Book Review: Leadership and the One Minute Manager



In a conversation with [David Holladay], he mentioned situational leadership. This was a term with which I was not familiar, and while I could intuit what it implied, I wanted to learn more. After my meeting concluded, I immediately reserved Leadership and the One Minute Manager from the library. I have not read any of the other One Minute Manager books, but if you have please share your opinions in a comment!

This book was short, and extremely easy to read. It's written as a parable, with an entrepreneur looking to learn more about leadership from the titular One Minute Manager. It's a little hokey, and the dialogue is not particularly natural, but it presents the core ideas succinctly and without too much fluff. There's a fair bit of repetition of the major themes, making this short book even shorter.

Despite the contrived storytelling mechanism, this book has some really useful insights, and I do recommend it.

The primary theme of situational leadership is that there is no one "best" way to lead. Being a good leader requires one to understand what people need from you, and what you in turn need from them. This requires real two-way conversation between people to identify how to work best together.

The leader, according to the book, has three primary responsibilities with their team members: Goal setting, Diagnosis and Matching.

Goal Setting

This is the first and most important thing to do. The book advocates the SMART acronym for goals:

I've heard similar acronyms for goal setting, like RUMBA and FEAST, so this wasn't a revelatory part of the book. It was a good reminder, though, of how to define goals, and the book really focused on doing this collaboratively between leader and team member.


Diagnosis is about determining an individual's development level. The book identifies two components of developmental progress and creates a simple matrix of how they combine. The two components are competence and commitment. They combine in four different ways:

The book repeats several times that development level is explicitly goal or task related. One may have a high degree of competence and commitment on some tasks, but not in others. A pithy quote from the book actually captures this very well: “Different strokes for the same folks on different parts of their job.”

Leaders need to use different strategies with people based on where their development level is on a particular task or goal:

A leader and team member agree on three to five goals, being sure to use the SMART mnemonic above, then together analyze that person’s development level on each of the goals.


Matching is using a variety of leadership styles - comfortably - to provide individuals with what they need, when they need it. There are four styles, and as we'll see they correlate nicely with the development levels of individuals.

The book has some really good examples of questions a leader can ask to help ensure clarity and confirm the style that best suits the needs of the individual on the specific goal or task. For example, a leader dealing with a D1 (Low competence, High Commitment) person may ask "Since you haven't done this before, would it be helpful if I provided you with some direction, resources and information?" This kind of interaction ensures that both parties understand why a specific leadership style is being used, and avoids an individual contributor from feeling unnecessarily micromanaged.


One of the quotes I really liked from the book:

Your goal as a manager should be to gradually increase the competence and confidence of your people so that they can begin to use less time-consuming styles - supporting and delegating - and still get high quality results.

The book had several nice diagrams to show the progression of development level with the necessary leadership style to support it.

As development level moves from D1 to D4, the curve shows how a manager’s leadership style moves from S1-Directing to S4-Delegating, with first an increase in support (S2), then a decrease in direction (S3), until eventually there’s also a decrease in support (S4). At D4 the person is able to direct and support more and more of his or her own work.The actual growth isn't a smooth curve, but a series of steps, of course, where an individual makes regular and minor progress along the path.

The book identifies five steps to follow when developing a person’s competence and commitment:

  1. Tell them what to do.
  2. Show them what to do, so they see what good performance looks like.
  3. Let them try.
  4. Observe performance.
  5. Acknowledge progress made, or redirect back to goal setting

Progress isn't guaranteed, so it's important to observe and redirect when there are problems.

“You can expect more if you inspect more."

“If you want to develop people, catch them doing things right, not wrong."

“Situational leadership is not something you do to people, it’s something you do with people.”

Finally, the book identifies six different types of conversations to have between a leader and their people:

  1. Alignment: get on same page with goals and development levels, as well as leadership style on each goal or task
  2. Style: provide the leadership style agreed to in alignment (S1, S2, S3, S4)
  3. One-on-one

I've consolidated the list, because there is one for each of the four leadership styles.

Take Aways

One the whole, I liked this book. It's easy to read, and provides some really good insights. I particularly liked the frequent reminder that an individual may have different development levels on different tasks. Just because I'm great at writing blog posts doesn't mean I'll be able to easily transfer my skills to writing a sales proposal. A leader may delegate the former task to me, but work very closely with me on the latter.

There were some good examples of how to evaluate all of this in the book, so I encourage you to read it.

I found the analysis of leadership style extremely useful as an individual contributor. It provides me the language necessary to talk to my boss about what I need for a specific task. I don't need to (and should not!) wait for my boss to tell me the leadership style he or she intends to use: if I need something, I should articulate it! "Hey boss, I got this blog. If I need anything specific, I'll be sure to ask for it." "Hey boss, this proposal is really intimidating. I'm going to need a lot more help than I'm used to receiving. Can we schedule some recurring working sessions on this, until I gain some confidence?"

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