Situational Leadership for Organizational Development

The Situational Leadership method from Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey holds that manager must use different leadership styles depending on the situation. The model allows one to analyze the needs of the situation and then use the most appropriate leadership style. Depending on person’s competencies and commitment to the task, the leadership style should vary from one person to another. Blanchard and Hersey characterized leadership style in terms of amount of direction and the support that the leader gives to his/her followers. Effective leaders are able to move around according to situation, so there is no one style that is right. Likewise, the competence and commitment of the follower is also distinguished. Similar to leadership style, developmental levels are also situational. Blanchard and Hersey said that the leadership style of the leader must correspond to the development level of follower and it’s the leader who adapts. By adapting the right style to suit the follower’s developmental level, work gets done, relationships are built, and most importantly the follower’s developmental level rises to everyone’s benefit.

Hersey and Blanchard suggest that no single combination of task and relationship behavior is suitable in all situations. The one important factor for choosing the most suitable style of leadership for a given situation is follower readiness.

Follower readiness includes both the ability components and the willingness components that a person needs to complete a particular task successfully. The ability component includes knowledge, skill and experience needed to understand and perform the task. The willingness component includes confidence, commitment and motivation needed to perform the task.

The follower readiness can be divided into four levels. (Adapted from Paul Hersey, Situational Setting). Readiness levels are formed by different combinations of skill components and emotional components that are brought by people to each work.

1. Readiness level 1 (R1) – The follower is unable and unwilling to perform a task. He is not only lacking in specific skills required to do the job but also lacks confidence, commitment and motivation to tackle it.

2. Readiness level 2 (R2) – The follower is unable but willing to perform a task. The follower is lacking in specific skills but has confidence and motivation to make an effort. They can accomplish the task with help. The task or the situation might be new to him.

3. Readiness level 3 (R3)- The follower is able to perform the task but he is not willing to do it. He is experienced and capable but lacks the confidence to do it. For example a very bright student in the class is very good in solving math problems but lately he is not motivated to work on his homework.

4. Readiness level 4 (R4) – The follower has the knowledge, skill and experience to perform the task. He is fully confident, committed and motivated to do it.

There are different situational leadership models but the one most commonly used is the Hersey-Blanchard model, which separates leadership behavior into two general categories. Task behavior which is the communication and management of a work task that a group must accomplish with the follower and the Relationship Behavior, which is creation and maintenance of personal and emotional connections between the leader and the follower. Hersey and Blanchard suggest that no single combination of Task and relationship behavior is suitable in all instances but the different combinations are best for different situations. The four leadership styles are described as follows:

1. High task, low relationship (S1) – This leadership style includes more input of task behavior and less amounts of relationship behavior. The group members might have little experience with a given job. The leader will tell them what to do, when, where, how and who’s to do it. For example, the principal of a school is planning a science-training workshop for the teachers. He as a leader may need to provide a specific checklist, sequence of actions involved, list the responsibility of the teachers in detail and frequently monitor the progress of a group.

2. High task, high relationship (S2) – This leadership style needs high inputs of both task and relationship behavior. The followers may not have the necessary knowledge or skill but they are committed and eager to learn. They need guidance and directions for accomplishing the task. But since they are making an effort, the leader should provide encouragement and motivation to the followers.

3. High relationship, low task (S3) – This particular leadership style needs high inputs of relationship behavior and very low inputs of task behavior. The followers do not need a great deal of structure and direction as they have already demonstrated that they know how to perform. They need support and encouragement from the leader in order to build their confidence.

4. High task, low relationship (S4) – This style needs very low inputs of both task and relationship behavior. The followers in this case are competent and willing to perform a task. Very little guidance and direction is needed. They do not need a lot of supportive behavior. Still, the leaders need to see that the followers stay on the track and the leaders get some feedback about the task.

Leaders may change their leadership style over time from directing (S1) to coaching (S2) to supporting (S3) to delegating (S4) as performance improves. But if progress is not made, the leaders might have to back up and redirect their team until there is improvement. Leaders need to decide and do what the people are not able to do for themselves. There is no one best leadership style. The kind of leadership style that will be applicable in a particular case depends on the follower readiness in that situation.

1. For readiness level 1 follower, the leadership style S1 is suitable. The words used for this kind of leadership behavior are telling/directing/guiding/structuring. This includes high task, low relationship focus. Decisions are made by the leader and announced. The communication is largely one way. The followers need directions and supervision.

2. For the readiness level 2 followers, the leadership style S2 is suitable. They need high task, high relationship focus. Leaders define the roles and the tasks but seek ideas and suggestions from the followers. Communication becomes two-way. The follower is relatively inexperienced so he needs direction and supervision. They also need support and praise to get them motivated. Their involvement in decision-making will restore their commitment. The words best describing their leadership situation are selling/coaching/explaining/persuading.

3. For the readiness level 3 followers, the leadership style S3 is suitable. They need low task, high relationship focus. The leader facilitates and takes part in the decisions but the control is with the follower. They do not need much direction but support is necessary to boost their confidence and motivation. The style is of participating/encouraging/supporting.

4. For the readiness level 4 followers, the leadership style 4 is suitable. This has a low task, low relationship focus. The followers are able and willing to work on a task by themselves and need only little supervision and support. For example, a software engineer is skilled, competent and confident for the technical aspects of his job but it unable to workout his budget. So, the engineer’s manager would provide little direction on the technical issues (S4), but a high deal of direction and close supervision over the engineer’s budget (S1-directing or S2-coaching).

Situational Leadership is a model that allows the manager or leader to analyze the needs in a situation and then adopt the most appropriate leadership style. The mystery of leadership and follower ship goes on all around us and within us. We are all in some measure leaders and followers-as most of us, alternatively are parents and children, employers and employees, teachers and taught.

Meenu Arora has contibuted her articles for both online and hard copy magazines. Her articles have also been published in international magazines. Presently working in the healthcare industry, she has also written and edited Health Q-A columns for international magazine for 5 years.

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