Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Situational Approach

The Situational Approach

·         This is one of the most widely recognized and used approaches.

·         It was developed by Blanchard and Hersey in 1969

·         Based on Reddin's 3-D management style theory.

·         It was revised a number of times since inception, 1993, 1985, 1977, and 1988

·         It has been used extensively in organizations for training and development.

·         The basic premise is that different situations demand different kinds of leadership. A leader needs to adapt his or her style to the situation.

·         It is composed of two dimensions:

·         Supportive dimension

·         Directive dimension

·         To assess what type of leadership is needed, a leader must evaluate the employees and assess how competent and how committed they are to perform a given task.

·         Because employees skills and motivation vary over time, the theory suggests that leaders should change the degree to which they are directive or supportive to meet those needs.

·         A leader must match their style to the competence and commitment of the subordinates.


Leadership styles

·         Directive Style: Assist group members accomplish a goal through giving directions, establishing goals, setting timelines, schedules, defining roles. It is a one way communication.

·         Supportive style: Help group members feel comfortable about themselves, their co-workers, and the situation. It involves two-way communication. Examples include asking for input, problem solving, praising, and sharing information.


There are four distinct categories:

S1 -Directing - High Directive, Low Supportive

·         Leader focuses on goal achievement communication and less focus on support. Leader gives instructions on how goals are to be achieved and supervises them carefully


S2 - Coaching - High Directive, High Supportive

·         Leader focuses on both goal achievement and supportive communication. Leader gives instructions on how goals are to be achieved and supervises them carefully. Leader still owns the final decisions.


S3 - Supporting - High supportive, Low Directive

·         Leader does not focus exclusively on goals, but uses supportive behavior that brings out the employees skills around the task. The style includes listening, praising, asking for input, and giving feedback. It gives the subordinate the decisions making on a day to day basis.

S4 - Delegating - Low supportive, Low Directive

·         The leader offers less task input and less social support. They facilitate employees confidence and motivation. They lessen their involvement in planning, control of details, and goal clarification. Subordinates take responsibility for getting the job done as they see fit.




Development Levels

This is concerned with the development levels of subordinates. This is their degree of competence and commitment to accomplishing a task. Employees are at the high development level if they possess the skills and the confidence to get a task done. Alternatively, they are at a low development level if they lack the skills, but possess the confidence to do a particular task.


On a particular task, an employee can be classified into 4 categories:

·         D1 or R1

·         Employees are new to a task or do not know how to do it, but they are excited about the challenge in it.

·         D2 or R2

·         Employees have some competence, but low commitment.

·         D3 or R3

·         Employees who have moderate to high competence, but low commitment.

·         D4 or R4

·         Employees who have both a high competence and a high degree of commitment.


How does the situational approach work?

The approach is centered around the idea that employees move forward and backward along a development continuum. For leaders to be effective, they need to diagnose where subordinates are on the continuum and adapt their style to it. Leaders can begin by asking questions:

·         What is the task that needs to be accomplished?

·         How complicated is the task?

·         Are subordinates sufficiently skilled to do the task?

·         Do they have the desire to get the task done?


There is a 1-1 relationship between the Leader styles and the development levels. Because subordinates move back and forth, it is imperative that leaders adjust their style. Subordinates may move between levels either quickly or slowly.


The bell curve superimposed upon the larger box is the key to implementing the situational leadership model. In this model, it is the situation, or the readiness and development level of the followers that determines the appropriate leader style. By erecting a perpendicular line from any point on the development or readiness scale, we can determine the appropriate amount of directive and supportive behavior at the point where the line intersects the bell curve. If, for example, we were to draw a perpendicular line directly up from the D1 label in the development box to the bell curve, it would intersect the curve right about where the "C" in directing is located. From this position on the grid, we see that the amount of directive behavior necessary is at about 80 percent of the maximum, while supportive behavior is at about 35 percent of the maximum. If we follow the same procedure for the D2 point on the development scale, we will intersect the curve at a point just to the left of the initial C in coaching. In this case, directive behavior needed is at about 60 percent of the maximum and the supportive behavior needed is near the maximum at about 90 percent. At the D3 level, directive behavior is still substantial at about 40 percent, while supportive behavior is at 90 percent. Finally, the highest level of development, D4, requires only 25 percent supportive behavior and 25 percent directive behavior. The curve demonstrates that as followers move from the lowest level of development toward higher levels, the amount of supportive behavior that leaders should exhibit first increases at a fairly dramatic rate and then begins to decrease at about the same rate. Directive behavior, on the other hand should constantly decrease at a steady rate.


