Aligning Your Leadership Style and Team Readiness With Alan Lennick

by Ryan Goulart

Anyone can feel challenged by having to try something new and unfamiliar. Maybe you’re onboarding someone into a new role and want to help them get off to a fast start. Maybe you’re the person doing something you’ve never tried in your career. What needs to happen next?

Start by assessing the person’s readiness for the task or role. Then, align your leadership style to meet them where they are, says Alan Lennick, senior vice president and consultant at think2perform. 

“Matching up that leadership style with the readiness level for the task is what can allow us to more efficiently and effectively get somebody up to speed to be able to do something new that they hadn’t been expected to do before,” he says.

On this episode of Making the Ideal Real, we’re speaking with Alan about aligning your leadership style with your readiness level — and how to do so amid changing expectations.

How Can We Assess Readiness?

What does it mean to be “ready” for a task, job or other challenge? Alan thinks about readiness level in two ways: Ability and motivation. From there, he uses acronyms to help everyone remember how to assess those two areas: TRUE for ability and WISC for motivation.

For TRUE, “the T stands for training and education. R is role perception. Does somebody understand that it’s actually their role to do this task?” Alan says. “U is understanding, and, in this case, it’s understanding the importance of doing the task. And E is that experience, recent relevant, successful experience of actually doing the task.”

You need to have all four components, or else your ability is measured as low. 

WISC, meanwhile, stands for willingness, incentive, security and confidence. “I differentiate those two in that confidence, I feel, is more internal,” Alan says. “I think of security as a little more external, meaning you’ve asked me to do a task, I may be confident in my ability, but I may not be secure that you are going to like how I did it.”

Again, you need to have all four components of WISC to score well in motivation. 

From here, you can align the leadership style with the readiness level. But be careful about how you measure readiness level — getting it wrong creates problems, such as employees who are reskilled for a new role but lack role perception. 

“They’re being told it’s their role, but they haven’t internalized it yet because they’ve got years of experience of that not being their role,” Alan says. These employees must first accept the role and develop relevant experience before they’re truly ready.

How Should Leaders Adapt Their Style?

Many leaders, when they find employees not following training or instructions, “basically resort to saying it louder,” Alan says.

That doesn’t address the problem, and it also removes the psychological safety needed to have open discussions about current readiness levels and how to advance. “I want to set an environment where you feel comfortable saying what your readiness level is,” Alan says, “and that I won’t judge you negatively for being a lower readiness level than I thought or than I expected.”

For example, a retail business trains associates to follow a certain set of procedures and provides a written list of the steps for reference. Yet, the associates aren’t following the steps. That’s frustrating, but it suggests a gap between the leader’s perception of readiness and the actual readiness level.

In this case, Alan says, the leader might shift to a more direct leadership style like “demonstrate, observe and confirm.” The training is the demonstration, but there needs to be observation and confirmation, which in turn gives the associates confidence and security (critical WISC components). 

Alan suggests that leaders write out their readiness assessment. “Think about one specific task, go through those two acronyms, exactly like we just walked through it,” he says. “And then I would go to the person and share with them what I’m doing.”

How Do Advisors Experience Changes in Readiness?

Many advisors start their careers as solo practitioners. Over time, they build a larger practice with advisors who are brought in to handle the extra business. The challenge for these additional advisors is when the head advisor decides his employees should also bring in new clients. 

That’s a big shift from serving clients to acquiring them, Alan says, and requires more than a simple training session. Start by acknowledging the change and assessing readiness. “The communication around that is so important to get right, and it starts by understanding where somebody’s readiness level is in the first place,” he says.

Classroom training and instruction can help, but it’s insufficient. “I still don’t actually know how to acquire clients,” Alan says. “I’ve only had a little bit of training on it, but there are a lot of key things that I don’t have — mostly recent relevant, successful experience of actually doing it. And so in that case, you need to be able to align your leadership style with what my readiness level is.”

