Situational Leadership — the Hersey & Blanchard model

One of the leadership approaches that was mostly known among the academia and organisations the Situational Leadership model, proposed in the mid-1970s by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey, both from of Ohio University. The authors developed this approach inspired on William J. Reddin (1976) 3-D leadership model, among other sources.

The situational approach is based on premises such as:

· people can and want to grow in the organization and that there is no unique style of leadership to encourage that growth;

· each situation demands a different kind of leadership;

· the skills and motivations of people in the organization vary over time.

The situational leadership approach comprises a set of two-dimensional behaviors of the leader: direction and support. The model prescribes an optimal dosage of each behavior for a given situation, so that leaders should be at the point of the degree of commitment of people to perform the tasks and analyze the level of skill to do that particular task.

These two factors map the specific needs to be met by their leaders and determine the adjustment of the amount of direction and support behaviors that the leader must offer to have a maximum degree of effectiveness (Blanchard et al., 2011).

Later on, Blanchard (1985) made adjustments to the original model co-created with Paul Hersey, renaming it Situational Leadership II. The revision of the original model redefines the four basic leadership styles, directly related to the four degrees of subordinate development, according to the diagram:

Situational Ledership II model

Source: Blanchard et al.(2010)

To act in a situational manner, the leader must first diagnose the level of development “D” of the subordinate to perform a specific task and then modulate a corresponding leadership style “E”. In other words, the leader should properly dose support and direction behaviors to correspond to what the subordinate needs, forming a pair: D1 with E1 , D2 with E2 and so on.

To diagnose the development level of the subordinate for a particular task, the leader should look for the competence of the subordinate to do the task and how commited the person is to do that same task. Commitment is defined as a composition of the motivation to accomplish the task and person’s self-confidence to do it.

To better understand, let’s look at an example of a trainee who has just joined an organization. His or her level of development is D1 (excited beginner), as the trainee does not know exactly the tasks and roles, everything is new, but he or she is very motivated by getting approved to the position, a “give me and I will do it” attitude. The leader should then use the E1 style with high directive behavior in communication to explain in detail the tasks. Let’s say, for example, the task of organizing a corporate event. In this situation, the leader focuses on explaining the task, does not need to invest in motivational support.

The trainee then begins to face the harsh reality: organizing an entire event is not so easy, even with the guidelines. He or she stumbles on some errors and motivation drops, a characteristic of E2 level of development (disappointed apprentice). The leader then starts to use the E2 style - coaching - that is, high directivity for helping to solve the problems and at the same time showing the trainee the reasoning in a convincing manner, supporting the trainee to regain self-confidence in the activity and accomplish the tasks involved. The trainee finally succeeded and the event run smoothly.

Let’s assume that soon after the trainee has another similar event to organize. Now he has the competence to do it but is still insecure that he can do it all by him or herself. Therefore, commitment is oscillating. The trainee’s level of development is now D3, the person is already able, but still does not have full self-confidence and the swinging commitment is because of the uncertainty of being able to do the activity without support. The leader should then use the E3 style to offer support: encourage the trainee and empower to make one’s own decisions. In this style, the leader uses little or no directivity. The trainee manages to overcome the barriers and succeeds again, this time increasing his confidence to make the most decisions about organizing an event like this.

The next time the trainee organizes an event, the leader may use the E4 style — delegating — as the trainee needs neither guidance nor motivational support, as he or she is already at the level of development D4, demonstrating self-confidence and initiative to achieve the goal. The leader should then only monitor key indicators, allowing the subordinate to take more responsibility. If something unexpected arises, the leader can return to a previous style (E3 or E2) and offer direction or support, depending on the needs of the person.

Blanchard himself explains that the leader will use different styles for the same person, varying the style as a function of the subordinate’s needs for each task.

In this other video, Blanchard the goal of leading serving the needs of the person, which is different from expecting the subordinate to serve the needs of the leader.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UHkTP5hhVM

Blanchard et al. (2011) states only 1% of leaders are naturally able to go through the four styles, 10% tend to use three styles, 35% two styles and 54% feel comfortable only in one style. However, the author believes that the flexibility to act in any style can be developed by anyone, as observable behaviors, not traits.

A curious fact: I had the opportunity to meet Ken Blanchard in 2010 during an informal moment in a congress held in Chicago. I asked Ken how the Situational Leadership model, which prescribes a behavior for each situation, related to Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid model, which analyzes which type of leader is most effective. My question was raised as Blake and Mouton model prescribe the Team Management style (9,9) as the only one fully capable of acting with high concern for people and high concern for production, when compared to the other four styles (1,1), (1,9), (9,1) and thus the most effective.

