Tag Archives: Situational Leadership

The Ambiguity of Leadership

When I was teaching a philosophy class, I would ask students, “What philosophy is not?” I had been using this question to provoke thoughts, generate new ideas and remove possible ambiguities. Every student would come up with original and sincere answers. I also used to apply the same technique in other fields, such as education and leadership courses. For instance, in a leadership class, I used to ask three subjective questions: “Who was the most misunderstood man ever? Who was the most evil man ever? What is the most ambiguous field ever?”

On the first two questions, students used to supply different answers from time to time, but with the last question almost more half of the students agreed that leadership is the most ambiguous field ever.

Basically, leadership is a social fiber and vital for nations to prosper. It is true that without leadership there would not be any civilization. Its importance has become more apparent in this decade with the escalating of global problems: poverty, social upheavals, political conflicts, natural disaster and nuclear weapons. Its absence is equivalent to lack of normal development in societies. Regardless of its importance, there is little known about it. It is the most misunderstood field ever. Leadership seems to be a very subjective field. People somehow confuse it to a position, power, recognition, fame or big office. By its very nature, it is open for public discussions and interpretations. I must, therefore, admit that leadership is an ambiguous or an elusive field.

On my personal interest and initiative, I have been trying to explore the essence of leadership. I have read a number of books on the field from ancient to contemporary concepts. I have also watched and attended several leadership lecturers, conferences and workshops. Yet, I have not come across precise terms that can satisfy my hunger in understanding the field. Generally, it is defined as a practice to inspire or motivate subordinates for a work to be done. This is the common definition at public knowledge, but it is too general and shallow. The right definition has to be born yet.

Models of leadership change over time. Throughout the centuries, we have seen a number of leadership styles and models, but experiences have shown that not a single leadership style or model has survived to suffice social situations. Leaders, therefore, have learnt to employ a situational leadership style based on situations. For instance, if circumstances are chaotic, and require an immediate order from above, leaders apply an autocratic leadership style to avoid turbulence. On the other hand, if situations are at a normal state, leaders apply a democratic or laissez-faire leadership style.

At times, situational leadership style has no importance, whatsoever. I agree with the practice of situational leadership style, if the ultimate purpose of leadership is to maintain a social order and control people tightly. But I would disagree, if the purpose of leadership is to inspire individuals in order to realize their potentials and live to their maximum capabilities. Time has proved that better change and growth are not byproducts of poor leadership practices, but rather outcomes of talent discovery. For instance, realized individuals, such as Thomas Edison, Einstein, Henry Ford or Steve Job, changed the world enormously. Leadership practices should provide challenging situations where individuals can test their talents to create.

Challenging situations produce scientists, whereas poor leadership practices produce submissive and uncreative individuals. Individuals need challenging environments to discover new things and understand their purposes. However, weak leaders weigh stagnant societies more than individuals’ growth. A society as a center of civilization reduces citizens to a slavery mode of life. In a world where political struggle dominates, the individual has no fundamental rights at all; he always comes at the fringe of a society to serve indefinitely as in the case of Eritrea. In Eritrea, citizens have no political and economic freedoms. When leadership is handled wrongly, it becomes ambiguous. In other words, its definition, meaning and concepts vanish among ideologies, power struggle, interests, wars, corruption and many other petty things.

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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.

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What You Need to Know About Leadership

Executive Summary

Since the inception of business, organizations have searched for clues to help identify and select successful leaders. They have searched for men and women of vision with that rare combination of traits that help them serve as motivator, business driver, and authority figure. The concept of leadership has been widely observed and frequently studied, but a thorough understanding of what defines successful leadership has always remained just out of reach.

I wanted to find the answer(s) to the age-old question, “What makes a great leader?” After studying the behavioral attributes of thousands of business leaders, the resulting data could reveal commonalities that define strong leadership. What similar patterns or behaviors might possibly be found over and over again? By forming a concise “leadership recipe,” the never-ending search for quality leaders could finally be simplified to a standardized set of characteristics that might help predict successful leadership in any organization. But could science and behavioral psychology be successfully applied to extract these leadership “revelations” from the data?

I centered my investigation on 30 behavioral leadership models that were used across 24 unique companies encompassing 4,512 business leaders from all performance levels. These companies included several from the Fortune 500 list. Each of the 30 leadership models was analyzed to identify the most common behaviors that differentiate higher-performing leaders from low-performing leaders. The findings compiled from this data set revealed new evidence that must serve as a foundational piece of every leadership hiring or training endeavor.

