You've just finished training the newest member of your team. Now that he's ready to start working, you give him the data that you need him to enter into the company's database, and then you hurry off to a meeting. When you return later that afternoon, you're disappointed to find that he hasn't done anything. He didn't know what to do, and he didn't have the confidence to ask for help. As a result, hours have been lost, and now you have to rush to enter the data on time. Although you may want to blame the worker, the truth is that you're as much to blame as he is.

Situational leadership theory

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Page 1: Situational leadership theory

You've just finished training the newest member of your team. Now that he's ready to start working, you give him the data that you need him to enter into the company's database, and

then you hurry off to a meeting.When you return later that afternoon, you're disappointed to find that he hasn't done anything. He didn't know what to do, and he didn't have the confidence to ask for help. As a result, hours have been lost, and now you have to rush to enter the

data on time. Although you may want to blame the worker, the truth is that you're as much to blame as he is.

How can you avoid situations like this?

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• What is situational leadership theory.• Leadership behaviour and styles• Motivational levels• Development levels • Why is it popular among managers• Practical examples and application

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What Is Situational Leadership?

• A theory of leadership that proposes that leaders change their leadership styles based on who they are leading.

• Situational leadership refers to when the leader or manager of an organization must adjust his style to fit the development level of the followers he is trying to influence. With situational leadership, it is up to the leader to change his style, not the follower to adapt to the leader’s style. In situational leadership, the style may change continually to meet the needs of others in the organization based on the situation.

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Created by professor and author Dr. Paul Hersey and author Ken Blanchard, the Situational Leadership Model is a theory of business

leadership that promotes the benefits of combining a range of managerial styles to cater to different people within the same

organization. This is opposed to the more traditional view of the executive manager who may employ the same leadership tactics across an entire organization, more than likely passing directives

down through subordinates and other intermediaries.But by employing the strategies put forth in the Situational Leadership Model, a manager would potentially have the capabilities to deal with

a wide range of people and thereby create a more employee-centric and innovative organization through the level of direct contact he or

she has with members at all levels. Further, the leader would be free to place more or less emphasis

on a particular task as well as more or less emphasis on relationships with employees – enabling them to focus on the component most

needed to get the task accomplished successfully.

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One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The core foundation of the Situational Leadership Model is the belief that there is no single “best” approach to leadership. Instead, effective leadership is viewed as task-relevant. Therefore, the most successful

leaders are the ones who are able to adapt their leadership styles across a broad range of varying maturity levels readily present within the average organization. Also factoring into the choice for leadership style are the individual employees’ willingness and ability to take responsibility for

the task as well as their applicable education and experience.Given the wide level of variance in these factors, choices surrounding leadership are highly subjective in regard to the person or work group that is being influenced as well as the specific job or function that has

been assigned – a situation some say lends itself perfectly to the Situational Leadership Model.

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Steps of situational leadership theory

• Make an overview per employee of his/her task.• Assess the employee on each task(D1….D4)• Decide on the leadership (management) style per

task(S1….S4)• Discuss the situation with the employee.• Make a join plan• Follow – up . Check and correct

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Leadership styles

Hersey and Blanchard characterized leadership style in terms of the amount of task behaviour and relationship behaviour that the leader provides to their followers. They characterized all leadership styles into four behaviour types, which they named S1 to S4 there is a clear distinction between productivity and employee-development, with the first two styles (telling and selling) focused on accomplishing the task while styles three and four (participating and delegating) are more concerned with the personal development of team members.

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• Within this style, a leader will specifically instruct subordinates what to do and how to do it. This style is used at length within the law enforcement and military communities as well as on manufacturing assembly lines, providing a means of managing a diverse group of people that span a wide range of experience and maturity levels.

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S2- Coaching• Information and direction will still be provided by

the manger in this style of leadership but there’s also more two-way communication with subordinates. Within this role, leaders “sell” their message to get employees on board, persuading them to work toward the common goal. A perfect example of this type of leadership is often found in an internship situation, with the success of this approach dependent upon whether the student or apprentice learner is excited and self-motivated to be on the job.

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• With participation, leaders can focus more on relationships and less on direction. In doing so, the Situational Leadership manager works closely with the team and shares decision-making responsibilities. This style is often used by corporate leaders who are attempting to influence a board of directors toward developing a new policy for which there is no proven history or established practice.

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Although the leader will still monitor task- and organizational-progress, he or she will pass much of the responsibility for the execution and completion of the established goals onto the individual subordinates or dedicated work groups. By delegating, the leader is usually less involved with decisions and is therefore able to focus on the work and achievements of subordinates, as seen commonly in the freedom given to tenured professors who are allowed to teach in the manner they believe is most effective while being monitored by a dean or department head.