Blanchard replied to me that the (9,9) Team Management leader style refers to an attitude, not a specific behavior, of someone who has developed both support and direction behaviors prescribed in Situational Leadership, knowing when and how to use any level of these behaviors, forming the most appropriate style to deal with each situation. The other Grid styles are not able to navigate with equal flexibility on those behaviors of support or direction due to their limiting beliefs.

In short, Blanched argued that LS model prescribes behaviors, while the Managerial Grid prescribes attitudes that are underlying behaviors.

As a strength, the SL model is useful for training leaders on prescribed behaviors, such as leaders struggling with the ability to delegate and develop their teams. For example those that delegate activities inappropriately, creating abandonment, or leaders who don’t develop their team by not giving people room to find their own ways.

One premise that the authors do not mention about the model is that the leader is supposed to have all the necessary knowledge about the activity intended to be delegated. This premise, in my opinion, may not be 100% true for today, in a time where leaders do not have all answers and thus may need to rethink their roles, not all time as know it all professors but also as facilitators, to be effective.

As criticisms of the LS model, Northouse (2010) cites authors who claim the lack of more complete studies to justify the assumptions and premises of the model. Other question about the valitity of its claims for performance improvement and about the statistical validity of the measurement instrument to determine the flexibility of the leader’s style.

Another criticism is about the definition of the construct commitment as a composition of motivation to accomplish the task and self-confidence in the ability to do it, without explaining how both combine for the composition of the construct. Thus, new research could contribute to advance the scientific understanding and validation of the model.

Blanchard et al. (2011) states only 1% of leaders are naturally able to go through the four styles, 10% tend to use three styles, 35% two styles and 54% feel comfortable only in one style. However, the author believes that the flexibility to act in any style can be developed by anyone, regardless of the natural tendency of the person, as it is a behavior.

A curious fact: I had the opportunity to meet Ken Blanchard in 2010 during an informal moment of a congress in Chicago. I asked Ken how Situational Leadership, which prescribes a behavior for each situation the leader faces, related to Blake and Mouton’s Management Grid model, which analyzes which type of leader is most effective. My question was raised as Blake and Mouton model prescribe the Team Management style (9,9) as the only one completely capable of acting with high concern for people and high concern for production, when compared to the other four styles in the model, and thus the most effective.

Blanchard replied to me that the Team Management leader (9,9) style refers to an attitude, not a specific behavior, of someone who has developed both axes of behavior prescribed in Situational Leadership (support and direction) knowing when and how to use any level of these behaviors, forming the most appropriate style to deal with each situation. The other Grid styles are not able to navigate with equal flexibility to behaviors of support or direction due to their beliefs and attitudes.

Blanched argued that LS model prescribes behaviors, while the Managerial Grid prescribes attitudes that are antecedents of behaviors.

As a strength, the SL model is useful for training leaders struggling with the ability to delegate and develop their teams: for example those that delegate activities inappropriately, creating abandonment, or leaders who don’t develop their team by not giving people room to find their own ways.

One premise that the authors do not mention about the model is that the leader already has all the necessary knowledge to do the activity intended to be delegated. This premise, in my opinion, may not be 100% true for today, in a time where leaders do not have all answers and thus may need to rethink their roles as facilitators, that is different from the know-it-all delegators, to be effective.

As criticisms of the LS model, Northouse (2010) cites authors who claim the lack of more complete studies to justify the assumptions and premises of the model, how valid it is for performance improvement and questions about the statistical validity of the measurement instrument to determine the flexibility of the leader’s style.

Another criticism is about the definition of the construct commitment as a composition of motivation to accomplish the task and self-confidence in the ability to do it without explaining how both combine for the composition of the construct. Thus, new research could contribute to advance the scientific understanding and validation of the Situational Leadership model.

References:

Blanchard, K.; Blanchard, M. Carew, D., Parisi-Carew, E., Finch, F., Hawkins, L., Zigarmi, D., & Zigarmi, P. (2011). Liderança Situacional II®: o conceito integrador. In K. Blanchard, Liderança de alto nível: como criar e liderar organizações de alto desempenho. (Raoul Rubenich, trad.). Porto Alegre, RS: Bookman.

Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P., & Zigarmi, D. (1985). Leadership and the one-minute manager: increasing effectiveness through situational leadership. New York: William Morrow.

Northouse, P. G. (2010) Leadership: Theory and Practice (5a ed.). California, EUA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

My passion is to bring the best of people, specially leaders, on their own journey to reach their full potential.