Expectations of the Study

Leadership is a concept that is difficult to capture. You know it when you see it, but it is difficult to quantify. The components of leadership are often examined and observed, but the ability to predict successful leadership has thus far avoided the confines of a repeatable recipe. Many approaches have been used in an attempt to document commonalities among successful leaders, but only with mixed results at best. Taking a new approach to the issue, I set out to study the behavioral characteristics of successful leaders in comparison to leaders of lower performance levels. The two main objectives of this study were:

  • To identify the three most important behaviors that are predictive of leadership performance.
  • To identify the level or degree of the three most common behaviors that are predictive of leadership performance.

Behavioral Leadership Models

Before discussing the study findings, it is important to lay the groundwork of this study using the behavioral leadership model. The behavioral leadership model is the cornerstone to this research study since it is designed to capture the behavioral preferences of successful leaders currently working in the position. Essentially, the behavioral leadership model captures the unique combination of behaviors that predicts success. Each unique model was created using the same methodology, but the customization was made possible by using performance data related to a specific position. To create a behavioral leadership model, each organization used the following three-step process.

Define Success– Traditionally, leadership success is determined by education, experience, potential, or other non-performance related measures. For this study, success was determined by actual performance on the job. We want to better understand the behaviors of the real leaders who produce results on a daily basis.

To keep the study focused on leadership productivity, each company defined success based on their business practices, and their leaders were evaluated on their ability to produce the desired business results. Those who did not produce the desired outcomes were considered ineffective leaders while others who produced the desired results were considered successful leaders. Each organization utilized specific performance data captured from those leaders actively engaged in the leadership role. The types of performance data collected ranged from subjective data (i.e., performance evaluations, soft achievement ratings, etc.) to objective data (i.e., store sales, percent to plan, profit metrics, etc.).

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Develop a Leadership Philosophy

A leadership philosophy is a set of beliefs and principles that strongly influence how we perceive ourselves within an organization and those that we lead. It is an essential ingredient in forming our vision, goals and behavior within the organization that we lead.

First it is useful to define leadership. Leadership is the individual phenomenon of influencing others, inspiring them to do their best, Giving them purpose, guidance and motivation. The best leadership style is one that is adapted to the situation, otherwise known as situational leadership. Leadership is different from management as management does not have to involve inspiring or motivating others.

Most leaders in any role agree that vision, values, adapting to change, knowing oneself and others, professional knowledge and good communication are essential components of leadership. I believe that one of the most important elements of these is vision. Without vision a leader is lost.

Burt Nanus, a noted consultant in leadership, vision, and strategic planning for business, government, and non-profit organizations is a Professor at the University of Southern California. Nanus writes that vision must be idealistic and a “mental model of a future state of the organization.” He asserts that vision must be appropriate and include standards of excellence, purpose, and direction. Organizational vision must be ambitious, easily articulated, and well understood.

Forming a mental image of where you want your organization to be and what it should look like in the future is essential before you plan, decide and direct others on how to get there.

Before directing others on how to attain that vision it must first be communicated, shared and understood by all within the organization. Ensure that the vision is clear, unambiguous, energetic, imaginative, inspiring, achievable and relevant to the organizations goals.

Values are crucial to organizational success. Leaders know what they value and recognize the importance of ethical behavior. The best leaders practice both values and ethnics in the workplace.

People don’t know what they can expect in a leader if leaders never identify their values. If leaders identify and share their values, living the values daily will help to create trust.

As a leader, choose the values and the ethics that are most important to you, the values and ethics you believe in and that define your character. Then live them visibly every day at work. Living by your values is one of the most powerful tools available to you to help you lead and influence others.

Adapting to Change
Adapting to change can make the difference between organizational success and failure. It is essential you have a philosophy that embraces change. An organization that is resilient is one that can effectively innovate, adapt and perform in the face of adversity.

To cope with change ensure you have a clear focus around purpose and goals. Be flexible and open to new approaches, encourage a climate of learning and creativity and a culture of trust and cooperation combined with good communication.

Knowing oneself
True leaders posses the ability to analyze their own motives and decisions and make accurate judgments about their behavior. These judgments can result in constructive improvements in how they relate to others and help identify unhelpful reactions or traits.

Perhaps you have a tendency to control or dominate based on a fear of failure; perhaps you have a fear of conflict and a desire to appease others; or an excessive competitiveness that leads to distrust. Knowing yourself better will help you improve and make adjustments that will make you a more effective leader.

