SITUATIONAL LEADERSHIP


Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, in Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources, set forth research-based principles and measurement tools regarding leadership effectiveness and adaptability. Previous theories of leadership were one-dimensional (e.g., Blake and Mouton) and maintained that there was one ideal style for addressing task and maintenance issues. Hersey and Blanchard, however, have shown that there is no ideal leadership style for all situations; rather, the “perfect” leader owns four styles. The “ideal” leader accurately diagnoses situations and adopts the appropriate style of leadership (i.e., the appropriate combination of task and relationship behaviors) according to the needs of each individual and group.


The situational theory of leadership has numerous applications to the work of the I&RS team. First, situational leadership theory asserts that anyone who attempts to move the group forward is engaging in leadership behavior. This idea is consistent with the collaborative methods of the I&RS team and provides empowerment and encouragement for members to participate in a variety of capacities that will help the group achieve its goals.
 

Second, any team member who is assigned leadership responsibilities (e.g., team leader, case coordinator) can apply the principles of situational leadership. Since the individuals and the nature of the tasks at hand will change with each request for assistance, I&RS team members who perform leadership roles should be readily able to adopt behaviors that will be most effective in producing positive results.
 

Third, the theory has applications to the maintenance of the team’s group process and operations. The behaviors team members choose to modify and the strategies used to change them can be based on the degrees of maturity demonstrated by group members, as explained below. Team members' expectations of member behavior and strategies for addressing
behaviors that detract from group success can be guided by the tenets of the theory.
 

Fourth, the theory provides a framework for the development of I&RS action plans that address the circumstances and issues involved with requests for assistance. The theory provides a basis for determining the needs inherent in requests for assistance, as well as in designing and selecting the types of behaviors/strategies team members should embrace or avoid, consistent with the unique needs of each situation.

Fifth, it provides a framework for making decisions on the most appropriate application of various human relations and other leadership skills. For example, as previously discussed active listening is an important skill to use when another person has a problem. It is an extremely important skill, however, in the third area described below: when a person has the knowledge and ability to perform a task, but is not motivated to take the initiative. Conflict management is also an
essential skill, but might be best applied to the second and third areas described below.


Situational Leadership Theory
 

Hersey and Blanchard define leadership as the application of an appropriate mix of task and relationship behavior of the leader, given the level of maturity of the target individual or group. The terms of the theory are defined below:

􀂉 Task Behavior = The behavior a leader exhibits that helps another person get the task done. This behavior entails more directing kinds of activities than anything else.


􀂉 Relationship Behavior = The behavior a leader exhibits that gives another person support and understanding.


􀂉 Maturity = 1) Knowledge to do the task; 2) History of success, and 3) Initiative or motivation to start things. Level of maturity is only assessed on an individual’s specific behavior, rather than on the individual.

As the maturity level of an individual or group increases or decreases, the leader adjusts his behavior according to the chart below. The leadership styles are presented in sequence according to their applications to situations where low maturity (Area 1) through high maturity (Area 4) are exhibited.

 

 


 


Strengths and Applications of the Model


A strength of Hersey and Blanchard’s model is that it provides a goal for individuals (e.g., team member, student, requesting teacher, parent, human or health service agency representative). No matter which leadership behavior is used first, the goal is to develop independence (i.e., move to the delegating area). The ideal situation according to Hersey
and Blanchard is when leaders utilize low task and low relationship behavior, since the application of this combination indicates that individuals are highly motivated and highly capable of independently performing required tasks.
 

This model enables leaders to be less reactive. It provides direction for responding to various situations and gives a longer term perspective: to help individuals reach the delegating, or at a minimum, the participating area of leadership (i.e., task and relationship behavior) and maturity (i.e., knowledge, history, motivation).
 

Another strength of the model is that it gives direction for instances when problems develop. For example, in the case of a student who has been performing in the delegating area but begins to experience a decrease in performance and increased problems at home, the performance change is not considered a complete failure, only that the same quality is not there.


The danger in this type of situation is to immediately go back to the high task, low relationship or high task, high relationship areas with the student. Since the student has developed a success record with the teacher, going all the way back to the telling area is undeserved. With this model, not only do individuals move up through the areas in sequence, but when there is a problem the leader moves the individual back only one area.
 

For example, if a student has been in the low task, low relationship area, and there is a problem, the leader merely moves to the low task, high relationship area to increase the amount of support and understanding. The movement from one area to another progresses sequentially, both forward and backward.