The Beauty and Magic of SLII®

Millions of people the world over know the massive positive impact SLII® leadership training has had on leaders at every level and their team members in every industry. If you’re not one of these people, I’d like to introduce you to the basics of SLII®.  

SLII® is based on these two beliefs:

  • People can develop and want to develop.
  • There is no best leadership style to encourage that development; leaders must tailor their leadership style to the situation.

Think about it—we all are at different levels of development, depending on the task we are working on at a particular time. Leaders who over-supervise or under-supervise their people—give them too much or too little direction—have a negative effect on their development. That’s why it’s so important to match leadership style to development level.

SLII® is an easy-to-understand, practical framework that enables leaders to first diagnose a person’s development level on a specific task or goal: Enthusiastic Beginner, Disillusioned Learner, Capable but Cautious Contributor, or Self-Reliant Achiever. Leaders then apply the matching leadership style: Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating—the one that has the right amount of direction and support to help the person succeed at that development level.

  • Enthusiastic Beginners have just begun to learn a task or work on a goal. They are excited about doing it—but they don’t know what they don’t know. They need clear direction from their leader on exactly how to do the job.
  • Disillusioned Learners have been doing the task or working on the goal just long enough to understand that it may not be what they thought it was going to be. They aren’t sure if they can do the job or even want to do it. They need a coaching leader who can encourage them and build their confidence through this tough stage.
  • Capable but Cautious Contributors have the experience and skills necessary to do a job well but may have times when they still doubt themselves. They need a supportive leader who has their back and is there to cheer them on and show them how much they are appreciated.
  • Self-Reliant Achievers are capable, confident, and at ease with the task or goal at hand. Their leader is happy to delegate the job to these high performers—but is always available to help work a problem or celebrate a success.

So how would this model work in the real world? Let’s start with an example from your childhood. Can you remember when you started learning how to ride a bicycle? Sometimes you were so excited that you couldn’t sleep at night, even though you didn’t know how to ride yet. You were a classic Enthusiastic Beginner who needed directing.

Remember the first time you fell off your bike? As you were picking yourself up off the pavement, you might have wondered why you wanted to learn to ride in the first place and whether you would ever really master it. You had reached the Disillusioned Learner stage, and you needed coaching.

Then came the day when you could ride your bike with a parent cheering you on. But that confidence became shaky the first time you took your bike out for a spin without your cheerleader close by. Now you were a Capable but Cautious Performer in need of support.

Finally, you reached the stage where your bicycle seemed to be a part of you. You could ride it without even thinking about it. You were truly a Self-Reliant Achiever—and your parent could delegate to you the job of having fun on your bike!

The beauty and the magic of the SLII® model is that it can be applied in every part of life that includes tasks or goals: your personal life, family life, work, school, church, community, workplace, friendly or romantic relationships, etc.

As an educator, I know the thrill of witnessing the moment when a student suddenly realizes a concept I’ve been teaching them. It’s the same feeling you will get as an SLII® leader when you meet your people where they are in their development on a particular task or goal. Why? Because leadership is not something you do to people; it’s something you do with people.

September: A Time to GROW

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love September, because I always associate it with my days as a college professor. This was the time of year when everyone returned from summer vacation and we began again, refreshed and renewed.

When we’re students, the start of the school year gives us an opportunity to learn new things and grow. Yet as we move into adulthood, one year begins to blend into another. Confronted with daily demands, we tend to rely on past successes and past knowledge alone. Pretty soon we’re just going through the motions. We become stagnant; we don’t grow.

This trend is especially troublesome for leaders, because once you are stagnant—or even perceived as stagnant—your influence erodes. As my friend Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “Once you stop learning and growing, you might as well lie down and let them throw dirt on you, because you’re already dead!”

A Four-Part Plan to GROW

In our book Great Leaders GROW, Mark Miller and I contend that the best leaders make a conscious decision to grow throughout their careers and their lives. In the book, we outline four key practices that lead to the development of your highest potential, both on and off the job.

