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                        Situational Leadership Theory

                        Paul Hersey & Ken Blanchard

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                        The Situational Leadership Theory was developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. The model shows that leadership of employees must be adapted to the skills and job maturity of the individual employee, and that there is no single "best" style of leadership. By using the situational leadership theory model, leaders can adapt their leadership according to the needs of the employees, and conduct an effective leadership based on the situational context. The essence of the model is that leaders should support their followers based on the followers' needs and capabilities. By doing this, followers will evolve their skills, and will over time become more skilled, mature and independent.

                        The model consists of 4 leadership styles and 4 maturity levels, which will be described below.

                        Four leadership styles:

                        The leadership style "Telling" is characterized by a strong leader categorizing roles for the employees, and who conducts his leadership with one-way communication. This leadership style is very autocratic, and is based upon followers being told what to do.

                        The leadership style "Selling" is still characterized by a strong leader providing direction, but there is more communication with followers. Leaders are trying to sell their messages to the followers, so that the followers understand the importance of their duties, and understand why different processes are important for the organization.

                        The leadership style "Participating" is characterized by two-way communication and shared decision making. Leaders include followers in job related aspects and in how task are to be accomplished.

                        The leadership style "Delegating" is characterized by a leader leaving much of the decision making power to the followers. Leaders are still monitoring progress, but are not as heavily involved in decision making processes.

                        Once again, it is important to remember that none of the leadership styles are better than others. The essence is that leaders should be flexible, and able to use different styles in different situational contexts with different followers and tasks.

                        Four maturity levels:

                        Followers with this level of maturity lack knowledge, skills, or confidence to work on their own. They often need to be directed and supervised before they take on tasks.

                        Followers in this category are still unable to take independent responsibility for tasks, but they are generally willing to work at the task.

                        Followers in this category are very experienced and able to perform the task at hand satisfactorily. However, they do not have the confidence to take on sole responsibility for task accomplishment.

                        Followers are experienced, and believe that they are able to perform well. They are not only able and willing to perform their tasks, but are also willing to take on independent responsibility for the accomplishment of tasks.

                        The maturity levels are also task specific, meaning that generally mature followers may get immature, if they are set to perform a task they do not have capabilities to accomplish. A generally mature follower may therefore become immature if tasks change, and the leader must therefore adapt his leadership to this new situation.

                        Combining leadership with maturity levels:

                        The table below shows the most appropriate leadership style according to maturity levels.

                        Maturity Level

                        Leadership Style


                        S1: Telling


                        S2: Selling


                        S3: Participating


                        S4: Delegating

                        M1 = S1
                        If the employee has a low level of skills, knowledge and competence, it is probably advantageous to make use of the leadership style S1. This could possibly be the case when a new and untrained employee joins the organization, or if tasks of trained personnel change radically.

                        M2 = S2
                        In this stage, the follower is more familiar with his/her tasks, but is perhaps beginning to lose motivation. In this situation S2 might be the right leadership style, where leaders should try to convince followers about the importance of the tasks, and why the followers should try to develop the required skills.

                        M3 = S3
                        In this stage, where the competence followers is high, leaders could use the S3 leadership style. Leaders could act as consultants advising the followers on how to get the job done. Likewise, followers with this high level of maturity may get motivated by being involved in decision making and by being enabled to shape the content of his/her tasks.

                        M4 = S4
                        In this last stage of maturity, the employee can perform his duties independently, and is very committed in accomplishing tasks. In this situation leaders could feasibly adopt the S4 leadership style, where followers are allowed to conduct and accomplish tasks independently, and witout much supervision by leaders.

                        By using the situational leadership model, leaders can therefore flexibly conduct differentiated leadership, which will support different followers with different capabilities and job related needs. Finally, by honoring the different needs of individuals, leaders may increase the learning curve of followers, and get a more skilled and motivated workforce in return.

                        Date Created: 2010-05-28
                        Posted by: Admin
                        Situational Leadership Theory

                        Related resources:

                        What is Theory X and Theory Y?
                        Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership
                        Max WeberĄ¯s three types of authority
                        Kurt Lewin's Leadership Styles
                        What is Blake & Mouton's Managerial Grid?
                        What is Paternalistic Leadership?
                        Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources
                        Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K. H.; (1977); (3rd ed.) New Jersey/Prentice Hall

                        Online MBA, Online MBA Courses, Situational leadership, theory, Blanchard, Hersey, Telling, selling, participating, delegating, maturity levels, situational context, leadership, fit between maturity and leadership style


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