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Situational Leadership Theory

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Leadership is the process of interaction of the leaders to his or her team members. An effective leadership is contingent upon a number of variables, such as traits, leading style, communications skills, conflict resolutions, and be able to motivate team members. Paul Heresy and Ken H. Blanchard have developed a leadership theory in the late 1960s, called “the life-cycle theory of leadership” (Hershey, P. & Blanchard, K., 1982), which has gained a strong following among management development specialists. This model is called situational leadership theory, and it focuses on how a leader fits into his or her leadership styles.

The situational theory of leadership separates leadership behaviors into two general categories: task behavior, which is the communication and management of the tasks that the group must accomplish by the followers, and relationship behavior, which is the creation and maintenance of personal or emotional connections between the leader and followers. Low maturity workers are seen as needing a high level of task-oriented supervision and a low level of relationship-oriented supervision. High maturity workers are viewed as requiring a low level of both task and relationship supervision. Intermediate-maturity workers are believed to require medium task-orientation and high relationship – oriented supervision (Norris & Veccio, 1992).

In fact, the followers depend on their knowledge and their behaviors. The competence of the followers refers to followers’ knowledge, experiences, skill and eventually has an ability to identify the outcome in working. The commitment of the followers refers to followers’ confidence, promises, motivation and eventually willing to identify the outcome in working. Therefore, Situational Leadership defines four styles of followers.

First, the followers are both unable and unwilling to take responsibility for doing something. They’re neither competent nor confident. This style of employees will need the leader to tell them how to do their job. In telling/directing style which is high task and low relationship, the leader defines roles and tells people what, how, when, and where to do various tasks. It is appropriate when the members are new or inexperienced, and need a lot of help, direction, and encouragement to get the job done.

Secondly, followers are unable but willing to do the necessary job tasks. They are motivated but currently lack the appropriate skills. In selling / coaching style which is high task and high relationship, the leader provides both directive and supportive behavior. It is useful when group members are a little more responsible, experienced, and willing to do the task but do not have the necessary skills.

Thirdly, followers are able but unwilling to do what the leader wants. For participating /supporting style, low task and high relationship, the leader and follower share in decision making; the main role of the leader is facilitating and communicating. It is a supportive style used when groups have the ability to do the job but may be unwilling to start or complete the task.

Finally, followers are both able and willing to do what is asked of them. At this level, the leader will trust their job, and let them do whatever they can. Moreover, different with the other style, in delegating style, low task-low relationship, the leader provides little direction or support. It is useful when group members are willing and able to take responsibility for directing their own behavior.

Furthermore, follower behaviors will create different leadership styles. According to Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, a situational leader adapts leadership behaviors to features of the situation and followers. As the subordinate maturity increases, leadership should be more relationship-motivated than task-motivated. There are four degrees of subordinate maturity, from highly mature to highly immature, and leadership can consist of: delegating to subordinates, participating with subordinates, selling ideas to subordinates and telling subordinates what to do. (Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership)

Using situational leadership theory, beside the certain benefits such as the easiness to understand and implement, there are also certain issues. There are including the possible confusion between leadership v.s management, and the concern placed heavily in what the leader do. In addition, leaders are also human; their felling might also be one of the affecting factors when it comes to choosing leadership styles.

For example, in design department of an interior architecture firms, they have different expertise of staff such as draft man, designers, senior designers, design manager. The design manager will be different roles in different situation job. When a newcomer joins the team, design manager will help them through first few days. The design manager will show newcomer around their working place and explain the company’s on-going projects, as well as using different drawings for different styles, different templates. Newcomer’ job is collecting all images such as bedroom, living room, or gardening in book or internet which has the style same as team project style required by the designers. At this stage, design manager is as telling leader that ask the follower does exactly what had been told.

