Situational leadership theory
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The Situational Leadership® Model is a leadership model developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, while working on Management of Organizational Behavior. The theory was first introduced as "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership". During the mid-1970s, "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership" was renamed "Situational Leadership Model."
In the late 1970s/early 1980s, the authors both developed their own models using the situational leadership theory; Hersey - Situational Leadership Model and Blanchard et al. Situational Leadership II Model.
The fundamental underpinning of the Situational Leadership Model is that there is no single "best" style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the Performance Readiness (ability and willingness) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. Effective leadership varies, not only with the person or group that is being influenced, but it also depends on the task, job or function that needs to be accomplished.
The Situational Leadership Model rests on two fundamental concepts; leadership style and the individual or group's Performance Readiness level.
Hersey and Blanchard characterized leadership style in terms of the amount of Task Behavior and Relationship Behavior that the leader provides to their followers. They categorized all leadership styles into four behavior types, which they named S1 to S4:
- S1: Telling – is characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines the roles of the individual or group and provides the what, how, why, when and where to do the task;
- S2: Selling – while the leader is still providing the direction, he or she is now using two-way communication and providing the socio-emotional support that will allow the individual or group being influenced to buy into the process;
- S3: Participating – this is how shared decision-making about aspects of how the task is accomplished and the leader is providing fewer task behaviours while maintaining high relationship behavior;
- S4: Delegating – the leader is still involved in decisions; however, the process and responsibility has been passed to the individual or group. The leader stays involved to monitor progress.
Of these, no one style is considered optimal for all leaders to use all the time. Effective leaders need to be flexible, and must adapt themselves according to the situation.
|Very capable and confident||Capable but unwilling||Unable but confident||Unable and insecure|
The right leadership style will depend on the person or group being led. The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory identified four levels of maturity M1 through M4:
- M1 – They lack the specific skills required for the job in hand and are unable and unwilling to take responsibility for this job or task.
- M2 – They are unable to take on responsibility for the task being done; however, they are willing to work at the task. They are novice but enthusiastic.
- M3 – They are experienced and able to do the task but lack the confidence or the willingness to take on responsibility.
- M4 – They are experienced at the task, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. They are able and willing to not only do the task, but to take responsibility for the task.
Maturity levels are also task-specific. A person might be generally skilled, confident and motivated in their job, but would still have a maturity level M1 when asked to perform a task requiring skills they don't possess.
Developing people and self-motivation
A good leader develops "the competence and commitment of their people so they’re self-motivated rather than dependent on others for direction and guidance." According to Hersey's book, a leader’s high, realistic expectation causes high performance of followers; a leader’s low expectations lead to low performance of followers. According to Ken Blanchard, "Four combinations of competence and commitment make up what we call 'development level.'"
- D1 - Low competence and high commitment
- D2 - Low competence and low commitment
- D3 - High competence and low/variable commitment
- D4 - High competence and high commitment
In order to make an effective cycle, a leader needs to motivate followers properly.
Situational Leadership II
Hersey and Blanchard continued to iterate on the original theory until 1977 when they mutually agreed to run their respective companies. In the late 1970s, Hersey changed the name from Situational Leadership Theory to "Situational Leadership", and Blanchard offered Situational Leadership Theory as "A Situational Approach to Managing People". Blanchard and his colleagues continued to iterate and revise A Situational Approach to Managing People, and in 1985 introduced Situational Leadership II (SLII).
In 1979, Ken Blanchard founded Blanchard Training & Development, Inc., (later The Ken Blanchard Companies) together with his wife Margie Blanchard and a board of founding associates. Over time, this group made changes to the concepts of the original Situational Leadership Theory in several key areas, which included the research base, the leadership style labels, and the individual’s development level continuum.
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The Situational Leadership II (SLII) Model acknowledged the existing research of the Situational Leadership Theory and revised the concepts based on feedback from clients, practicing managers, and the work of several leading researchers in the field of group development.
The primary sources included:
- Malcolm Knowles’ research in the area of adult learning theory and individual development stages, where he asserted that learning and growth are based on changes in self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, and orientation to learning.
