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.

You Don’t Have To Do It All Yourself

As a leader, do you feel like you have to do everything yourself—that you can’t count on anyone to take on some the things that need to be done? Perhaps it has occurred to you that you need to delegate some of your work. Why haven’t you? Is it because no one is ready to assume those responsibilities and you don’t have the time to train them?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to reconsider your leadership philosophy. Too many leaders make the mistake of thinking that they are at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, responsible for all the planning, organizing, and execution, while their people are below them, responsive to their directives. While there is nothing wrong with the pyramid as an organizational chart, thinking and operating with this top-down approach can lead managers to believe that they must do all the heavy lifting.

The key is to turn the pyramid upside down, so that your people are responsible. Your job is not to do all the work yourself, but to roll up your sleeves and provide people with the direction, coaching, and support they need to accomplish the goals you’ve agreed to. This way, both you and the people who report to you will be successful.

At this point a lot of people say, “But I don’t have time to provide direction, coaching, and support to all the people who report to me!”

Don’t worry; you don’t have to spend all your time working closely with all your people—only those who need your direction and support to develop their competence and commitment. In time, they will become independent, self-motivated, and high performing—freeing you to focus on other priorities.

We call this approach SLII®, the leadership framework outlined in Leadership and the One Minute Manager, a bestseller I coauthored with Patricia Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi. The book teaches leaders how to set clear goals, diagnose people’s development level on each task, and match their leadership style to the development level of the person they’re leading.

Notice I said “diagnose people’s development level on each task.” Even experienced managers can fall into a trap of seeing people as beginners, moderately competent, or highly experienced. Assuming that because people are experts in one aspect of their job, they’re experts in all aspects can lead to poor performance. Most of us have areas where we’re still learning and need leadership.

For any task, people can be at one of four development levels, depending on their experience and commitment. Your job is to identify and understand those levels and adjust the direction and support you give accordingly. Here’s a brief overview:

Level 1: Enthusiastic Beginner. Appropriate Leadership Style: Directing
Enthusiastic beginners are eager to get started on a task, even though they have not demonstrated expertise. For this task, regardless of the status or tenure of the person being led, the leader needs to provide specific direction about goals, show and tell how, and closely monitor performance so they can provide frequent feedback on the individual’s results.

Level 2: Disillusioned Learner. Appropriate Leadership Style: Coaching
This level usually sets in after an individual has been unsuccessful at a new task. Enthusiasm turns to discouragement and insecurity, and the leader needs to provide direction on how to attain the goal or finish the task. The leader should explain why, solicit suggestions, and begin to encourage involvement in decision-making.

Level 3: Capable But Cautious Performer. Appropriate Leadership Style: Supporting
Once a person has demonstrated skill with a task, the leader and the individual make decisions together. At this stage people may be competent but still need the leader to bolster their confidence and motivation. The leader’s role is to listen, draw out, encourage, and support.

Level 4: Self-Reliant Achiever. Appropriate Leadership Style: Delegating
Once an individual becomes an expert at a task, the leader allows the individual to make most of the decisions about what, how, and when. Because the individual can achieve goals with little direction, the leader’s role shifts to valuing the individual’s contributions and supporting their growth.

It’s Worth the Investment Take time out of your busy day to check in with your people, diagnose their development level on each goal-related task, and give them the leadership style they need. By doing so, you’ll not only empower them to accomplish goals, you also will set them up to assume greater responsibilities. When you look at it this way, you don’t have time not to give people the leadership style they need!