G Stands for Gaining Knowledge

Gaining knowledge isn’t something you do once and stop doing when you get a degree. It is a long-term decision—a habit, actually—to nurture and develop through the years. You can work on gaining knowledge in these areas: 

  • Self-knowledge – The better you know yourself, the better you’ll understand how you’re perceived and how you make decisions. To gain insight into your personality, check out assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the DiSC Profile, or StrengthsFinder.
  • Knowledge of others – The more you know about others, the easier it is to work with them to attain mutual goals. Go beyond superficial conversations and really get to know the people you work with.
  • Knowledge of your industry – Read up on the history of your industry. Research what’s happening in your field today. Who are the major players? What do they offer? Where is the industry headed?
  • Knowledge of the field of leadership – Keep reading business books, blogs, and newsletters to learn new leadership trends and best practices. What skills do other leaders have that you might need to work on?

R Stands for Reaching Out to Others

Reaching out to others and sharing what you’ve learned accelerates your own growth. You can do this formally by using your expertise to:

  • Lead a seminar.
  • Sit on a panel at a professional conference.
  • Become a mentor to someone in your field.

Or you can take an informal approach by making a conscious effort to:

  • Seize on teachable moments.
  • Share what you’re learning with others.
  • Tell stories that convey lessons you’ve learned.

O Stands for Opening Your World

Opening your world is a little tricky during a pandemic, but you won’t grow unless you expand your mind through new experiences that light a spark within you. Thanks to technology, many of the following examples can be done virtually.

Here are things you can do to open your world at work:

  • Attend training events to broaden your perspective.
  • Interview recent retirees and seek their counsel on current issues.
  • Have lunch with someone different every day to expand your network.
  • Lead any kind of a team or group. Leaders are learners!

You can do the following activities to open your world outside of work:

  • Travel—anywhere—when it’s safe to do so.
  • Volunteer regularly—anywhere.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Visit virtual museums or attend virtual plays or concerts.

A balance between stimulating work experiences and fulfilling personal experiences is essential if you are going to keep growing.

W Stands for Walking toward Wisdom

Wisdom can be defined as the application of accumulated knowledge and experience. Contrary to what you might think, wisdom has nothing to do with age. We all have known younger people who might be described as “wise beyond their years,” and many of us can say we know a few “old fools.”

The pursuit of wisdom never ends for those who aspire to leadership. Your journey toward wisdom should include the following elements:

  • Self Evaluation. Look in the mirror and be truthful with yourself.
  • Honest Feedback. Ask those around you for feedback on how you are doing.
  • Counsel from Others. Learn from others’ experiences as you move forward.
  • Time. Understand that acquiring wisdom is a lifelong process and can’t be rushed.

Your capacity to lead is determined by your capacity to grow—and the fastest way to grow is to learn. As we head into the fall, challenge yourself. Set new goals and sign up for training. Keep learning and keep growing. Make it a habit, and you’ll enjoy the benefits of becoming a leader for life.

What Principles Are on Your Belief Window?

Many years ago, my late, great friend Hyrum Smith was a member of a team that discovered the Reality Model, a brilliant visual way of describing how people look at life. Hyrum was so taken by the concepts in the model that he spent much of the rest of his life traveling around  and spreading the life-changing message to businesses, schools, churches, and even prisons. The ideas in the model aren’t new, but they are remarkably relevant for today. Why? Because the Reality Model helps people see the world as it really is.

The main concept of the Reality Model is the idea that each of us has a Belief Window through which we observe the world around us. On our Belief Window are thousands of principles we believe to be true about ourselves, our world, and other people. Most of these principles are an attempt to meet a basic human need such as to live, to love and be loved, to feel important, or to have variety. Some principles, such as “the Earth is round,” reflect reality, and some, such as “dogs are better than cats,” are subjective. Either way, we believe them to be true and we will behave as if they are—because our beliefs drive our behavior.

