Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model was originally called the ‘Life Cycle Theory of Leadership’ in their 1969 book ‘Management of Organisational Behaviour’. This model has seen many revisions from 1980 and onwards to present day. It is an adaptive leadership style that encourages Leaders to review their Followers readiness levels alongside variables in the workplace to provide the most effective leadership style at any time.
This leadership style can help to develop followers, build rapport amongst the team and get the best out of people. Whilst it has varied styles of leadership available, having an organisation use this approach can actually see a common Leadership model being used and therefore have consistency across the business.
Throughout this article, we will discuss the advantages and successes of this approach, with the disadvantages and short falls of this model being in the next article.
We have created multiple articles on each stage of the model so if you want to see a particular style in more detail, check out these links:
10/10/2021 – The Do’s, Dont’s and Dichotomy of Directive Leadership
21/11/2021 – Selling Leadership, The What, When and How of coaching.
19/12/2021 – The Pros, Pitfalls and Purpose of Participating Leadership
13/02/2022 – Delegating Leadership – Disected and Discussed
13/03/2022 – Sharing the Successes of Situational Leadership
20/03/2022 – The Shortfalls and Limitations of Situational Leadership
We have identified 8 key successes of the Situational Leadership model, they are: Consistency, Flexibility, Development, Support, Team Knowledge, Humility, Reflection and Learning and Development. Grab a brew, get comfortable and let’s explore the benefits to this much utilised model.
Situational Leadership model encourages a consistent Leadership approach throughout an operation. This seems strange as the model actually utilises 4 different leadership styles but the consistency here, lies in how the styles are used.
The styles are matched to Follower Readiness levels meaning that no matter where the team member goes, they will receive a similar level or support and autonomy. By using this model, Followers are more likely to improve and the business is more likely to achieve. Imagine a leader that only coaches or only directs – both styles would eventually cause friction, frustration and fissures within working relationships. A Leader who adapts their approach based on the situation however, may find more success due to their adaptability.
When the model is used throughout the business, Leadership teams will approach their Followers in the same way, based on their Follower and the situation at hand. This creates consistency across the Organisation, helping to build psychological safety amongst teams.
One of the major benefits to Situational Leadership is that it utilises four very different techniques, allowing the leader to evaluate the situation alongside their Followers readiness level to find the most effective way to lead.
It acknowledges that different people and situations will benefit from different types of interactions and encourages the leader to be both reflective and detached from the situation in order to pick the best style.
Your team are highly skilled but lack the motivation to achieve their highest possible standard of work. Typically, you would use Participating leadership to help create buy-in and increased levels of commitment. However, a new project has just landed as priority, client are being very specific about what needs to be done and within tight time scales.
Participating leadership would take too long here, there wouldn’t be time for lengthy facilitation sessions where your team come up with the how and what of the project.
As a leader you would need to consider Directive Leadership to get people moving or if you felt the team were ready, a Delegating Leadership style may be best.
Of course, when changing your style, it is important that we explain to our teams why they don’t have their normal freedom and autonomy – if we don’t, resentment will likely begin to stew as they think:
- “They have lost faith in us.”
- “Why are we being punished? We hit all deadlines on the last project!”
- “They clearly don’t trust us.”
- “I’ve been doing this role for years, who do they think they are?”
Consider our people and their egos before changing a leadership style, think about setting expectations on why its occurring, such as:
- “Team, client have sent us a new project. It has very tight deadlines and strict guidelines. Due to this, we wont get our usual flexibility to tackle this how we want to. I’m going to deliver the gameplan I think will work best, feel free to make suggestions but due to time constraints, we need to keep it simple and can’t get carried away with discussion.”
- “You guys did such a phenomenal job with the last project, client have trusted us with a high priority task. This is great for us as a team and a chance to further our relationship with client. Due to the time constraints of this project, we need to work towards more specific guidelines, it’s a chance to show our ability to achieve on client terms instead of your usual freedom to find the best way forward. Happy to hear any tweaks but this is the plan.”
- “Last project went well and client have commented on how happy they were with the end result. I am trusting you to complete this with limited guidance from myself. Due to time constraints on the project, we cant spend much time in the planning. I’ll tell you what client are looking for, when it needs to be done by and the rest is up to you. If you need support, my door is open.”
Here, the situation called for the Leader to move their Followers through Readiness levels, which ties into our next key success of the Situational Leadership model.
It develops Followers
When utilised appropriately, the model can guide your Followers through their Readiness levels in order to make them effective members of the team. Followers may revert to previous Readiness levels based on many different factors such as a change in process, difficulties in their personal life, conflict at work or unforeseen circumstances – the list is not exhaustive. Due to this, it is essential the Leader reflects on their Followers readiness level alongside the situation to get the best results.