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Alan Lennick: LinkedIn

Transcript

Alan Lennick:

You need to be able to align your leadership style with what my readiness level is. And that’s something that we refer to as everyday leadership. People refer to it as situational leadership a lot. We just recognize that situational leadership is something you need every day, so we put those two things together. And matching up that leadership style with the readiness level for the task is what can allow us to actually more efficiently and effectively get somebody up to speed to be able to do something new that they hadn’t been expected to do before.

Ryan Goulart:

That’s Alan Lennick, senior vice president of think2perform. We’re talking about how to align your readiness to changing expectations. I’m Ryan Goulart and you are Making the Ideal Real.

I have with me today, Alan Lennick. Welcome back to Making the Ideal Real.

Alan Lennick:

Thank you very much. It’s nice to be back.

Ryan Goulart:

Yes, it is. One of the things that you and I have talked about, and I’d like to get your feedback on is what you’ve experienced throughout your career and, with your coaching clients, on leadership. And primarily we’re looking at trying to do something different that you’ve never done before or being asked to do something different that you’ve never been done before. And how do you do that? So throughout your career, what are some observations that you’ve had on being asked, and the one doing the asking, to have people go to a different place?

Alan Lennick:

That actually has me thinking about something a little bit different than what we had talked about before, but the idea of, what has gotten you to the place where you are, what has gotten you to whatever level of success you’re at, isn’t the same thing that’s going to get you to the next level. There’s some level of change that’s needed. So thinking about that first through my career, that definitely has been true for me personally at different stages, when I’ve moved into different roles with different responsibilities, that I had to make some adjustments. One just as simple as how I dealt with my schedule and my calendaring. I was thinking about this yesterday working with a client, who was talking about somebody on their staff who had been working with a different advisor on their staff that was, just because of the lack of compactness in that person’s schedule, the staff person got into a habit of just being able to go to that advisor whenever, it wasn’t so much scheduled time. But now this person’s going to be working with a more senior member of the team, that is scheduled much more differently.

It made me think about, with my own self, I always liked a little bit less structure and then, as my responsibilities changed, I realized I needed more structure in order to, oddly enough, give myself more freedom within it. So things like in that moment, rather than just being able to on-the-fly talk to that staff person, they actually are now having to schedule times that they get together to discuss specific things. So something as simple as that ends up being a really big difference in moving from one level up to the next. There are certainly much larger, more impactful examples, but even little things like that can make a profound difference.

Ryan Goulart:

Yeah, so with that, one of the things that, and especially within the clients that we support, there’s been some observations that when being asked to do something different, even though the role sometimes has that built into it and what we’re talking about here are situations like, let’s say Al, I’m an advisor and I’ve been an advisor for some time and now you’re asking me to do some business development, some new client acquisition. What have you noticed and how does one approach that ask — both as the advisor that’s been asked and then you as the one that’s asking, “What are some things that you can do to help support me?”

Alan Lennick:

Thinking through the evolution of somebody who started out as a solo practitioner advisor, as many of the most successful ones that we worked with did, once upon a time, it was a one-person shop. And then they grew and they ended up having to add staff and then they grew more, and so what started as a solo practitioner becomes a bit of an ensemble, becomes a larger practice and lo and behold, eventually becomes a whole firm, and you’ve got several people working with the firm, And it started initially from a standpoint of hiring additional advisors to serve the client base that this original advisor had built.

So these advisors come in, and they can do a great job with the service work, but they may not have come in with the expectation of acquiring new clients. And so what we’re seeing as these firms evolve and they keep getting bigger is now, you’ve got the CEO and the owner of the firm who’s looking at this and saying, “All right, I want to keep growing, and now we need these advisors to start acquiring clients, as well.” But that isn’t something that the advisors had started with when they first joined the firm.

