Situational Leadership

By William Witkewicz, Chairman of Executive Leadership Alliance

Some believe that an important characteristic of leadership is stability and consistency. Others indicate that flexibility is critical, given the dynamic environment leaders face. I know several of the blogs on our site have dealt with this issue, expressing the opinion of the writer from that individual’s specific experience and viewpoint. You, the reader, may also have experiences which lead to one view or the other.

A numbers of years ago, in a training session, I was exposed to a concept developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. It was first presented in “Management of Organizational Behavior” and later came to be called Situational Leadership. I’ll present a brief overview and encourage you to explore it further if you find it interesting and useful, as the authors have continued to develop the concept. I have always found it beneficial in leading organizations and individuals through different stages of development and growth.

The basic concept is that there is no one best leadership style, but rather effective leadership must adapt to the situation or task at hand, hence “Situational Leadership”. But what makes this concept particularly useful is that it offers clear guidance on the leadership style that is most appropriate and best for the situation or conditions present. Effective leaders adapt their style to the maturity of the individual or organization they are leading. Maturity has two dimensions: competence to perform the task, and commitment or willingness to accept the responsibility for the task. Similarly there are two dimensions of leadership that apply: task behavior or directive behavior, and relationship or supportive behavior. These dimensions can be placed in a simple matrix to get a visual overview of the four leadership styles, and the appropriate fit of these to the relative maturity of the individual or organization. The styles can be described as follows:

Tell/Direct: The leader directs the individual with a strong focus on the task, less on relationship. The individual has low competence or capability to perform the task but relatively high commitment. Tell the individual what to do, and how to do it.

Sell/ Coach: Strong focus on task and relationship. Individual has low competence and low maturity or commitment. Tell the individual what to do and how to do it and also tell them why it needs to be done.

Participate/Support: Individual is capable but lacks some commitment, or unable to take full responsibility. Leader can spend less time on the task focus and will spend more time supporting the individual.

Delegate/Join: Leader lets the individual carry out the task with little support and direction. The individual has high level of maturity and the leader has only to join the individual in the performance to the task.

I have found this concept to be a very clear and concise description of how leaders should apply and adapt their styles based upon the relative maturity of the individual or organization to carry out the specific task or responsibility. What do you think?

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