Situational leadership theory

Right person, right place at the right time

In essence, situational leadership theory emphasises 2 areas:

(1) "Different strokes for different folks" - different leadership styles are applicable to different situations

(2) "Cometh the hour cometh the man" - leadership extends potentially to just about everyone in an organisation - at some time

Not an event but a process

Dr Paul Hersey, who is closely associated with the development of situational leadership theory, suggested in a fairly recent presentation that:

"... a situational leader is anyone, anywhere who recognises that influencing behaviour is not an event but a process. The process entails assessing followers' performance in relation to what the leader wants to accomplish and providing the appropriate amounts of guidance and support."

John Kotter speaks of the need for "...heroes at every level step up to the plate in some arena and provide change leadership."

The adaption of a leadership style to suit the situational requirements has a similar focus to Robert Blake and Jane Mouton's "Managerial Grid" theory that emphasizes the appropriate movement along the spectrum of task vs. relationship orientation.

The Situational Leadership model was developed by Dr. Paul Hersey in the late 1960s, as a tool to facilitate more effective leadership by encouraging the leader to pay attention to the relationship between themself and his/her followers.

Assessing the situation

Hersey suggested that each situation is assessed according to:

- The amount of guidance and practical support that may be needed to execute the task[s]
- The amount of relational support that may be required
- The leader's assessment of the level readiness or preparedness their followers demonstrate to execute the task.

Core leadership competencies

Hershey outlined 4 core leadership competencies:

1. Diagnosis
2. Capacity to adapt
3. Communication skill
4. Harnessing the energy of the group

4 communication components

According to a recent study [Baker, Brown], successful use of situational leadership relies on effectiveness in four communication components:

  • Communicating expectations
  • Listening
  • Delegating
  • Providing feedback

3 situational roles that impact leadership

In their study The Role of the Situation in Leadership Vroom, and Jago have identified three distinct roles in which the situation affects leadership:

(1) In situations outside of their control - the effect on leadership is often that they get blamed - the measure of the leader's effectiveness lies in how they control those elements such that they can protect subordinates.

(2) Situations shape how leaders behave - according to Vroom and Jago, situation accounts for about three times as much variance as does individual differences.

(3) Situations influence the consequences of a leaders behaviour - so the choice of leadership style one uses may bring about both positive or negative consequences depending on the given situation.

In each of these instances, the situational leadership theory allows leaders to make a choice which ultimately predicts their effectiveness.

For more information see the Hersey and Blanchard Leadership Model

Return back from Situational leadership theory to Define Leadership

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