So if I originally came in and I spent all of my time serving a client base that already exists, it’s a pretty big shift to all of a sudden go from that to acquiring new clients. And that’s something that we’re realizing is, frankly, it’s something that we see quite a bit, and it’s a hard shift for both the leader and the advisors who are now being tasked with something new that they haven’t had before. And the communication around that is so important to get right, and it starts by understanding where somebody’s readiness level is in the first place. So for this particular example of client acquisition, I may be working for you, Ryan, and you may say, “Hey Al, I want you to acquire clients now.” And you may have me sit in a classroom with all the other advisors, and you can tell me about all these different client acquisition techniques and say, “OK, go. Off with you, and go get some clients.”

I still don’t actually know how to acquire clients. I’ve only had a little bit of training on it, but there are a lot of key things that I don’t have, mostly recent relevant, successful experience of actually doing it. And so in that case, you need to be able to align your leadership style with what my readiness level is, and that’s something that we refer to as everyday leadership. People refer to it as situational leadership a lot. We just recognize that situational leadership is something you need every day. So we put those two things together. And matching up that leadership style with the readiness level for the task is what can allow us to actually more efficiently and effectively get somebody up to speed to be able to do something new that they hadn’t been expected to do before.

Ryan Goulart:

Yeah, and I think there’s a couple of ways to go about this now. So, what does assessing readiness entail? What are some things that — you mentioned recent, relevant, successful, key word, “successful” experience? Now, what are some other things that come to mind in how one might approach assessing readiness in any situation or any task?

Alan Lennick:

We use a couple of acronyms to help us assess somebody’s readiness level. First of all, we’re looking at ability and then we’re looking at motivation. We have an acronym for each. So for ability, we use the word TRUE. It makes it easy to remember. The T stands for training, training and education. R is role perception. Does somebody understand that it’s actually their role to do this task? U is understanding, and in this case, it’s understanding the importance of doing the task. And E is that experience, recent, relevant, successful experience of actually doing the task. So if any one of those four is missing, we would say that somebody’s ability is low. And one of the things that we see quite frequently is, we may have provided training for somebody on a task, and therefore we assume that their readiness level, their ability, is higher than it is. They may have had the training, they may have the role perception correct, they may even understand why it matters, but having not had the recent relevant successful experience, we still have to assess them as having low readiness.

The motivation side, the acronym that we use there is WISC, W-I-S-C. W is willingness. Does somebody have a willingness to do the task? It is incentive — do they understand their incentive? So, in many cases, that can be accomplished with different bonus structure things, whatever. In some cases it’s as simple as the incentive is to win the “keep your job” contest. That’s still an incentive.

Ryan Goulart:

A pretty big incentive.

Alan Lennick:

It is pretty big. S is security, and C is confidence. I kind of differentiate those two in that confidence I feel is more internal. I think of security as a little more external, meaning you’ve asked me to do a task, I may be confident in my ability, but I may not be secure that you are going to like how I did it. So those two things are just a little bit different.

But again, much like when we were talking about the ability side of it, when we’re looking at the motivation side of it, if they’re missing any one of those four things, we’ve got to assess them as having low motivation. So they may be willing to do it. They may understand the incentive. They may even be secure that, “Hey, if I do this right, Ryan’s going to be really excited, but I’m still not confident.” So I would, in that case, be low motivation. And just like we had talked through it with the ability side, if I was just missing the recent relevant experience, which is, by the way, probably why I lack confidence, I would be low motivation and low ability. So that would put me as what we refer to as readiness level one, an R-1, and we need to be able to align the leadership style with that level of readiness.

Ryan Goulart:

So what does an example look like of where you have observed in either your experience or with clients of where mistakes happen in assessing readiness? So, what are some things that you have observed that can provide some context to this model?

Alan Lennick:

Sure, absolutely. Let’s stick with that acquiring clients idea. That is one where we see people over-assess somebody’s readiness level a lot until we actually get down to this level of defining readiness level based on these acronyms. But if I’ve provided training to somebody on a given task, let’s say again, client acquisition. So we had a class, we went through it, I now think you know how to do it because you’ve been taught, you’ve received the education, therefore I assess that you must be ready to do it. So I can just say, “Hey Ryan, you’ve now been trained, go acquire clients.” What happens in that case is a lot of times we’ll see the person expected to now acquire clients kind of backs up. They almost get even shy to say, “I don’t know how.” Because they feel like, I’ve been trained and I still don’t know how and I don’t know how to say that without the person then coming back and saying to me, “But I already told you.”