As the designers in the team, their job is drawing 2D plans such as floor’s, ceiling’s, elevation’s and section’s plans. The design manager needs to explain them the client’s requirement, style and furniture allocation. After that he or she let them do the drawings. This stage design manager position is placed at selling styles of leadership that he willing to help and guide to designers.

Senior designers are people who had the most creative ideas. Their job usually draws all 3D views of project. After meeting with client, they have to find out the style for the project. Even though by their experiences, senior designer can analyze the style for the project, they still come to discuss with the design manager. Design manager will be participating style that he will listen to senior designers and courage them to do that idea.

Design manager is very trustworthy on draft man people who draw all the technical drawings such as electricity plans, plumbing plans, sprinkler plan (fire plan), and all details drawings. This time, design manager is become a delegating leader that he will allow draft man to draw everything and he will take a look at finally stage.

Consequences, situational leadership theories tell us that effective leadership depends on the situation at hand. They require us to interact with our employees. They encourage us to listen, to involve, to coach, to develop, to enrich, to motivate, to risk, to credit, to care, and to express concern for those that we manage.

For a leader in the organization or team, the method to lead and manage should be adjusted continually depending on the different situations and environments; a leader cannot use the same method to lead and manage without change.

Therefore, the core of the situational leadership theory is that a leader leads or manages followers in accordance of their personality, development level and behavior. Besides, continually to innovate the manner of management is important and should be emphasized.

Symbolically, Jeff Bezos, founder and C.E.O of Amazon.com felt in the executive quadrant of his leadership model. He has an ability to remain calm in uncertainties and pressures. He combines both high task and high welfare in his behavior. He uses participative management in decision making process. He encourages subordinates to come up with ideas and uses the ideas in making innovative decisions. He delegates authority to his subordinates to take independent decisions and come up with innovative ideas for the company. He observes and monitors the performance of his employees and encourages them to perform better. This motivates the employees to work confidently and willingly for achieving the company goals. (Bezos on innovation)Similarly to the situational leadership, the path goal theory developed by Robert House is founded on the percepts of goal setting theory and identify that leaders will have to engage in different types of leadership behavior depending on the nature and demands of the particular situation.

This Theory also divides different style of leadership such as directive, supportive, participative, or achievement oriented. However, this theory will combine leadership style, follower characteristic and environment factor to analyze the employee attitude and behavior. (Contingency models)Another theory also considered different situations using different leadership style is the Four Framework Model by Bolman & Deal. They recommend that leaders display leadership behaviors in one of four types of frameworks: structural, human resource, political, or symbolic. The style can either be effective or ineffective, depending upon the chosen behavior in certain situations.

In an effective leadership situation the leader is an advocate, whose leadership style is coalition and building. In an ineffective leadership situation the leader is a hustler, whose leadership style is manipulation. (Leadership and management models)Base on situational leadership theory, effective leaders are people who can change their styles to meet the needs of their followers in the particular situations. Leadership characteristic can be developed. It is true that there is no best leadership style and cannot predict who will become the superstar leader. Some people can come into the world brilliantly with self-assurance and a fanatical intellect. That is really an advantage, but nearly all people made better leaders from specific developmental activities and situational.


•Contingency models, viewed 27 March 2009,< http://www.see.ed.ac.uk/~gerard/MENG/ME96/Documents/Styles/conti.html#Topic3>•Hershey, P. & Blanchard, K., 1982, Management of Organization Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources.

•Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership, viewed 27 March 2009, •Norris, W. R., & Vecchio, R. P., 1992, Situational leadership theory. Group & Organization Management, 17(3), 331.

•Leadership and Management model, viewed 27 March 2009, < http://web.cba.neu.edu/~ewertheim/leader/models.htm>•Bezos on innovation, viewed 27 March 2009:< http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_17/b4081064880218.htm>•Famous Models, Situational leadership, viewed 28 March 2009,< http://www.chimaeraconsulting.com/sitleader.htm>•Situational Leadership, viewed 28 march 2009, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situational_leadership_theory>•Situational

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