Jun 26, 2019 in Case Studies

The Situational Leadership Model

 

Introduction

During the research of leadership phenomenon that actively deployed in the early XX century, there were formed different conceptual systems, theories, and models (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2015). Every theory, model, or conceptual system examines the management under the unique angle explaining its origin accordingly, its essential characteristics, and its influence on the functioning of small social groups (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2015). Starting from Mahatma Gandhi to Steve Jobs, one may confidently claim that the world contains as many ways of leading people as there are leaders. Nowadays, the most famous psychologists and businessmen have established the main approaches people use to lead others. 

The situational leadership theory without rejecting the theory of features considers the concept as the product of the situation (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2015). According to this idea, communication and problem solving in different situations of a group in its life bring to the fore specific individuals who predominate over others at least in one attribute (Ireh & Bailey, 1999). While a specific feature is truthful in a particular situation, a leader becomes an individual endowed with it. Having rejected the allegation about the congenital qualities, the representatives of this theory claim that a particular situation stimulates and provides a complete expression of specific leader’s peculiarities (Butler & Reese, 1991). They also argue that a person who has once become a leader can again reveal his/her leading traits in some time. Often, if any person leads others in some situation, he/she will be regarded by the rest of a group as a leader in general because of the installed stereotypes. The authority gained by the previous recognition of a person as a leader serves as the prerequisite to choosing an individual for leading roles in further situations (Ireh & Bailey, 1999). 

The model of situational leadership suggested by P. Hersey and K. Blanchard puts an emphasis on the variability of the leadership effectiveness depending on situation (Butler & Reese, 1991). According to Hersey-Blanchard’s theory, the choice of leadership styles is determined to a considerable extent by willingness of the followers to fulfill the task (Butler & Reese, 1991). Herewith, the authors of the theory clearly define the concept of readiness: 

A worker is ready for the task, if:

  1. he/she is willing to complete it;
  2. he/she  is able to fulfill it;
  3. he/she is confident in his/her abilities. (Graeff, 1983)

The situational model of leadership introduced by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard conjectures the use of various styles of management according to the situation (Graeff, 1983). The leadership model supposes that a person is going to analyze requirements and needs according to the current situation and become the part of this situation by using the most favorable and suitable leadership style. Flexibility, adaptability, and versatility become the most required and significant traits of character demanded from a leading person. This resorts to the situational leadership method while its style will diverge depending on the scenario.

 

Moreover, the situational leadership model supposes any leader to promote the advantages of compounding a number of managerial styles to satisfy the needs and wishes of different people within the same organization (Graeff, 1983). Unlike more traditional views, where the manager applies the same leadership style to all members of the organization therefore passing directives through followers and other mediators, the situational model provides a leader with a whole bunch of behavioral styles.

In any case, a leader would conceivably have enough competence to cope with an extensive variety of individuals by utilizing the approaches provided in the situational leadership model. He/she establishes more worker-centered and advanced organization thereby through the level of direct contact with group members at all levels (Graeff, 1983). Further, the manager would be more opened to paying more attention to the relationships with workers that enables them to concentrate on the items most needed to accomplish the task effectively.

The conviction that there is no only the “right” approach to the leadership is background of the situational leadership model (Graeff, 1983). On the contrary, successful and effective leadership is considered to be appropriate for a particular task and aim. As a result, the most eminent and prosperous are the leaders who are ready to adjust their authority style over a wide range of differing development and maturity levels presented within the average company. The followers’ ability and inclination to take responsibility for the objective as well as their respective education, knowledge, and practice serve also as the factors for leadership style choice. 

Follower’s Behaviors and Characteristics

The readiness of the followers comprises of two aspects – a professional and a psychological one. The success of any leader in a group depends on how mature and ready his/her followers are to accomplish the leader’s orders and work under his/her control. As a result, Hersey and Blanchard pointed out four stages of the subordinates’ maturity (Ireh & Bailey, 1999):

M 1 – the employees who are not able and willing to work;

M 2 – the employees that are not able to work properly but have extreme desire to do so;

M 3 – the workers who are able to work but do not possess a proper willingness to do it;

M 4 – the workers who are able, ready, and desirous to fulfill the tasks provided by the leader.

Still, the degree of maturity is not only the feature of the followers, but it also depends on the task performed. In other words, the degree of fulfilling a certain task may reach its highest point during its performance, while it may decrease significantly during the performance of another one. 

Leader’s Behaviors and Characteristics

The model also highlights two main characteristics of a leader (Ireh & Bailey, 1999):

  1. Task-centered behavior – shows the extent to which the manager uses one-way communication while giving instructions to the employee concerning what and how he/she has to do.
  2. Anthropocentric (supporting) behavior – the extent to which the manager uses two-way communication while providing social and emotional support to his/her subordinates.

All in all, the choices encompassing leadership are extremely individual and subjective, while they mostly depend on the character or the whole group of characters that are being influenced. Moreover, the choices significantly depend on the specificity of function or job that has been appointed for implementation. 

Situational Characteristics

The ability to perform tasks supposes an employee to possess necessary knowledge, skills, and experience. The desire to meet the challenge includes motivation and belief in the necessity to execute it. While the situational leadership model is meant to provide extreme flexibility, there exist four basic styles. Each of these styles is unique and is meant to compel the highest level of efficiency from an individual or the whole group. 

As it is presented below, the distinction between the first two styles (concentrated on fulfilling tasks) and the last two styles (concentrated more on personal development and growth of the team participants) is extremely vivid and clear.