Or another example is working with somebody in a staff situation, there’s a retail business that I do some work with and we were talking about the same concept there where they actually had some standard operating procedures that everybody was trained on and they had them written out and they were literally in front of them at all times. It had the list of what they should be doing. We were accidentally assessing their readiness level to do it as higher because they had been trained and they had this in front of them. They even understood where’s their role, they understood that it mattered, but they hadn’t actually done it themselves before. They didn’t have the recent relevant experience, so the ability was still low.

In that case, we realized we actually had to back up again and be a little bit more directive is what we would consider that style to be, a directive leadership style where we can do more of what we refer to as DOCing, Demonstrate, Observe, and Confirm. So the demonstrating had been done. I’ve trained the person, I’ve had them watch me do it, I assume they now know how to do it because it’s even written down in front of them, but they haven’t done it themselves. They didn’t have the muscle memory from recent relevant experience of doing it successfully. And because of that, in this particular case, the person also lacked confidence, and they even lacked security because they were thinking, “Ooh, if I don’t do this right, Ryan’s going to be upset with me.” So they understood. They were willing to do the task. They were incentivized to do the task. But they didn’t feel secure or confident, largely because they lacked that recent relevant experience.

So we were able to step back and then the leader was able to actually go through that docking procedure again, demonstrate, observe, and confirm, we had skipped over the O and the C, all of a sudden the person was able to pick it up much more quickly. And being able to identify not just what the readiness level is, if they’re missing one of those, but which one they’re missing is a big deal. Back to the concept we were talking about before around client acquisition. That’s been a big one with a number of organizations where people are missing the role perception just because that hadn’t been their role before. So now they’re being told it’s their role, but they haven’t internalized it yet because they’ve got years of experience of that not being their role. Granted, they now have to accept that yes, it is. They still need to get to the point of having recent relevant experience before we can assume that we can just let them go off and delegate that task, which is what we would refer to as S-4 leadership.

Ryan Goulart:

Hey listeners, Ryan here. With changing expectations in a changing world, we have to evolve. Our Evolve Conference allows you as both a practitioner, business owner and a person to discover new ways you can do your work more efficiently and effectively. Our dates are October 29th and 30th here in Minneapolis. Hope you can join us.

Really an interesting observation in terms of — when assessing ability and motivation in both parties. I’m assessing my own readiness, you’re assessing my readiness, too. And when it comes to the ability side in that role perception component, whose role perception matters more?

Alan Lennick:

I’m going to answer that two different ways in terms of role perception, the leader gets to decide what the role is so we can generally get past that rather quickly. It’s, “Oh, I understand that you didn’t realize that was your role.” It actually is. We can now get past that as the objection. But at the same time, that’s still something that if there’s a conflict between where I assess my readiness and where you assess my readiness, we always default to the person who has the lower level that they assess their readiness. So you could have assessed that I am maybe low in ability but high in motivation, and I may say I’m actually low in both. So you thought I was an R-2, and you can just coach me on this, and I thought I was an R-1.

Now you realize, “OK, I have to default to, he thinks he’s an R-1, I’m going to help give this directive kind of leadership.” And by the way, when talking about myself and my own experience throughout my career, this has been not just impactful from a leadership standpoint, but from my followership, it has been very helpful to be able to identify my readiness level. And if I’m working with somebody who understands these concepts as well, I can just go in and say, “Hey, I’m pretty R-1 on this task.” And then you know what kind of leadership I need. We have that common language, and we can just kind of cut through it and get to what we need to do.

