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Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory (Model)

Situational theory of leadership arises from the recognition that not all team members are the same. Different individuals have different levels of knowledge, skills, and motivation, and so it requires different leadership approaches to be effective. 

A one-size-fits-all leadership style may not be suitable in all situations. And it can create ineffective leadership and it’s result will be poor.

The situational theory of leadership, as proposed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, they noticed this importance of matching the leadership style to the maturity level of the individuals. 

This theory recognizes that leadership is not only determined by the skills and abilities of the leader. But also by the specific needs of the situation and the people involved in those plans it affects the leadership.

By using the situational leadership approach, leaders can adapt their style to the specific needs of their team members. This allows leaders to provide a good direction, support, and autonomy based on the maturity level of their followers. It helps leaders to guide and motivate their team members, which helps to improve performances.

In practical terms, the situational theory of leadership helps leaders to assess the maturity level of their team members and choose the most appropriate leadership style. 

For example, if team members are new and inexperienced, a more directive leadership style may be needed to provide clear instructions and guidance. 

So, if team members are highly skilled and motivated, a more delegating leadership style may be appropriate to grow them to make their own decisions.

Definitions of Situational Leadership

Hersey & Blanchard says that “A theory that advocates the use of flexible leadership styles that adapt to the maturity (competence and commitment) of followers for a specific task or situation.”

Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Nelson says that “A leadership model proposes that effective leaders adjust their styles based on two dimensions: task behavior (providing direction and structure) and relationship behavior (providing socio-emotional support).” 

Yukl says that “The extent to which an individual has the ability and willingness to do a specific task.” 

Northouse says that “SLT proposes four leadership styles: Directing (high task, low relationship), Coaching (high task, high relationship), Supporting (low task, high relationship), and Delegating (low task, low relationship).” 

Vecchio said that “Leadership models like SLT are contingency-based, recognizing that the most effective leadership style varies depending on the situation and the followers’ characteristics.”

4 Main Leadership Styles in Situational Leadership 

The theory proposes that leaders should be able to vary the emphasis they place on task relationship building, depending on what is needed to complete the job.

According to Hersey and Blanchard, there are 4 main leadership styles in their model:

Telling/Directing (S1)

This style involves providing clear instructions and supervising followers. It is most important when followers have low maturity levels and lack the knowledge, skills, or confidence to work.

Next, we go.

Selling/Coaching (S2)

This style focuses on explaining decisions and providing support and guidance to followers. It is suitable for followers with medium maturity levels who are willing to work on the task but still need help in developing the necessary skills.

Participating/Supporting (S3)

This style involves facilitating discussions and involving followers in decision-making. It is effective when followers have medium maturity levels, higher skills, but lack confidence in their abilities. Basically when I talk about myself, I fit in this stage (S3).

Delegating (S4)

This style allows followers to take responsibility and make decisions independently. It is used by followers with high maturity levels and those who have strong skills, confidence, and commitment to the task.

The Hersey-Blanchard model focuses on the importance of matching the leadership style to the maturity level of the individuals or groups being taken. By doing so, leaders can guide their followers, leading to successful outcomes.

Application of Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory in the Workplace

The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory is a way for leaders to change their leadership style which is based on the people they are leading and the task at hand. 

It says that leaders should focus more on either the task or the relationship with the people they are leading, depending on what is needed to get the job done successfully. 

Here are some ways the theory can be applied in the workplace: 

  • If you have a team member who is new and doesn’t have much experience, you can use a leadership style called “Telling.” This means you give them clear instructions and supervise their work to help them learn. 
  • If you are leading a new team and they have some skills but still need guidance, you can use a leadership style called “Selling.” This means you explain the goals and teach them through the project, giving them support and teaching them. 
  • If your team members have more skills but lack of confidence then you can use a different leadership style called “Participating.” This means you involve them in decision-making them as they work on the task, helping to build their confidence. 
  • If your team members are skilled and confident then you can use a leadership style called “Delegating.” This means you give them more independence and let them take control of the task, while still monitoring their progress. 

By matching your leadership style to the maturity level of your team members, you can help them grow in their work. It’s important for leaders to be adapt their style based on the needs of their team.

Example of a Situational Leader

Imagine you are playing on a soccer team and your coach is the leader. Sometimes, the coach needs to tell you exactly what to do and how to do it. This is called a telling style of leadership. For example, the coach might say, “Run to that spot and kick the ball.” But as you get better at soccer and gain more confidence, the coach might change their leadership style. 

They might start selling instead of telling. This means they explain why you should do something a certain way. For example, they might say, “If you run to that spot, you’ll have a better chance of scoring a goal.” As you continue to improve, the coach might involve you more in decision-making. This is called participating. They might ask for your input and let you make some choices. 

For example, they might say, “Where do you think you should be on the field to help the team?” Finally, when you become skilled and independent, the coach might delegate more. This means they trust you to make decisions on your own. They might say, “You know what to do, go out there and play your best.” 

So, a situational leader is someone who can change their leadership style based on the situation and the abilities of the people they are leading. They know when to tell, sell, take part, or delegate to get the best results.

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