Knowing others
Knowing others is important to situational leaders who adopt different leadership styles depending on the situation and person they are dealing with.

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Leadership and Adversity – The Shaping of Prominent Leaders – Leadership and How it is Identified

What is the best definition of Leadership? I grew up in the 1950-s and 1060’s as a “baby boomer.” As I was growing up, my idea or definition of what leadership was consisted of a combination of role models gleaned from dozens of biographies, including those of political and military leaders, captains of industry, robber barons, and sports coaches.

I read with real interest biographies and autobiographies of the “titans of industry,” with their amazing “rags-to-riches” tycoons of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Carnegie, DuPont, Edison, Ford, Goodyear, Huntington, Morgan, Stanford, Vanderbilt, as well as those of moguls of the middle 20th century like Watson (IBM) and Sloan (General Motors).

I eagerly read the political biographies of Winston Churchill, Jefferson Davis, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, George Washington, and Woodrow Wilson. I also devoured biographies of military leaders such as the larger than life US Generals: George Patton and Douglas MacArthur.

I as an Eagle Scout, was especially take with the biography of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the British General, who distinguished himself in the South African Boer Wars, who turned down the honor to be the Commandant of the British Military Academy to focus on founding and building the World Boy Scouting movement.

I studied the current leaders in news magazines, books, and witnessed as a new breed of business leader emerged on television, including the Bass Brothers, Henry Ford II, Howard Hughes, Lee Iacocca, J. Willard Marriott, H. Ross Perot, and Sam Walton.

I enjoyed watching great actors, such as Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, George C. Scott, Jimmy Stewart who brought to life the characters of Moses, Michelangelo, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, and fictional characters like “Mr. Smith” or “George Bailey.” I observed the success and admired coaches like, John Wooden and Vince Lombardi. They coached well, build successful teams, but were true leaders and builders of young men, because they encouraged their players to become upstanding total persons and true team players, not just outstanding individual basketball or football players.

All of the biographies, magazine articles, movie portrayals, and television coverage of leaders helped to shape my mental model and my definition exactly what is leadership. The stories of successful leaders who overcame adversity provided me with an insight as just how these leaders coped with the setbacks, the trauma of life, then succeeding in spite of adversity, obstacles, or challenges.

President John Kennedy’s life and his famous book (1956) provided profiles of courageous leaders. This book and the other biographies gave me a real insight into courage to succeed, no matter what the adversity and to become a strong leader. These stories may have subconsciously influenced my interest in Horatio Alger-type stories.

The biographies, my personal experience of over 30 years of senior leadership experience, and my doctoral studies in leadership, led me to the selection of my topic focused on Leadership and Adversity. My reading studies provided insights into a refining of my definition of leadership, as well as to the lives of leaders who overcame obstacles or dealt with adversity. These early influences laid the foundation for my admiration of those leaders who had succeeded despite having to overcome obstacles, tragedy, or adversity.

Leadership is more than just a word, it is the act of leading. True enlightened “Leadership” is guiding, leading by the right example, demonstrating genuine and deep caring for those they lead, team building, and have a clear vision of the task to be accomplished.

To provide an insight of my definition of leadership and the impact of overcoming adversity, I will supplement my personal views and leadership definition with a short literature review on leadership and the classic definitions.

I will also review the overcoming adversity literature review as the underpinning and foundation for an examination of the possible relationship between overcoming adversity or overcoming obstacles in the shaping and development of prominent leaders.

Leadership and How It Is Identified by scholars and the world

There is no one actual or accurate definitive definition of leadership. Rost (1991) presented the idea of “defining leadership,” yet noted that there is still no real agreement about what leadership is (p. 6).

The word, Lead, as a verb, comes from the Old English word leden or loedan. Some have attributed various meanings to the word “lead” such as “to make go,” to “show the way”, or “to guide.”

The noted and well-respected university scholar, academic researcher and phenomenologist van Manen’s (1991) offer a closer practical definition stating that “leading means going first, and in going first you can trust me, for I have tested the ice” (p. 38). Cronin (1980) offered a simple and succinct definition, when said that Leadership can be defined as the “capacity to make things happen that would not have otherwise happened” (p. 372).

Leadership implies that some leads, guides, directs, or orders someone else to do something that they might not otherwise do. Leadership has many types: Situational Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Servant-Leadership, Principal Centered Leadership, Command-Control Leadership, and many more types. Each type has a distinct and different definition, so one definition of leadership does not fit all type.

Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.

Chief Enlightenment Officer

The Leadership Success Institute



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