Ryan Goulart:

I mean the role perception thing’s just fascinating to me in terms of just what you said that I have to internalize it too. And there’s an acceptance component of that so that as a servicing advisor, now that you as the founder have provided me with plentiful clients, I no longer — I have never had to acquire clients before other than the referrals that might’ve come from you, and now I’m being asked to do something I never have done before. There’s an ego part of this. And then when we kind of have the R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4, not only am I having to accept that I’m being asked to do a different job, I also have to ask myself… I don’t want to be an R-1. I see myself much more advanced than what R-1 would suggest. How does the leader support the follower in helping them separate the ego component of this?

Alan Lennick:

That’s a great point, and the ego component of it really is big, especially when you’re dealing with somebody who’s been in a role for a really long time and they’ve been successful in the role. That’s where we have to remember that this is about task-specific readiness level. It’s not about the person, it’s not about their overall performance. It’s specifically dealing with a given task. So to your point, realizing that the phone dials out. I may be great at absolutely every part of the job, but I’ve never dialed the phone out before to try to acquire a client, that’s just that task. That doesn’t mean I’m saying that I’m not good at everything. I’m saying, “I’m R-1 at this particular task, can you help me with that?” So to your point of what the leader can do, the leader can provide a safe environment for that.

And that’s a really key part to it, where a lot of times we see people, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this in my career, where if I’ve provided the training for something and they’re not doing it well yet, I basically resort to saying it louder. I don’t think you realize I told you this, I’m telling you this again.” 

That is both not helpful from actually not matching up the leadership style that we need, but it also isn’t setting the environment that I want to set. I want to set an environment where you feel comfortable saying what your readiness level is and that I won’t judge you negatively for being lower readiness level than I thought or than I expected for whatever reason. That just creates a difficult environment where it’s hard to get past that to a point where you are willing to hear the message again.

So it’s setting that trusted relationship. I can’t remember the name of the model right now, but the name of it doesn’t really matter, but it’s basically putting on a scale of, on one axis, you’ve got productivity on and on the other access you have relationships and which one you care about. We want to be what we refer to as a Nine-Nine — I care about the relationship that we have, and I care about your productivity. And the reason that I care about the productivity is because I care about the relationship. That makes it a lot better. It’s, “I know that this is something you want to be good at, and I want to help you be good at it.”

Ryan Goulart:

Totally. And I feel like sometimes when talking about readiness and assessing readiness and then matching leadership styles and doing all these things and making sure that they’re task specific, and there’s so much to consider, especially for businesses and leaders that are new at applying this type of model. So where would you recommend someone to start? Where does it start? Because to get to the level of mastery that you’re speaking to, to be able to pinpoint, and I’ve seen you do it, pinpoint, “Oh wait, they’re saying they’re R-2, but they’re really R-1, so I’m going to just provide S-1 leadership without them even knowing it.” And I think that’s what a lot of people want to have, but they might not know where to start. So when it comes to TRUE and WISC, and we’ll stay there, based on what we’ve talked about today, where did our listeners start on making sure that they are assessing readiness?

Alan Lennick:

That’s a great question. So I would actually start by writing out those acronyms. So think about somebody that you’re working with, think about a specific task and actually go through that, answer those questions. Has this person been trained on this task? Do they have the role perception for this task? Do they understand why it’s important for them to do this task? And do they have the experience — recent, relevant experience of doing it successfully? Just go through and answer those questions about a specific task. Do the same thing on the motivation side with WISC. Willingness, are they willing to do it? Incentive, do they understand their incentive to do it? Security, do they feel secure that if they do the task that it will be seen positively? And confidence, C, confidence, do they have the confidence to do it?

I would start just simply with that, think about one specific task, go through those two acronyms, exactly like we just walked through it and then I would go to the person and share with them what I’m doing. So we think about this a lot, that we talk about learning, practicing, and teaching. I was actually with a group last week where there was a gentleman that, he was talking about the same concept, and he was encouraging people to learn it, then teach it, then practice it. And it was really interesting because we had kind of an “aha” moment in the room of, we’ve been talking about learn, practice, teach. There’s something to be said for, “Hey, let’s just talk about this right now, because if I’m going to try to teach you how situational leadership works and readiness assessment works, I’m going to get better at it that much faster.”

