Situational Leadership Theory

Situational Leadership Theory
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The Situational Leadership Theory

According to Situational Leadership Theory, the most effective leaders are those that are able to adapt their style to the situation and look at cues such as the type of task, the nature of the group, and other factors that might contribute to getting the job done.

This theory suggests that no single leadership style is best. Instead, it depends on which type of leadership and strategies are best suited to the task.

This situational model of leadership focuses on flexibility so that leaders are able to adapt according to the needs of their followers and the demands of the situation.

Situational leadership theory is often referred to as the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory, after its developers, Dr. Paul Hersey, author of “The Situational Leader,” and Kenneth Blanchard, author of “One-Minute Manager.”

Leadership Styles

Hersey and Blanchard suggested that there are four primary leadership styles:

  • Telling (S1): In this leadership style, the leader tells people what to do and how to do it.
  • Selling (S2): This style involves more back-and-forth between leaders and followers. Leaders “sell” their ideas and message to get group members to buy into the process.
  • Participating (S3): In this approach, the leader offers less direction and allows members of the group to take a more active role in coming up with ideas and making decisions.
  • Delegating (S4): This style is characterized by a less involved, hands-off approach to leadership. Group members tend to make most of the decisions and take most of the responsibility for what happens.
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Maturity Levels

The right style of leadership depends greatly on the maturity level (i.e., the level of knowledge and competence) of the individuals or group.

Hersey and Blanchard’s theory identifies four different levels of maturity, including:

  • M1: Group members lack the knowledge, skills, and willingness to complete the task.
  • M2: Group members are willing and enthusiastic, but lack the ability.
  • M3: Group members have the skills and capability to complete the task, but are unwilling to take responsibility.
  • M4: Group members are highly skilled and willing to complete the task.
Matching Styles and Levels

Leadership styles may be matched with maturity levels. The Hersey-Blanchard model suggests that the following leadership styles are the most appropriate for these maturity levels:

  • Low Maturity (M1)—Telling (S1)
  • Medium Maturity (M2)—Selling (S2)
  • Medium Maturity (M3)—Participating (S3)
  • High Maturity (M4)—Delegating (S4)
How It Works

A more “telling” style may be necessary at the beginning of a project when followers lack the responsibility or knowledge to work on their own. As subordinates become more experienced and knowledgeable, however, the leader may want to shift into a more delegating approach.

The situational approach to leadership also avoids the pitfalls of the single-style approach by recognizing that there are many different ways of dealing with a problem and that leaders need to be able to assess a situation and the maturity levels of subordinates in order to determine what approach will be the most effective at any given moment.

Situational theories, therefore, give greater consideration to the complexity of dynamic social situations and the many individuals acting in different roles who will ultimately contribute to the outcome.

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