Leadership Theories I: Situational Leadership

Have you ever thought about the differences between a leader a boss? According to some definitions, a leader is a person who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal while a boss is defined as a person who employs or superintends workers. Given this, who would you rather work for, and what would you rather be: a leader or a boss?

If you choose your goal is to become a leader, there is a set of tools that you can apply in different situations. There is a video that gives you an overview of the main theories on leadership: Ten Leadership Theories in Five Minutes by mikezigarelli

Today, I would like to focus on one of my favorite tools for communicating with followers, and that is the Situational Leadership. This is a leadership theory developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard that classifies the way we communicate with a person when we need their collaboration on a task.


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situational_leadership_theory

Think, of this list, what is the style that best describes you. Have you got it? Yes? Good! Now, I propose you a new challenge: think about at least once that you have received detailed instructions on how to perform a task that you have done a thousand times and you master. How did that make you feel? But what happens when you don’t have a clue on how to perform a task and you are left with some generic instructions?

When Hersey and Blanchard reflected about this they said that all styles described above are great leadership styles, as long as they match the maturity of the follower.



Source: http://situational.com/situational-leadership-and-slii-points-of-distinction/

To understand what this means in everyday life, how to apply on the different maturity levels let me give you my personal interpretation of this model:

  • Maturity level R1 or “I don’t know where to start”: does not matter if your follower is new to the company or new to the task, but when you see the fear in his eyes…then probably he is in this maturity level. If you detect this, make sure you use a telling style of communication, defining the target of the task, and detailing the steps, tools and times when the task is expected to be finished.


  •  Maturity level R2 or “I think I kind of know what you are talking about”:  your follower has done the task before, but needs your support along the way. Use the selling style to get his buy-in the process. In this case we are still very task oriented – we need to define the goals, but also we work along with the follower to guide him and get him confident in the task.


  • Maturity level R3 or “I know how to do that”: you are talking with a person that knows the task, has done it several times and might even have his own lessons learnt on it. Don’t focus so much on the task to be done, but on the results you expect from the task – and give your follower the chance of taking some of the decisions along the way: use a participating style.


  •  Maturity level R4 or “Leave this in my hands”: you can delegate a task to your follower. He feels confident to handle the task, and to take the necessary decisions to successfully achieve it. Focus on explaining the result expected and, though you delegate, don’t forget to do regular follow ups to monitor the progress of the task – delegate does not mean forgetting about it. Remember that the ultimate responsibility of the outcome is yours!


One last *and I think great* thing about the situational leadership is that it can work both ways. When you are the follower and you feel like the communication is not matching your maturity level for a specific task, don’t be afraid to say it out loud. Ask for more details or guidance; ask for a chance to add your point of view or responsibility according to what you think you are missing.

And don’t ever forget that communication is the strongest tool we can use to grow!

One Response to “Leadership Theories I: Situational Leadership”

  1. Beverly Kavookjian dice:

    I am doing a presentation for one of my doctorate classes and loved the simplicity of each level you described I am going to use this in my presentation and of course give you credit.

    I so agree with your analysis.

    Beverly Kavookjian, Ed S, Curriculum and Instruction, Lincoln Memorial University.

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