Situational Leadership Model: The Other Change Management

In the business world, all leadership is goal oriented. This means that managers are tasked with inspiring and motivating their employees, while communicating expectations clearly, in order to achieve outcomes. Situational leadership, also known as the Hersey-Blanchard model, is an ideal approach for making it all possible. It is an adaptive process utilized by business leaders such as managers, project coordinators, sales team leaders and even C-level executives. Its approach hinges on addressing the individual needs, skill sets, strengths and weaknesses of employees to help them meet business goals.

Defining Situational Leadership

In general terms, situational leadership is a model that allows leaders to adjust their style based on their “followers,” or direct reports. It is different from change management because it focuses on guiding individual employees in their daily work rather than tackling large-scale change as a group. No matter the circumstances, situational leadership relies on the leader to adjust his or her style rather than asking followers to adapt.

According to the Hersey-Blanchard model, which was developed in the 1970s by professor Paul Hersey and leadership expert Ken Blanchard, there are four situational leadership styles that managers can utilize effectively. “Managers using the Hersey-Blanchard model must be able to select the leadership style that matches the maturity of followers. For example, if follower maturity is high, the model suggests a delegating style of leadership where the leader has to provide minimal guidance. By contrasts, if follower maturity is low … a telling style could be more appropriate in order to ensure the group has clarity on their goals and how they are expected to achieve them,” Investopedia, a leading financial education website, explains. Using this model, leaders are tasked with determining the correct amount of structure and guidance for each employee. We outline each situational leadership style in more detail below.

Situational Leadership Model

The following are the four leadership behaviors as developed by Hersey and Blanchard.

  • Delegating: Managers who use this leadership style allow their direct reports to make decisions and prioritize work on their own. This is useful because managers can delegate tasks as needed. When employees have extensive experience and can create their own work processes, this approach is ideal.
  • Participating and Supporting: When business leaders use the participating/supporting approach, they provide a minimal amount of supervision to employees who are experienced but may lack self-confidence due to role changes or new project assignments. Managers provide clear instructions about processes and expectations, but allow employees to control how they complete their work.
  • Selling and Coaching: In this approach, a leader will define roles and assign tasks while still being receptive to input from employees. “This leadership style also helps in developing subordinates who may have the experience yet [are] still lacking self-esteem in the performance of their work,” business, technology and education resource BrightHub explains. This leadership style allows managers to closely monitor their subordinates while providing ongoing encouragement.
  • Telling and Directing: When using this leadership style, a manager clearly defines his or her employees’ tasks, provides clear instructions for completion and supervises closely as they work. The telling/directing style is ideal for inexperienced or entry-level employees who need a hands-on approach. The leader’s role is particularly important here because he or she is often directing employees as they learn a role for the first time.

Depending on employees’ needs and skill levels, a business leader might utilize multiple leadership behaviors within the same department or team. One of the central benefits of situational leadership is that it allows leaders to be highly adaptable and customize their style as needed.

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