The situational theory of leadership is becoming increasingly popular in the context of modern organizational leadership. Situational leadership revolves around job-related maturity. Job maturity refers to an individual’s ability in performing a job and this is a key factor determining a leader’s behavior. The situational leadership model puts it that effective leadership is dependent on both the acts of management and leadership and that these enhance an organization’s match to current global trends. The model emerged from the realization and understanding that not all individuals within a group or community being led compare in terms of maturity level and that the need for a leadership style differ with situations. Situational leadership entails first understanding one’s predominant leadership approach and the level of the follower’s development process.
Situational leadership theory, in simple terms talks about different leadership styles and how a leader can choose an appropriate style with respect to team that he/she is leading and situation in which they are in, to complete the given task. An organization faces different situations in different times depending on many factors, internal and external which are hard to control. Situational leadership theory helps an organization to face this kind of circumstances.
The situational leadership theory was developed by Hersey and Blanchard in the 1960s basing on Reddin’s 3-D framework of leadership. The developmental process of the model focused on three key categories: consideration; initiation of structure; and leader behavior. In situational leadership, the subordinates job-relevant maturity (both psychological and job maturity) is the primary situational factor determining a leader’s behavior. Maturity is regarded to be a product of the education level and/ or experience. Psychological maturity is an important aspect of job maturity and it reflects a person’s state of motivation, that is, their confidence and self-esteem levels; which are highly influenced by ethical practices in a firm. Hersey and Blanchard identified that physiological maturity is associated with an individual’s orientation towards achievement as well as the ability and willingness to assume responsibility. Hersey and Blanchard thus concluded that performance is basically a behavioral manifestation of job relevant maturity. Proponents of this model hold the notion that each situation demands a different leadership style and thus the best course of action is dependent on the situation at hand, that is, effectiveness in leadership is dependent on the adaptability to adapt to situations.
It is also imperative to note that the leader-follower relationship determines the outcome of any particular task. The situational leadership is based on both versatility and effectiveness. Four leadership approaches apply under the situational leadership model and are dependent on followers’ job-related maturity. The major notion under this model is that flexibility and adaptability determine which of the diverse styles would apply in the context of varied situations, followers or tasks.
The Four Leadership Approaches/Styles Applied in Situational Leadership are;
- S1: Directing (high task, low relationship behavior) – Leaders take the responsibility of determining the roles and tasks for their followers. They thus are involved in close supervision of the follower activities as well as taking and announcing all the decisions. In this regard, the leaders are more concerned with the challenge of meeting goals and accomplishing tasks than on building strong relationships with their subordinates. Communication in this style is usually one way since leadership autocratically categorizes employee’s duties.
- S2: Coaching (high task, high relationship behavior) – Although the leader has the power of making decisions, he/she usually involves the suggestions of the followers while maintaining a good relationship with them. Although communication is two-way, final decisions on ideas are usually made by the leader rather than their authors. Leaders are thus focused on selling their ideas to the followers to have them understand the importance of their tasks and the various organizational processes.
- S3: Supporting (high relationships, low task behavior) – This style is usually very motivating to subordinates as it involves a shared decision making process and a two-way communication channel. Followers are usually included in all job-related duties as well as in determining how tasks and responsibilities are to be accomplished. The leader often relies on the followers’ contribution in organizing the day-to-day responsibilities such as tasks and processes allocation.
- S4: Delegating (low relationship, high task behavior) – In certain situations, leaders are compelled to entrust their followers with much of the decision making process. The leader’s task thus entails monitoring progress although he/she is not extensively involved in the process of making decisions. However, the leader is more focused on problem solving and taking decisions but grants the followers the authority to determine the final decision. Followers decide when it is appropriate to involve the leader.
There are four major follower maturity levels that determine the necessity for a leadership style.
- The first maturity level (D1) encompasses followers who usually have no confidence, knowledge or skills necessary for them to work independently. Such individual’s usually require supervision and direction before they can be entrusted with tasks. In such a situation, effective leadership would entail applying the directing approach of leadership.
- The second level (D2) of maturity involves followers who generally have the will to do a task but they lack the capacity to do so independently. This means that leading such a group would necessitate that the leader employ an approach that can coach the followers at their duties.
- The third maturity level (D3) includes individuals who are usually highly experienced and can attend to the task in question satisfactorily. Supportive leadership is best suited to lead such followers. However, these followers lack the confidence to assume sole responsibility of seeing a task to accomplishment.
- The fourth maturity level (D4) includes those individuals who are not only experienced but are also confident and able to take on the task. They are not only willing and able but are also confident that they can successfully fulfill accomplishments independently. In the event of D4, leaders usually assume the delegating leadership style.
It is essential to note that differentiated leadership is only possible under the situational leadership approach since different followers with varying levels of needs, abilities and maturity levels are led. The situational leadership model is based on the perception that real leadership revolves around people management in a manner that is fair for the sake of being mutually rewarding as well as providing productive objectives; which are usually free of any manipulation. According to Hersey and Blanchard, the process of controlling, influencing and motivating followers towards attainment of stated accomplishments relies on three key leadership skills: (i) prediction of future behavior; (ii) understanding the behavior of the past; and (iii) the changing, controlling as well directing behaviors. In this regard, studies shows that effective situational leaders are usually engaged in a number of behavioral manifestations: relationship and task behaviors, which are important in driving creativity and innovation among followers.
The positives of situational leadership stem from the methods that need to be utilized in order to solve the issue. For example, a situational leader must develop emotional intelligence to be aware of not only the feelings and views of their peers, but also the emotions within themselves. This insight will help the leader decide on which particular leadership style will best fit the situation and be effective in leading their associates. To strengthen emotional intelligence, these leaders must be able to utilize and welcome constructive criticism. By allowing criticism and the voicing of concerns, these leaders construct a trustworthy environment within the workplace. In general, situational leadership is simpler to use due to the flexibility it provides to the leader. Once the situational leader assesses each team member’s strengths and weaknesses in certain situations, the route to the best style and solution becomes more clear.
Although situational leadership has been shown to be an effective leadership theory, critics have voiced valid concerns related to this leadership style. For one, situational leadership can be seen as overly ambiguous and ambitious when it comes to analyzing the followers’ views. Situational leaders need to assess their followers’ readiness; meaning the commitment level, needs, knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses of each individual. This may be overwhelming to the leader and the leaders’ insight may be providing the wrong information. Furthermore, critics have argued that assessing the followers’ commitment and competence is too vague to accurately assess developmental level. Without an accurate developmental level, the situational leader may choose a less effective leadership style. Additionally, situational leadership does not address how to act when the developmental levels of different individuals within the group are spread too far apart. This can lead to only some of the individuals within the environment to be positively affected by the chosen leadership style.