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Finding the right style

• Finding The right leadership style will depend on the person or group being led. The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory identified four levels of Maturity M1 through M4 that helps the leaders in deciding what is the best one for the present situation:

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Maturity Levels

The right leadership style will depend on the person or group being led. The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory identified four levels of Maturity M1 through M4:

M1 - Followers still lack the specific skills required for the job in hand and are unable and unwilling to do or to take responsibility for this job or task. (According to Ken Blanchard "The honeymoon is over")

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M2 - They are unable to take on responsibility for the task being done; however, they are willing to work at the task. They are novice but enthusiastic.

M3 - They are experienced and able to do the task but lack the confidence or the willingness to take on responsibility.

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M4 - They are experienced at the task, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. They are able and willing to not only do the task, but to take responsibility for the task.

Maturity levels are also task-specific. A person might be generally skilled, confident and motivated in their job, but would still have a maturity level M1 when asked to perform a task requiring skills they don't possess.

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Maturity Level Most Appropriate Leadership Style

M1: Low maturity S1: Telling/directing

M2: Medium maturity, limited skills S2: Selling/coaching

M3: Medium maturity, higher skills but lacking confidence

S3: Participating/supporting

M4: High maturity S4: Delegating

Hersey-Blanchard model maps each leadership style to each maturity level, as shown below. To use this model,

reflect on the maturity of individuals within your team. The table above then shows which leadership style Hersey and Blanchard consider the most effective for people with that

level of maturity.

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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.


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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 without much supervision by leaders.

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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 honouring the different needs of individuals, leaders may increase the learning curve of followers, and get a more skilled and motivated workforce in return.

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You're about to leave for an extended holiday, and your tasks will be handled by an experienced colleague. He's very familiar with your responsibilities, and he's excited to do the job.

Instead of trusting his knowledge and skills to do the work, you spend hours creating a detailed list of tasks for which he'll be responsible, and instructions on how to do them.

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• Your work gets done, but you've damaged the relationship with your colleague by your lack of trust. He was an M4 in maturity, and yet you used an S1 leadership style instead of an S4, which would have been more appropriate.

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• You've just been put in charge of leading a new team. It's your first time working with these people. As far as you can tell, they have some of the necessary skills to reach the department's goals, but not all of them. The good news is that they're excited and willing to do the work.

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• You estimate they're at an M3 maturity level, so you use the matching S3 leadership style. You coach them through the project's goals, pushing and teaching where necessary, but largely leaving them to make their own decisions. As a result, their relationship with you is strengthened, and the team's efforts are a success.

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Development Level

• Similar to the leadership styles, the development levels are also situational. A person should be skilled, confident and motivated for one part of his job but could be less competent for any other part of the job.

• According to Blanchard and Hersey the leadership styles (S1-S4) of the leader must correspond to the development level of the follower and it’s the leader who adapts. By adopting the right style to suit the follower’s development level, work gets done, relationships are built up, and most importantly, the follower’s development level will rise to D4 to everyone’s benefit

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D4 - High Competence, High Commitment

Experienced at the job, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. May even be more skilled than the leader.

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D3 - High Competence, Variable Commitment

Experienced and capable, but may lack the confidence to go it alone, or the motivation to do it well and quickly.

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D2 - Some Competence, Low Commitment

May have some relevant skills, but won't be able to do the job without help. The task or the situation may be new to them.

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D1 - Low Competence, High Commitment

Generally lacking the specific skills required for the job in hand, but has the confidence to tackle the situation.

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Example: New Employee

A new person joins your team and you are asked to help them through the first few days.You sit them in front of a PC, tell them they need to create login accounts on various tools, and push off to a meeting. They are at level D1 and you have adopted S4.Everyone loses because the new person feels helpless and unmotivated, and they don’t complete the deliverable.

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Appropriate Response

• Leave detailed instructions and a checklist for the new person, and they’ll thank you for it.• Leadership Style – S1: Development

Style – D1

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Example: Colleague

You are handing over to an experienced colleague before you leave for a holiday.

You have listed all the task that need to be done, and a set of a instructions on how to carry out each one.

They are at level D4, and you have adopted S1. The work will probably get done, but not the way you expected, and your colleague despises you for treating them like an idiot.

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• Give a quick chat and a few notes before you go on holiday, and everything will be fine.

• Leadership Style – S4 : Development Level – D4

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Limitations• Model fails to distinguish between leadership and

management. What is called leadership style is really management style. Leadership is not primarily about making decisions anyway - it is about inspiring people to change direction.

• Leaders may indeed vary the way they inspire people to change. But this is when they have already decided on the need to change. Hence leadership style does not reduce to decision making style.

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• Of course both leaders and managers have to behave differently in different situations. But that is just a trivial fact of life, rather than anything profound in terms of our basic understanding of what it means to lead or manage.

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Assumptions of Situational Leadership

• Leaders should adapt their style to follower's 'maturity', based on how ready and willing the follower is to perform required tasks (that is, their competence and motivation).

• There are four leadership styles that match the four combinations of high/low readiness and willingness.

• The four styles suggest that leaders should put greater or less focus on the task in question and the relationship between the leader and the follower.

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Thank you