So some combination of that is really where I would get started. Just think of one task and think about those two acronyms, TRUE and WISC and work through those to assess readiness level. If we find that they’re low ability and low motivation, we refer to that as R-1. If we find them to be low ability, but high motivation, we consider that to be R-2 — that generally requires more of a coaching sort of a relationship. 

R-3 is somebody who is high ability but low motivation. That’s a really interesting one, by the way, because if you’ve correctly assessed that somebody’s ability is high, but maybe they’re lacking confidence and that’s why their motivation’s low, whatever the case may be, you can ask questions that will get the right answer out of them. “So if you wanted to acquire clients, what do you think you would do?” “Well, I think I would probably have a list of prospects. I’d probably pick up the phone, I’d probably dial it. I’d probably ask them to come in and meet with me.” “You know what? You’re absolutely right. That’s a great idea. You should do it exactly like that.” 

Obviously I’m oversimplifying, but I think you get the point. And the great thing about it is if I have assessed you incorrectly and your ability is lower than I thought, you won’t give those correct answers. So then I’ll realize that, OK, maybe we’re at R-2 or maybe even R-1. And R-4 is somebody who has high ability and high motivation. That’s somebody that we can just delegate the task. I know that you have the ability. I know you’re totally motivated. I’m not going to drive you nuts by micromanaging the activity here. Just good on you. Go get them.

Ryan Goulart:

All right. Well, I’ll follow up this for those that are curious about what to do next. I have a question for you that’s a little beyond what we just discussed, but I think it’s relevant, because we talked about going from demonstrating, observing, confirming, coaching, guiding, and then delegating, those leadership styles. What happens when you regress? What happens when you go backwards?

That’s less fun, because in many ways, people have demonstrated — as if you’re kind of looking at it as the role of the servicing advisors, they’ve had recent relevant, successful experience doing that. Now they’re being asked to do something different, they don’t have recent relevant, successful experience like you commented on. And in many ways, it’s like a regression in their ability to do what they’ve perceived their job to be. And that feels terrible, not only for the person leading them and they’re doing the asking, and then they’re going to have to perform a, like, “Oh wait, I don’t want that task either. I don’t know — how am I supposed to guide or coach or tell this person and observe and confirm when I don’t even have that?” So it’s this compounding thing when regression happens that I think is just oftentimes not talked about.

Alan Lennick:

Well, it’s a really good point though, because getting to an R-4 level of readiness on any given task isn’t one of those things that’s a lifetime achievement, that once you reach it, you always stay there no matter what. So I was recently at the gym and I noticed the basketball court was empty, so I went in there and I grabbed a ball to shoot around for a while for the first time in years. Now, I used to actually play full court basketball multiple times a week and I realized that my skill level was not the same as it was back when I did. Looking at the idea of readiness level, my readiness level to actually play a full court game was not very high. I would’ve been injured early.

But just using that as an example of something that just because at one point you were an R-4 in a task doesn’t mean you always are. So there could be something that I was trained on, I knew it was my role. I fully understand why it was important. And I had a lot of experience, recent and relevant, because I was doing it so much. If we go a year, two years, three years of not doing that task anymore, it’s a lot easier for it to kind of fall off by the wayside. And that’s understandable, and that’s got to be OK.

So from an organizational standpoint and a leader’s standpoint, recognizing that that happens with all of us for any given task, there are absolutely things where I used to be an R-4 and now I’m probably an R-1 because it’s been so long since I’ve done it and therefore I totally lack confidence in something that I used to be really good at. So understanding that, being aware of it and being open about it as an organization, where we are at a readiness level for a given task. Again, it’s not about the person, it’s not about overall job performance. We’re just looking at the task, one specific task at a time.

Ryan Goulart:

Thank you for coming up.

Alan Lennick:

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Ryan Goulart:

As we wrap this episode, we’re committed to helping you make the ideal real. If you found this program helpful, share it and help someone else make their ideal real, too. Until next time, for think2perform, I’m Ryan Goulart. Take care.

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