One of the strengths of the situational leadership model is that it makes the leader responsible for helping followers move to higher developmental levels. But leaders must also be aware that their work situation changes as followers move to higher developmental levels. In order to continue to be effective, leaders must learn to modify their own behavior as the situation changes


The situational leadership model is widely used in training and development of leaders, because it is

easy  to conceptualize and  also  easy  to  apply. The  straightforward nature  of  situational  leadership

makes it practical for managers to use.  It is applicable in virtually any type of organization, at any

level, for almost all types of tasks, so there are a wide range of applications for it. From a practical

point of view it is perhaps the best leadership model so far. But it is also a product of its own time,

1960´and 1970´s, in which leadership is perceived as being a one-to-one relationship.



·         It is well known and frequently used; it has stood the test in the marketplace 400/500 fortune 500 companies

·         Intuitively simple.

·         It is very practical, but still based on sound theories

·         It is prescriptive: it tells you what to do and not to do in various contexts

·         It emphasizes the concept of leader flexibility

·         It  reminds  us  to  treat  each  subordinate  differently  based  on  the  task  at  hand  and  to seek

·         opportunities to develop subordinates.



·         There have been only a few research studies conducted to  justify the basic assumptions behind

this approach. Does it really improve performance?

·         The  concept  of  the  subordinates´  readiness  or  development  level  is  rather  ambiguous  (Graeff 1997; Yukl 1998)

·         Also how the commitment is conceptualized is criticized (Graeff 1997)

·         The match of the leader style and the followers´ readiness level is also questioned. Two studies conducted (300 high school teachers, University employees). Performance of mature teachers was unrelated to the style exhibited by principles.

·         Does not address demographic variations.

·         Education, Experience, age, and gender.

·         Studies conducted by Vecchio & Boatwright in 2002 showed that levels of education were inversely related to the directive style and not related to the supportive style.

·         Age was positively related to the desire for structure.

·         Female employees expressed desire for more supportive style.

·         It  does  not  fully  address  the  issue  of  one-to-one  versus  group  leadership  in  an  organizational setting. Example: Would a 20 employees match their style to each individual or to the overall development level of the group?

·         The leadership questionnaires that accompany the model have also been criticized. They are bias because the answers have been predetermined.



Leadership Instrument

Many similar instruments are available. They provide 12-20 situations where the respo0ndants select the preferred style.


In their work with leaders, Hersey and Blanchard have determined that most leaders have some flexibility in the style of leadership they employ. To measure leadership style, Hersey and Blanchard developed a tool they called LEAD. This tool has two parts. The first is called the LEAD self, in which the leader himself responds to a variety of hypothetical situations. The second part, the LEAD other, asks co-workers to describe the behavior of one of their colleagues. The two parts of the LEAD tool help to paint a clear picture of a manager's leadership style. A leader may use different styles with different followers, or he or she may have a main style and a backup style that comes into play when the main style doesn't seem to be working. Still, other leaders seem only to have one main style. Hersey and Blanchard's research focused on leaders who used two styles. By creating a style profile for a leader, trainers using the situational leadership approach are able to pinpoint situations in which a leader may have some difficulty and can prepare them to deal with those situations.


For example, a leader with an S1, S3 profile works with a high directive, low supportive style or a high supportive, low directive style. Such a leader would have difficulty in working with a group of followers where many are changing developmental levels by moving from D1 to D2. This leader might either continue to use the now inappropriate S1 style, or move directly to the also inappropriate S3 style.


A leader with an S1, S4 profile seems to judge everything on competence. If workers don't have it and S1, S4 leader will "ride" the followers and closely supervise their activities. Once a follower shows job competence, the S1, S4 leader pulls back showing neither directive nor supportive behavior. An S2, S3 leader is able to vary the amount of directive behavior, but maintains a high level of supportive behavior. An S1, S2 leader is able to vary the amount of supportive behavior shown, but maintains a high level of directive behavior. An S2, S4 profile leader shows behavior which is either high in both directive and supportive behavior or is low in both. Finally, an S3, S4 leader is characterized by never showing a high level of directive behavior but varying his supportive behavior from high to low.