  • Telling or directing (indicative style) is the best option in case of the followers’ immaturity (Ireh & Bailey, 1999). The leader clearly explains the tasks needed to be performed by the subordinates and closely supervises every step of the process completion. This is notably the best style to use with untrained and unskilled followers who need to be attentively monitored by a qualified leader. This style is specifically successful for employees who lack the proficiency but are entrusted to perform expected roles. Thus, the style is mostly used within the military organizations or law enforcement as well as on industrial assembly lines. The style provides a great variety of means in terms of heading a manifold group of people who represent a wide range of maturity and practice degrees.
  • Selling or coaching (convincing style) is preferred for use in case of moderate immaturity of the followers. It implements equally the directiveness and support to those who are not capable but willing to work (Ireh & Bailey, 1999). In this type of leadership behavior, a leader continues to assign and define the roles and tasks, but he/she becomes more susceptible in acquiring ideas and propositions from the followers. The leader does not lose his/her prerogative in making decisions; however, this method supposes the communication to be no longer one-sided. This style is particularly true for less skilled and practiced employees who still require supervision and administration by their leaders. It also assists in manifesting the employees who may have some practice but lack confidence and self-esteem in the implementation of their work. Using this style, the leaders may follow thoroughly the efficiency of their followers and give them incentive comments in order to help the workers develop their self-esteem and confidence. This style is called the “selling”, while the leader “sells” his ideas and messages in order to get as many followers as possible on the board (Butler & Reese, 1991). After having convinced the followers, the leaders persuade them to do their best to achieve the common aim. An ideal example of the model is the internship situation where the success depends on the excitement and self-motivation of the apprentice or student. If the teacher supports and helps the students in their self-development, put specific aims, and find proper encouraging words, the effectiveness of the followers’ performance will increase significantly.
  • Participating or supporting (democratic style) is the best option in case of the followers’ moderately high maturity (Ireh & Bailey, 1999). The workers who are able to work but are not willing to complete the task need partnership and support on the leader’s side. As a result, they receive more motivation to perform their work at a high level. Giving these people the opportunity to participate the decision-making processes at their level, their head uses this style to cause the desire to perform the task. Choosing this behavioral pattern, the leader provides extreme control but minimal inspection on the employee. As a rule, the supervisor supplies the workers with daily objectives and instructions about the obligatory processes needed to accomplish a certain assignment. On the other hand, the employee has enough freedom to control and choose the ways of the task accomplishment. This style is appropriate for use when one deals with practiced and skilled followers who lack self-confidence and motivation for some reason. As an example, one may imagine a junior account executive that is in need for support and consultation after being promoted to a new position. Using this style, the supervisors receive an opportunity to pay more attention to the relationships rather than to direction. As a result, the manager becomes closer to his/her working group and makes the employees become a part of the decision-making process. This style is widely used by corporate leaders who try to affect the board of directors towards elaborating a new policy that lacks the established history or practice.
  • Delegating style is invented to guide highly responsible followers (Ireh & Bailey, 1999). This pattern is characterized by low directiveness and significant support on the staff’s behalf (Butler & Reese, 1991). The delegated pattern allows the employees who are capable and willing to work to take maximum responsibility for the task. This leadership style promotes a creative approach to work. Using this style, the leader remains involved in the process of decision-making, but the assignment of instructions and tasks is fully delivered to the follower. Delegating is particularly true for those followers who have enough experience, knowledge, and skills and that possess all the characteristics required to implement the tasks and achieve the desirable aims. For instance, a creative writer has enough freedom to create his own scenario applying general instructions and ideas provided by his supervisor. It is obvious that the writer has the right to decide how to write the scenario, but he is still limited by the instructions and rules set by his/her leader. All in all, the leader shares his responsibilities with the followers and, therefore, has enough time to concentrate on more significant issues.

Examples

Among the most famous leaders who resort to the situational model of leadership introduced by Hersey and Blanchard is the General George Patton who is one of the distinguished leaders of the American military (The Official Website of General George Patton). He wrote several works on the tactics and war strategy that are regarded nowadays as a textbook-guide for his army. As a well-known situational leader, Patton used his philosophy for getting a victory in the war by focusing on studying and examining the situation. The result he received after the thorough examination of the situation became the background for the following course of actions. Patton believed that transforming plans in order to fit the unforeseen situation was of considerable weight.

Having analyzed the situational leadership model, it is worth mentioning pending role of the President. To be more specific, a good example of the situational leadership styles is George Bush’s reaction and commitment while dealing suicide bombing attacks at the World Trade Center. Moreover, the particular model is being effectively practiced by surgeons in the manipulation room (especially in case of emergency and risky operations). A surgeon who heads the operating team is a master in surgeries; yet if the emergency situation appears or there appear some life-threatening complications or obstacles, the leading surgeon has to respond and decide immediately taking into account the condition of his patient.

Conclusion

Every leadership model has its advantages and disadvantages. If a particular model can be applied in one situation, it does not necessarily mean that the particular model is the only right and can be applied to any situation that occurs. However, regardless of the flaws and disadvantages of the situational leadership model, it is useful to make leaders think about how the effectiveness of his/her work and the subordinates’ performance may depend  on being resilient with different employees but not on behaving equally toward all of them. Every person is individual and needs either support or non-interference to show the best results possible. A skillful leader has to take into account personal traits of employee’s character and the situation in which the subordinate takes an active part. Furthermore, a successful leader makes one complete picture that will lead to excellent performance and complete satisfaction with the work results. Moreover, the approaches of the situational leadership model offer a great variety of behavioral patterns so that a leader has a prepared plan of actions. Nothing in the world is perfect, and, as the investigations claim, the situational model is not perfect as well. However, if it is to be used wisely and skillfully, it can bring the concept of leadership to a new level of existence.

 

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