Hersey and Blanchard’s model of situational leadership has stood the test of time. Situational leadership proposes that each instance of leadership is different, involving a unique combination of leaders, followers, and situations.
Each leadership situation requires different leadership behaviours for success. There is no single approach or style of effective leadership. It asks the question – “how flexible are you in the way you lead?”
Each leader has their own style which is based in their experience, background, culture, and personality. Furthermore each follower situation and individual follower may require a different leadership style, dependent on their behaviour, ability and your relationship with them.
The situational leadership model says that, for effective leadership, the leader’s approach must take into account the competence and commitment of the follower. As the competence and commitment of the follower varies, the leader must be flexible and adapt their style to match. One size does not fit all.
Hersey and Blanchard’s research into leadership styles characterises each style in terms of the amount of direction and support the leader gives to their followers.
Using this model, there are four styles of leadership:
When directing, the leader provides specific instructions and closely supervises the task accomplishment. The leader tells the follower what the goal is and what a good job looks like, and lays out a step-by- step plan about how the task is to be accomplished. The leader makes the decisions; the follower carries out the plan.
When using a coaching style, the leader directs and supervises task accomplishment, but also encourages input from the follower. The focus of coaching is on skill development - it encourages the follower to become active. The leader encourages the follower to develop their own solutions and processes, and then gently critiques these if needed.
The supporting style is focused on building follower commitment and assists in the development of independent, critical thinking. When supporting, the leader helps the follower reach their own solutions, by asking questions that expand their thinking and encourage risk taking. The leader communicates the message “I have confidence in you”, “I am here to help and support you in your work”. This builds up confidence and motivation and encourages personal development.
When delegating, the leader turns over responsibility for day-to-day decision making and problem solving to the person doing the task. This demonstrates a higher confidence in their follower and their ability to make appropriate decisions and allows them to learn from their mistakes.
Some questions to reflect on:
1. Which of these four styles do I naturally gravitate to?
2. Which styles do I need to develop more?
3. Are my followers benefiting from my ability to vary the way I lead them according to their needs?