That said, the key to effective living is to continually identify the changing principles on our Belief Windows, look at the results they give us, and ask an important question: Will these results meet my needs over time? If the answer is yes,it usually means it is a valid belief for us. If the answer is no, we can chalk it up as a lousy belief and choose to either get rid of it or change it.

Let me give you a personal example. I once found myself tipping the scale at more than thirty pounds over my normal weight. My wife, Margie, asked me what my philosophy of eating was—particularly when I was consulting and teaching on the road. I answered, “If I’ve been working hard, I deserve to eat anything I want at night.” She said, “So how is that working for you?” I had to admit, it wasn’t fun carrying around the burden of that extra weight. These results weren’t meeting my needs over time. I needed to make a change.

Now remember: beliefs drive behavior. I realized that before my behavior could change, what I believed about eating had to change. I had to find an alternative principle. After much thought, I came up with this: “If I’ve been working hard, I deserve to eat a healthy dinner so I can sleep well and feel good about myself.” My revised principle helped me, over time, to get the results I wanted—and evaluating my Belief Window was instrumental in helping me turn my health around.

Why am I sharing these thoughts with you today? In the past eighteen months, we all have been carrying around the burden of living through a pandemic. Each of us has faced our own challenges—physical health, mental health, jobs, finances, etc. Many people’s lives have been turned upside down in too many ways to count. I’d like to suggest we all take a look at the principles that have formed on our Belief Windows and determine whether or not they have been meeting our needs over time.

For example, let’s say you have this principle on your Belief Window: “I’m afraid to leave the house. The world is a scary place.” Is that a lousy belief or is it a valid belief? Have the results of your behavior met your needs over time? If they haven’t, perhaps you could adopt an alternative principle that would meet your needs better. How about this: “Walking my dog after breakfast is a safe way for me to get back into life.” Will that alter your behavior in a positive way? Yes, it will.

Or maybe there’s been a change in what is important to you: “I’m not looking forward to going back to my office. Working from home makes me happier and I get more work done.” Is that a lousy belief or a valid belief? Have those results met your needs over time? If you think they have, talk to your supervisor—perhaps you can make working from home a permanent choice.   

When you discover that certain principles have helped you find peace of mind, hold on to them. When you uncover beliefs that haven’t been working for you, get rid of them or come up with alternatives that can help you change your results for the better. And don’t forget the phrase over time—because results take time to measure.

Are the results of your beliefs and behavior meeting your needs? Following this model won’t improve everything overnight. But becoming aware of your principles and applying the concepts of the Belief Window may be a step in the right direction.

Training Plus Coaching: A Formula for Success

Several years ago, someone asked me a thought-provoking question: “What has been your biggest disappointment in your career?” After careful reflection, it occurred to me that what bothered me most was that while my books were widely read and our training programs were used around the world, people were not following through on the concepts and using them consistently in their day-to-day work.

Why not? I wondered.

When Training Doesn’t Stick

It’s not that people didn’t care or weren’t motivated to apply the learning. It’s just that, despite their most sincere efforts, what they were learning just wasn’t sticking.

People would go to an expensive training, get inspired, and vow to apply the learning. Then they would get back to the office. Soon their notes from the training would be buried under a pile of work. Perhaps they would even try to apply some of the training. But because they were not yet good at the skills, the outcome of their efforts would be neutral or even negative. The newly trained people didn’t really have time to figure out why, so they would write off the training and go back to their old, not-so-great way of doing things.

It bothered us that the investments organizations were making in training were going down the drain.

Coaching Can Bridge the Gap

We realized that to bridge the gap between what people knew—all the good advice and tools they had learned in training—and what they did with this knowledge, people needed more support.

We have found that the best way to help people retain and apply what they learn is to integrate coaching with training. We recommend enrolling participants into a minimum of three coaching sessions after a training. In each session, the coach has focused conversations with the participant to help them tailor their new knowledge to their own work scenarios.

