining Telling with Other Leadership Styles

The telling leadership style works best when combined with other styles like coaching, delegating, and participating. Effective leaders tailor their approach to fit the situation and the needs of their employees. Here are some examples of how to effectively combine the telling style:

  • Use telling to give clear direction and expectations, then use coaching to provide support as employees learn new skills. The leader tells employees what to do, then coaches them through the process.
  • Tell experienced employees the end goal, then delegate responsibilities and authority so they can determine how best to achieve it. The leader tells them what needs done, then steps back and empowers the employee.
  • In a crisis or time-sensitive situation, use telling to give urgent direction. Then switch to participating once the urgency subsides, to rebuild teamwork and morale.
  • When managing an inexperienced new hire, use telling to train them on job duties. As they gain experience, transition to delegating to further develop their skills.
  • Combine telling and coaching when introducing a new process or system. Use telling to explain it and give instructions upfront. Then use coaching to provide feedback and encouragement as employees adjust.

The most effective leaders don’t rely on just one style. By combining telling with other approaches, and adapting to the situation, leaders can leverage the strengths of the telling style while mitigating its weaknesses. Using telling judiciously alongside other styles helps engage employees, develop talent, and drive results.

Developing ‘Telling’ Skills and Approaches

The telling leadership style requires strong communication skills to provide clear instructions and directions to followers. Here are some tips for leaders to develop their ‘telling’ skills:

  • Be concise and specific – Leaders should give instructions that are simple, direct and easy to understand. Avoid vague or ambiguous language.
  • Check for understanding – After giving directions, leaders should verify that employees fully understand what is expected of them. Asking clarifying questions can help.
  • Give examples – Providing examples helps put instructions into context. Showing how a task should be done makes things clearer.
  • Explain the reasons – Employees will have better motivation if they understand why a task needs to be done in a certain way. Explain the purpose.
  • Adjust your style – More experienced employees may need less detailed instructions than new hires. Adapt your telling approach to the needs of the audience.
  • Follow up – Check back in after giving instructions to see if they are being properly followed. Offer additional directions as needed.
  • Practice active listening – When employees ask questions, restate their questions to ensure you fully understand them before responding.
  • Work on emotional intelligence – The telling style can come across as blunt or impersonal. Focus on empathy when giving directions.

There are many books, courses, and training programs available for leaders looking to improve their ‘telling’ skills. Situational leadership courses teach when a directive style is appropriate. Communication and coaching training can make ‘telling’ more effective.

Famous ‘Telling’ Leaders and Examples

The telling leadership style has been effectively utilized by many influential leaders throughout history. Here are some prominent examples:

Military Leaders

Famous generals like George Patton and Douglas MacArthur were known for their direct, telling approach to leadership. As Patton once said:

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Military leaders often need to give very direct, specific instructions during missions and operations. The telling style works well in these high-stakes situations.

Sports Coaches

Coaches like Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight were known for their intense, telling leadership styles. Lombardi would directly tell his players what to do and provide concise instruction. As he famously stated:

“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

The telling approach allowed Lombardi to rapidly improve his team’s performance and achieve championship success.

Corporate Leaders

In the business world, leaders like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos often utilize a telling approach when needed. They directly communicate strategic visions and business objectives to their teams. As Jobs once explained:

“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.”

The telling style enabled these leaders to rapidly execute their innovative ideas. However, they balanced telling with other situational leadership approaches.

In high-pressure, urgent situations, the telling leadership style has proven effective for many renowned leaders throughout history. When time is short and direction is needed, telling leaders to take decisive action.

Wrapping Up

Mastering when to give clear instructions and how to do it well is a true skill in leading a team. It’s about finding that perfect moment to step in confidently and guide everyone in the right direction without stepping on toes. Now that you’ve got a handle on this approach, you’re all set to tackle any challenge head-on. Giving clear directions doesn’t just make things happen—it also brings your team together, ready to achieve great things. So, gear up to lead with simplicity and clarity, and watch your team thrive like never before.