“Which personal style should managers adopt to ensure success? What is the
most effective approach to managing the work of subordinates? These
questions have been extensively researched and debated over the last
century, and while the general consensus has moved away from ‘command
and control’ to management and leadership towards more consultative and
participative approaches, there is no single ideal, as the best approach may
vary according to circumstances and individual characteristics (CMI 2013)”
Mullins (2010) broadens leadership styles based on the exertion of power by the leader on the subordinate into three categories; autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire. Such leadership styles do not apply in every situation, while a particular leadership style will not also apply to every situation. Lewin (1991) defines Leadership style to denote the manner and approach of providing direction, implementing plans and motivating people. Knowing which leadership style to adopt to ensure success and understanding the most effective leadership approach, remains a dilemma to many leaders today (CMI 2013). This blog will therefore consider Hersey and Blanchard (1993) model on situational leadership, examine organizations that have used situational leadership in combination with personal experience as a leader and draw conclusions with regards to the advantages and limitations of situational leadership.
Situational Leadership is one of the widely known forms of leadership approach (Yukl 2006) developed by Hersey and Blanchard (1993) in a research titled “Life Cycle Theory of Leadership” aimed at assisting parents in changing their leadership styles (Avery 2001). This model brings out four models of management behaviours of directing, coaching, supporting, delegating and these are applicable depending on the subordinate’s level of motivation and maturity in terms of experience as Blanchard et al (1993) believe that effective leadership managers provide subordinates with deferring of support on different task and goal, depending on the subordinate’s developmental level.
Situational leadership is vital when a company is undergoing crisis as a result of the low performance of the employees. Here, the leader will need to adapt to situational leadership and treat the various individuals according to their motivation level. A glaring example of a leader who practiced situational leadership when the performance of a division in a company is Joan (Goleman 2009) who was recruited in a food and beverage company when the company was falling and was charged with the responsibility to turn things around. She was able to apply situational leadership starting with democratic style to get proposals and got a clear vision for the division and moved to autocratic where in coercion was even used and the division was able to meet the target.
Also, situational leadership will serve a better purpose where a high performer gets demoralized as a result of a change in his position in the company. A manager in a Pharmaceutical company noticed that one of his workers was no longer performing due to a change in his position and so the manager had to use situational leadership by changing from democratic to autocratic form of leadership and the worker was able to pick up from scratch (Avery 2001).
A manager also applied situational leadership in a company where the subordinates had become very familiar with the manager and were no longer performing (Avery 2001). The manager in an equipment hire company was able to apply situational leadership on the fellows who were “trying to play games” by “adjusting where they are” (Avery 2001)
As a leader, I was able to apply situational leadership when an intern was sent to my division. Prior to that, what was applicable in my division was the democratic style of leadership but the internee was demoralized and lacked motivation. So during the first weeks, I had to apply autocratic leadership on the intern and when she had fit in, I was able to change to democratic style of leadership. I consider situational leadership as vital as every situation, task or an individual warrant a different style of leadership since motivational levels are also different.
Situational leadership has a lot of advantages as demonstrated above but a range of limitations do exist too with regards to the model and its applicability. Nahavandi (1997) has criticized the situational leadership model as having few theoretical bases and little research to support it. Graeff (1997) support the view by saying that the model does not clarify the relationship underlying the performance curve of an individual.
Also, Avery (2001) believes that when combining the High\Low directive and supportive behaviour with High\Low competence and commitment levels, it yields 16 possible combinations but Blanchard and Hersey (1993) are restricted to just four possibilities.
Other limitations could be identified as situational leadership being limited to decision making, focusing basically on what the leader or person in charge does as well as no clear distinction between leadership and management (Avery 2001)
Haven looked at the advantages and limitations of situational leadership, one is able to draw a conclusion that situational leadership is essential for the success of every leader, but the applicability and understanding of what form to use still remains a dilemma and therefore managers need to always take the task, goal, situation and the individual concerned before knowing what form of leadership style to apply.
Blanchard, K.H., Zigarmi, D., Nelson R.B. (1993) ‘Situational Leadership after 25 years: a retrospective’. Journal of Leadership Studies 1 (1)
Chartered Management Institute (2013) Understanding management styles – Checklist 236. [Online] available from < http://www.managers.org.uk/products/understanding-management-styles-checklist-236> [05 June 2013]
Gayle C. Avery, G. C. (2001) ‘Situational leadership preferences in Australia: congruity, flexibility and effectiveness’ Leadership & Organizational Development Journal 22 (1)
Goleman, D. (2011) ‘Leadership that gets results’ Harvard Business Review 78 (2) 78-90
Graeff, C. (1997) ‘Evolution of Situational Leadership Theory – A critical review’, Leadership Quarterly 8 (2)
Hersey, P., Blanchard, K.H. (1939) Management of Organizational Behaviour: Utilising Human Human Resources, 6th edn, Princton Hall
Lewin, K., LIippit, R. and White, R. K. (1939). ‘Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates’. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301
Mullins, J. (2010) Management & Organisational Behaviour. 9th edn. Essex: Pearson Education Limited
Mullins, L. J. (2010) Management & Organisational Behaviour. Essex: Financial Times Pitman Publishing
Nahavandi, A. (1997) the Art and Science of Leadership. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ
Yukl, G. (2006) Leadership in Organizations. 6th edn. Pearson Prentice Hall