Sometimes even the smartest students miss key insights. Madeleine Blanchard, cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services, recalled working with the president of a company who had just taken our SLII® leadership training. The program teaches leaders how to diagnose the development level of their direct reports on each goal and task and apply the appropriate leadership style.

The president was eager to become a role model for SLII® leadership—someone who knew exactly what each person on his team needed to succeed.

“Do you have clear goals and tasks for each direct report?” Madeleine asked in her first session with the president.

The answer was no. In his eagerness to master all the other content, the president had forgotten the first step in the training: goal setting. That kind of oversight is common—and is exactly why coaches can be invaluable in helping people apply what they’ve learned.

Where AI and Virtual Coaching Fall Short

Lately, artificial intelligence has been making a big splash in the training industry. Although AI technology offers some benefits, when it comes to making training stick, there’s nothing as effective as working with another warm-blooded, breathing human being.

There’s no big mystery to that. If you’ve ever done a physical fitness or weight loss program, you know how much more effective it is to answer to a personal trainer or classroom instructor than an unfeeling, computer-generated coach.

No matter how sophisticated AI becomes, a virtual coach can’t prepare people for all the variables they will encounter when they try to put their training into practice in the workplace. It can’t hold people accountable to their commitment to apply the training. And there’s no way a virtual coach can take the place of a human when it comes to acknowledging, praising, and celebrating progress.

It’s human nature to be motivated by positive feedback from others. “After our coaching sessions, people often get back to me about how they’re applying the training,” says Madeleine. “A common email I get is, ‘You are going to be so proud of me.’”

Coaching: An Investment with Long-Term Rewards

The investments organizations make in training are not intended to end when people leave the classroom. In fact, that’s just the beginning. The hope is that the benefits from the training will accrue to the bottom line over the long term.

A small additional expenditure in follow-up coaching assures that an organization’s training investment will pay dividends well into the future. If the cost of one-on-one coaching is prohibitive, small group coaching can also be effective. So, start integrating follow-up coaching with your training. You’ll be amazed at the results!

Embracing Reality—and Mud—Is Better than Fighting it

We just had a fabulous wedding weekend at a place Margie and I call our “Farm” near Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York. The Farm is a five-acre plot of land, mostly lawn, with a house and a few outbuildings where we store family cars, boats, and other equipment when we aren’t in town.

Because of the beautiful view and the peaceful setting, our granddaughter, Hannah, and her devoted partner, Beth, decided the Farm was the perfect spot for their wedding and reception.

On the East Coast, the greatest unknown for summer weddings is the weather. It had been raining in central New York for almost two straight weeks and the forecast was for a wet wedding day. Our son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Madeleine, not only had warned 130 guests to seriously consider their footwear, they had filled a big basket with Old Navy flip-flops for people to use and take home.

But on the day of the wedding, as our two families were gathering for pictures before the ceremony, the rain amazingly stopped. The sun gradually came out from behind the clouds during the reception—and the organizers opened the flaps of the big tent. This motivated a number of wedding guests to take off their shoes, walk out into the sunshine, and dance on the muddy grass! They had a ball and the rest of us had a lot of fun watching them.

In Scott’s words, “We were concerned that all the mud would dampen the fun. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Once the band started, people not only dealt with the mud, they embraced it. The dance floor spread from the tent to the muddy lawn. The way our guests danced in the mud was a beautiful demonstration of how resilient people can be when they decide to embrace, rather than fight, the reality they find themselves in. We had been so worried about the mud ruining the wedding—and yet the opposite occurred. No one will forget it.”

When I offered the prayer earlier at dinner, I emphasized one of my favorite sayings, “Love is the answer—what is the question?” The reason I did it was clear: all the festivities around this wedding were about love. Watching our families come together in such a joyous way was heartwarming. And there’s nothing more endearing than two people feeling unconditional love and support from their family and friends as they say their wedding vows. What a wonderful way to begin a new life together.

Whatever the question, love is the answer. And a little mud doesn’t hurt!