- Kanfer and Ackerman’s study of motivation and cognitive abilities and the difference between commitment and confidence, task knowledge and transferable skills.
- Bruce Tuckman’s research in the field of group development, which compiled the results of 50 studies on group development and identified four stages of development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Tuckman’s later work identified a fifth stage of development called "Termination." Tuckman found that when individuals are new to the team or task they are motivated but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team. Tuckman felt that in the initial stage (Forming) supervisors of the team need to be directive. Stage two, Storming, is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues and how best to approach the task. These behaviors serve as resistance to group influence and task requirements and can cause performance to drop. As the team moves through the stages of development, performance and productivity increase.
- Lacoursiere’s research in the 1980s synthesized the findings from 238 groups. Until Lacoursiere’s work in 1980, most research had studied non-work groups; Lacoursiere’s work validated the findings produced by Tuckman in regard to the five stages of group development.
- Susan Wheelan’s 10-year study, published in 1990 and titled Creating Effective Teams, which confirmed the five stages of group development in Tuckman’s work.
The Situational Leadership II Model tends to view development as an evolutionary progression meaning that when individuals approach a new task for the first time, they start out with little or no knowledge, ability or skills, but with high enthusiasm, motivation, and commitment. Blanchard views development as a process as the individual moves from developing to developed, in this viewpoint it is still incumbent upon the leader to diagnose development level and then use the appropriate leadership style.
In the Blanchard SLII Model, the belief is that an individual comes to a new task or role with low competence (knowledge and transferable skills) but high commitment. As the individual gains experience and is appropriately supported and directed by their leader they reach Development Level 2 and gain some competence, but their commitment drops because the task may be more complex than the individual had originally perceived when they began the task. With the direction and support of their leader, the individual moves to Development Level 3 where competence can still be variable—fluctuating between moderate to high knowledge, ability and transferable skills and variable commitment as they continue to gain mastery of the task or role. Finally, the individual moves to Development Level 4 where competence and commitment are high.
Despite its intuitive appeal, several studies do not support the prescriptions offered by situational leadership theory. To determine the validity of the prescriptions suggested by the Hersey and Blanchard approach, Vecchio (1987) conducted a study of more than 300 high school teachers and their principals. He found that newly hired teachers were more satisfied and performed better under principals who had highly structured leadership styles, but the performance of more experienced and mature teachers was unrelated to the style their principals exhibited. In essence, the Vecchio findings suggest that in terms of situational leadership, it is appropriate to match a highly structured S1 style of leadership with immature subordinates, but it is not clear whether it is appropriate to match S2, S3, or S4, respectively, with more mature subordinates. In a replication study using University employees, Fernandez and Vecchio (1997) found similar results. Taken together, these studies fail to support the basic recommendations suggested by the situational leadership model.
- Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. H. (1977). Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources (3rd ed.) New Jersey/Prentice Hall, ISBN 978-0132617697
- Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. H. (1969). Management of Organizational Behavior – Utilizing Human Resources. New Jersey/Prentice Hall.
- Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K. H. (1969). "Life cycle theory of leadership". Training and Development Journal. 23 (5): 26–34.
- Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. H. (1977). Management of Organizational Behavior 3rd Edition– Utilizing Human Resources. New Jersey/Prentice Hall.
- Blanchard, Kenneth H., Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi. Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness through Situational Leadership. New York: Morrow, 1985. Print.
- Hersey, P. (1985). The situational leader. New York, NY: Warner Books. ISBN 978-0446513425
- "Motivation and cognitive abilities: An integrative/aptitude-treatment interaction approach to skill acquisition.". Journal of Applied Psychology. 74 (4): 657–690. Aug 1989. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.74.4.657.
- Fernandez, C. F., & Vecchio, R. P. (1997). "Situational leadership theory revisited: A test of an across-jobs perspective". The Leadership Quarterly. 8 (1): 67–84. doi:10.1016/S1048-9843(97)90031-X.
- Vecchio, R. P. (1987). "Situational Leadership Theory: An examination of a prescriptive theory". Journal of Applied Psychology. 72 (3): 444. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.72.3.444.