Have you ever given feedback to a team member and felt it wasn’t received well? Or communicated the outcome you want, and what’s eventually delivered doesn’t resemble what you asked for?

Giving constructive feedback and direction is a critical skill for all leaders, but it’s not always easy to do. You want to balance the need to achieve outcomes with maintaining a great relationship, knowing it’s inevitable that team members will get it wrong sometimes.

The key is to use the correct leadership style for the person you are leading. A great tool to help you do this is the Competence / Confidence Matrix, adapted from research done way back in the 70’s. But unlike your safari suit, this model has stood the test of time.


1. High commitment / Low competence: Guide and coach

This might a new person on the team – a recent graduate or even an experienced player who isn’t yet familiar with how your team goes about things.

  • Discuss and decide on ways of doing things
  • Identify and provide the training needed
  • Accept early mistakes as important opportunities for coaching
  • Give responsibility and authority for the aspects of tasks the person can do
  • Require frequent updates early in the project, but relax control as progress is shown

2. High commitment, High competence: Delegate & release

These are your proven performers. The worst thing you can do is make them feel micro-managed.

  • Involve the person in decision-making
  • Frequently as the person for opinions
  • Give responsibility and authority because the person is competent and committed
  • Ask for updates at important moments or when the person has questions

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3. Low commitment, Low competence: Direct & tell

You don’t want people in this category for long. You may be able to help them increase their competence or commitment, or it may be time to break up.

  • Discuss what would motivate the person and agree on what’s possible
  • Set clear rules, methods and deadlines
  • Give responsibility and authority for aspects of the task the person can do
  • Plan tasks in such a way that ensures the person has some success quickly
  • Identify & provide the training needed
  • Require frequent updates early in the project, but relax control as progress is shown

4. Low commitment, High competence: Excite & inspire

Your mission is to find out why their commitment is flagging. Are they looking for a new challenge, or are they disengaged with you, the team, or the company?

  • Discuss why the task is important and why the person is the right choice
  • Discuss what would motivate the person and what’s possible
  • Give responsibility and authority because the person is competent
  • Require frequent updates

Thinking back on recent interactions that went well, was there a relationship between the style you used and the competence and confidence of the team member? What about interactions that didn’t go well – might a different style have produced better results?

Delegating, directing and managing performance is something we all struggle with at times. Even highly experienced leaders come across people they just can’t figure out, or regardless of how consciously they try, where any interaction with the person just ends up pushing buttons! But know that engaging and developing the skills of team members is the cornerstone of good leadership and your genuine efforts today are influencing the next generation of leaders who are currently under your mentorship.

Author: Peter Diaz

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organizations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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