Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory
Name(s): Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory
Author: Paul Hersey, professor and author of the book Situational Leader, and Ken Blanchard, leadership guru and author of The One Minute Manager
Classification: Contingency Theories
Year: 1970s and early 1980s
- The simplicity of the theory makes it easy to apply.
- The theory has simple scales that a leader can use to give a "thumb in the wind" assessment of what leadership style to use.
- Maturity and competence of the group are often overlooked factors in good leadership and it helps to focus on these.
- The theory may not be applicable to managers as administrators or those with limited power but in structurally in a leadership position.
- There are situations in which the theory may be less applicable such as those involving time constraints and task complexity.
- Testing of the theory doesn't seem to bear out the predictions .
Situational Leadership Theory is really the short form for "Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory" and draws major views from contingency thinking. As the name implies, leadership depends upon each individual situation, and no single leadership style can be considered the best. For Hershey and Blanchard, tasks are different and each type of task requires a different leadership style. A good leader will be able to adapt her or his leadership to the goals or objectives to be accomplished. Goal setting, capacity to assume responsibility, education, and experience are main factors that make a leader successful. Not only is the leadership style important for a successful leader-led situation but the ability or maturity of those being led is a critical factor, as well. Leadership techniques fall out of the leader pairing her or his leadership style to the maturity level of the group.
The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory has two pillars: leadership style and the maturity level of those being led. To Hersey and Blanchard, there leadership styles stem from four basic behaviors, designated with a letter-number combination:
- S-1 Telling
- S-2 Selling
- S-3 Participating
- S-4 Delegating.
The leadership style, itself, manifests itself as behavior related to the task and behavior as to relationship with the group. "Telling" behavior simply is a unidirectional flow of information from the leader to the group. Do this task in this manner because of [whatever] at this location, and get it finished by [whenever]. Transactional leadership techniques operate here. In the "selling" behavior, the leader attempts to convince the group of that the leader should lead by providing social and emotional support to the individual being convinced. There is two-way communication, but it is clear that the leader is leading. With "participating" behavior, the leader shares decision making with the group, making the system more democratic. There is less of an emphasis on accomplishing an objective than building human relations. The fourth type of behavior in leadership style, "delegating" is reflected by parceling out tasks to group members. The leader still is in charge but there is more of an emphasis on monitoring the ones delegated with the tasks.
Four maturity levels of the group are posited by Hersey and Blanchard with letter designations:
- M-1: basic incompetence or unwillingness in doing the task
- M-2: inability to do the task but willing to do so
- M-3: competent to do the task but do not think they can
- M-4: the group is ready, willing, and able to do the task.
Each type of task may involve a different maturity level, so a person with an overall maturity level of M-3 might be only an M-1 with respect to specific work.
According to Hersey, ability level and willingness to do work can be cultivated by a good leader by raising the level of expectations. Blanchard overlays four permutations of competency-commitment, again, with a letter designation:
- D1 - Low competence and low commitment
- D2 - Low competence and high commitment
- D3 - High competence and low/variable commitment
- D4 - High competence and high commitment 
Can one apply the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory to both leaders and managers? If managers are seen merely as those executing a leader's directives and with little authority (an administrator), perhaps not. On the other hand, the theory may be relevant. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own merits and people need to be aware of the limitations.
If the theory is only about getting those following to do work based on competence and willingness, then, there may be some omissions, such as situations in which neither may be relevant. Wartime, emergency situations, survival-type scenarios may need a leader, and that leader may have to do more than simply look at the willingness and competence. S/he may have to make things happen, regardless of these two factors.
If the group already has an agenda, what the leader says or does may be less relevant. This is true when the leader may not have the support of the group or have deficiencies the group has identified, making the leader less powerful to effect change.
There may not be a way of assessing accurately competence or maturity of a group, especially is there is a time limitation. As an indication of this, Goodson et al state, "Unfortunately, no absolute standard of readiness or maturity exists. ... Therefore, standardization is needed in order to clarify which subordinate populations should be considered 'ready' and which should not." . There always, too, is the misjudgment of the leader, especially when there is urgency or task complexity involved. Another issue is context and dynamism. Willingness to do a task may change, and an initial judgment may be erroneous later. The scales are subjective, and context free.
Future of theory
Testing of the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory could be accomplished by quantifying the scales. In any event, in light of what has been done so far with poor test results, more work is needed to show the proof that the theory works. While the suggestion sounds futuristic, the attitudinal factors, as well as competence might be measured and validated using cognitive neuroscience techniques, as suggested in other articles on this website.
Hersey Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory Essay
The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership theory is based on the amount of direction (task behavior) and amount of socio-emotional support (relationship behavior) a leader must provide given the situation and the "level of maturity" of the followers. Task behavior is the extent to which the leader engages in spelling out the duties and responsibilities to an individual or group. This behavior includes telling people what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, and who's to do it. In task behavior the leader engages in one-way communication. Relationship behavior is the extent to which the leader engages in two-way or multi-way communications. This includes listening, facilitating, and supportive behaviors. In relationship behavior the leader engages in two-way communication by providing socio-emotional support. Maturity is the willingness and ability of a person to take responsibility for directing his or her own behavior. People tend to have varying degrees of maturity, depending on the specific task, function, or objective that a leader is attempting to accomplish through their efforts.
To determine the appropriate leadership style to use in a given situation, the leader must first determine the maturity level of the followers in relation to the specific task that the leader is attempting to accomplish through the effort of the followers. As the level of followers' maturity increases, the leader should begin to reduce his or her task behavior and increase relationship behavior until the followers reach a moderate level of maturity. As the followers begin to move into an above average level of maturity, the leader should decrease not only task behavior but also relationship behavior.
Once the maturity level is identified, the appropriate leadership style can be determined. This theory is a contingency theory that focuses on followers' readiness/development level of follower and leader behavior/leadership styles, the four leadership styles/leader behavior, According to Paul Hersey; a situational leader adapts "leadership behaviors to features of the situation and followers.
The situational approach, which predominated in the 1950s, held that whether a given person became a leader of a group, had nothing to do with his/her personality, but had everything to do with such factors as the flow of events and circumstances surrounding a group. To put it simply, the leader was a person who was in the right place at the right time."Rather than a great man causing a great event to happen, the situational approach claims that great events are the product of historical forces that are going to happen whether specific leaders are present or not "(Adair, 1984, p. 8)Unfortunately, this theory still didn't answer why one member of a group...
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