Readiness level 1 Followers are typically new to the role and don’t know anything about the operation to allow coaching to be effective. By using Directive Leadership, you are preparing your Follower to move to Readiness level 2.
Here, the Coaching leadership style is best utilised. This method focuses on improving performance as typically, the Follower is quite self-motivated here to want to be effective, they just don’t really know how. This coaching style helps the Follower get to grips with their purpose and role, which will move them into Readiness level 3.
At this stage, Followers are skilled but unwilling or unmotivated. Perhaps the work is not stimulating enough, equipment doesn’t work, they feel stuck, bored or unrecognised for their contributions. The Participating leadership style focuses on engagement by facilitating solutions and allowing your team to find and execute on their ideas. As their motivation grows, they move to Readiness level 4.
At level 4, the Follower is extremely capable and motivated to get the job done. This is where you want your Followers to be, autonomous, capable and effective. Here you need to delegate.
Followers feel supported
As this model is focused on adapting your style to suit your Followers Readiness level, your team will likely feel supported by your efforts.
As earlier, it’s best to signpost the reason behind your style change so your Followers won’t get confused or frustrated by the sudden fluctuations in your approach. When you are invested in leading your people and helping them grow, the genuine focus on supporting your people will be felt by them, which in turn will build trust and commitment towards your teams cause.
Consider having a leader that adapted their style to suit your needs and also invested their time and energy into your development. How engaged would you feel at work? We know that engaged employees are more productive, satisfied and reliable at work. Focusing your efforts on supporting your team should be an easy choice to make.
Know your team
It goes without saying that if you are utilising Situational Leadership, then you should have a good grasp on your team, their abilities, development areas and mind-set. To get the most out of this model, you need to invest heavily in understanding who you are working with.
Knowing your team can provide the following benefits:
- We can lead our Followers as they want to be or need to be lead
- We build trust
- We foster a connection
- We create engagement, increasing productivity and job satisfaction
- Job stress reduces
- We strengthen our ability to predict and prepare for conversations
- We are better placed to treat a core problem instead of surface symptom
Situational Leadership can be considered a very humble approach to leading. One of the key critiques of an Autocratic or Directive approach is that the leader needs to have skills that surpass the team (or at least they think they do). The Situational Leader acknowledges that they don’t in fact know the best way forward and that the strength of the team needs to be utilised to get the most effective outcome. This mind-set means the Leader needs to be both humble in nature and able to detach from their ego in order to critically analyse the best approach and person to do the job.
Especially as we move into the Participating and Delegating styles, the leader needs to trust in their team and be willing to try ideas that may go against what they think is best. Of course, the leader cannot take on a bad idea! They are still responsible for the outcome but if a solution put forward by the team will work (even if you think your way is better), let your team run with their idea rather than overrule with your own. Giving them the reigns here will boost confidence, trust and help them develop as they think critically of their actions.
Linked to being humble, Situational Leadership requires you to have a firm grasp on yourself, team and situational reflection in order to utilise it effectively.
Taking time to reflect helps embed learning, development and change, making it an extremely useful tool for self-development. Thinking critically about a situation can increase your emotional intelligence and help with the future communication with others.
Further, reflection can be linked to creative thought and strategic thinking making it a great tool for your own development, relationship management and making sound strategic decisions.
Learning and Development
Hersey, Angelim, and Carakushansky (1982) found that when managers were trained using the Situational Leadership approach in the classroom, starting with Directive and then moving through the individual stages, that they performed significantly better in their final exams than the control group that did not receive this style. This indicates that the model is a great tool to use when training and mentoring people.
If you work in Learning and Development, consider using the stages of Situational Leadership when planning your Sessions. Have you provided Direction at the start? Does your session include Coaching, Participating and Delegating towards the end? In the experiment, a different Trainer was used at each stage of the learning journey. When we think about the 5 stages of Learning it can make sense – When we don’t know how much there is to learn, Direction is important. When we are gaining confidence but still need more work on our skills, Coaching works well. As we begin to move into Conscious Competence, a Participating approach allows us room to experiment and embed what we are learning. When we are Unconsciously Competent, we can have work delegated to us.
Overall, Situational Leadership has seen success in organisations throughout the world. Whilst in part 2, we discuss some of its limitations, there are some real benefits to utilising the model. Situational Leadership can provide both consistency and flexibility within your organisation, creating effective leadership teams. The model focuses on understanding and developing people – adding value to your operations whilst increasing engagement, satisfaction and productivity. The model requires reflection activity, keeping your skills sharp whilst ensuring you remain humble and it has proven strengths within the Training and Development field.
Click here for Part 2: The Limitations of Situational Leadership