As a leadership model, one of the best known, easy to understand and apply, was developed by Paul Hersey, a professor who wrote the book, ‘Situational Leader’ and Ken Blanchard, the management guru who became famous for his ‘One Minute Manager’ series.
They created a leadership model that allows you to analyse the needs of any situation, then adopt the most appropriate leadership style. Called Situational Leadership, It’s proved popular because it is simple to understand, and works in most environments and for most people. The model rests on two fundamental concepts; leadership style of the person leading, and development level of the person being delegated to.
Blanchard and Hersey characterised leadership style in terms of the amount of direction (sometimes referred to as Investment in Task) and the level of support (sometimes referred to as Investment in Relationships) that the leader provides to their employees.
They categorised all leadership styles into four behaviours, which they named S1 to S4:
- S1: Directing Leaders define the roles and tasks of the ‘follower(s)’, and supervise them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way.
- S2: Coaching Leaders still define roles and tasks, but seek ideas and suggestions from the follower(s). Decisions remain the leader’s prerogative, but communication is more two way. The leader is more concerned with their peoples’ issues around confidence, motivation and collaboration.
- S3: Delegating Leaders pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the follower (s). The Leader is concerned to support the follower and show appreciation for their efforts and achievements.
- S4: Empowering Leaders are still involved in decisions and problem solving but control is with the follower(s). The follower(s) decides when and how the leader will be involved.
Of these, no one style is considered optimal or desired for all leaders to possess. Effective leaders need to be flexible, and must adapt themselves according to the situation. However, each leader tends to have a natural style and in seeking to apply a more broad based Leadership style, they should consider what their natural, intrinsic style is.
Blanchard and Hersey extended their model to include the Development Level of the employees, saying that the correct leadership style will depend upon the person or team being led. They asserted that the leader’s chosen style should be based on the competence and commitment of their employees. They categorised the possible development of followers into four levels, which they named D1 to D4:
- D1: Low Competence, High Commitment and / or Confidence – Here, the employees generally lack the specific skills required for the job in hand. However, they are eager to learn and willing to take direction.
- D2: Some Competence, Low Commitment and / or Confidence – They 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 or they may lack confidence, or there may be motivation issues affecting their performance.
- D3: High Competence, Variable Commitment and / or Confidence – They are experienced and capable, but may lack the confidence to go it alone, or the motivation to do it well or quickly.
- D4: High Competence, High Commitment and/or Confidence – They are experienced at the job, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. They may even be more skilled than the leader.
Development Levels are also situational
Employees might be generally skilled, confident and motivated in their job, but they could still drop into Level D1 when faced, say, with a task requiring skills they don’t possess. For example, many managers are D4 when dealing with the day-to-day running of their department, but move to D1 or D2 when dealing with a sensitive employee issue.
Leadership and Development matching
Blanchard and Hersey said that the leader’s leadership style (S1 – S4) must correspond to the development level (D1 – D4) of the employee. Furthermore they asserted that it is the leader who must adapt, not the employee. To achieve the maximum from Situational Leadership, a leader needs to develop their effectiveness and confidence in each style.
As an example of a mismatch, imagine the following scenario. A new person joins your team and you’re asked to help them through the first few days. You sit them in front of a PC, show them a pile of documents that need to be processed today and then excuse yourself to a meeting. They’re at level D1, and you’ve adopted S4, an obvious mismatch. Everyone loses because the new person feels helpless and demotivated and you don’t get the documents processed.
For another example of a mismatch, imagine you have a very experienced and high performing team. You are going to be out of the office and you’ve listed all the tasks that need to be done and given them detailed instructions on how to carry out each one. They are at level D4, and you’ve adopted S1. The work will probably get done, but your team will resent you for treating them like beginners. But leave detailed instructions and a checklist for the new person, and they’ll thank you for it. Give your experienced team a quick chat and a few notes before you go and everything will be fine.
By adopting the right style to suit employee’s development level, work gets done, progressive relationships are built, and most importantly, your employee’s development level will rise, to everyone’s benefit.
8 May 2017