Evaluating Earlier Models >>Situational Leadership  

Situational Leadership

In the end of the seventies of the last century Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard developed their Situationel Leadership Model (see scheme). This model instantly appealed to many, especially those starting as a manager and wanting some grip in the new world that confronted them with a lot of personal uncertainty.

In resumť the working of the model is as follows. In an organisation there are fixed tasks to be performed. Leaders are responsible for the performance by their workers of these tasks. Leaders lead their workers-followers. In leadership there is no choosing between taskoriŽntation (directivity) or personoriŽntation (supportivity) as for example in the model of Jane Blake and Dick Mouton*) or in the models/theories that present the idea that there are two more attitude originating styles of leadership: autocratic-authoritairian versus democratic and that the last is the better one for almost all managers in all situations. Both task- and personoriŽntation have to play a role in every situation says the model. So in managementinfluencing situations there are only combinations of more or less of each oriŽntation, and these are named a leadershipstyle. They discerned the following four leadership styles:
- Telling/Instruction*/Directing** (high task-directivity, low person-supportivity)
- Selling/Persuading*/Coaching* (high task-directivity, high-supportivity)
- Participating/Participating*/Supporting** (low task-directivity, high-supportivity)
- Delegating (low task-directivity, low-supportivity)

Note that we present three stylenames per style: the first of the original model, the second after Hersey* and Blanchard** went solo. The now two versions of the model do not fundamentally differ in general working. And upon herewith commenting on the model's effectiveness we will - for the sake of the goals we pursue in this website - focus on the core of the model wich appears in both differentiations. When didactically relevant we will discern between the two versions of the model.

The structure this model offers a manager has the following characteristics;
1. see yourself as the system and your worker as the situation (thus abstracting from all other relevant situational aspects)
2. a manager should first analyse the taskmaturity/competence (of a worker (his situation) when he wants to give him/her a task
3. taskmaturity is defined by the sum of (the technical level and the willingness) the worker has achieved to perform the given task. When assessing this taskmaturity of the worker the manager has to look at 5 factors within these two domains, so in all at 10 factors. These have to be valued, whereas their nominal sum presents a measure wich can be projected on a scale with low taskmaturity and high taskmaturity at both ends. This scale can be divided in four parts, each presenting a level of taskmaturity.
4. the manager has to look at the taskmaturitylevel and implement the contingent behavioral style indicated in the figure.

When walking the taskmaturity/developmentlevel scale from low taskmaturity to high taskmaturity one has to engage the four styles one after the other. So when low taskmaturity: applicate "telling-directing", when high taskmaturity: applicate "delegating". And applicate "selling-coaching" when one enters the next domain following the one with low taskmaturity. When one is technically more or less able to fullfill the task then applicatep"articipating-supporting. The corresponding worker development curve travels from right to left like a stochastic bell.

We have a serious history in using this model in leadershiptraining and one does not practice a model as a manager and a behavioral trainer when there is too little applicability. Its strongpoints are clearly:
1. it is an easy to understand model for all levels of management
2. seen as a very broad banded concept, it can effectively be used in many organisational cultures, different settings, when the leader is flexible enough to leave room for "couleur locale"
3. its general outline for developing the competence of a worker is well recognisable in general practice
4. it is relatively easy to applicate in daily practice. Once the underlying principles are understood energy can be directed towards implementation in a situation, not in "calculating" wich style is contingent
5. the concept rightly says: manager choose the style contingent with the competencelevel of the worker as perceived by the worker. Then your worker will experience you as one who justly asseses your capabilities and uses the behavioral style you want to be engaged with. This adds to the workers commitment and pleasure in work.

Despite its widespread use in the last century due to the pro's of the model, the model has several serious weaknesses, that surface when you start studying the model in dťtail.
Pending a publication on our findings we hereunder summerize some of our constructive critique:

1. The fields S1,S2,S3,S4 are not properly defined. and leadershipstyles are not S1,S2,S3,S4 but the named styles.
Go high up the vertical line that divides the fields S1 and S2 from fields S3 and S4. Directive behavior must on this line be in between poles 'high" and "low": say: "mid". Now look at the model: there you find for example the field S2 defined as: "high directive-high supportve". The field S2 should correctly be described as: "high-mid directive and high-mid supportive".  
The algoritm for choosing a contingent style should be: go from D1 to the right halve of field S1, from D2 to the left halve of S2, etcetera. And when taking a position at the competence line, the contingent style is not one of the fields S1-4, but a contingent position somewhere in these fields on the coaching "bell"-curve.
2.  Supportive behavior has not the same value as directive behavior.
Although the authors claim equal importance of both central dimensions, this is not true. The main regulatory dimension is directive behavior or taskoriented behavior. Supportive behavior follows.

3. The argument for the bellcurve and the placement of the four fields in the overall rectangular is "constructed".       
The most direct route to prove this seems to be the following: step 1: place the fields S1-4 with their existing relative dimensions from right to left alongside each other, and step 2: mark on the suportive dimension the maximum height of the fields as "high". Redesign the bell curve in these fields. It seems to us nothing fundamental is lost: indicating this scheme could work equally well. To redesign even further: follow the above step 1. Then elongate the supportive dimension of the original field to the original "high" on this dimension. Now you have four fields (elongated rectangulars). Then redesign the bellcurve. And conclude what information is lost: none, in our opinion.

4. The assumptions behind the scale for development level or taskmaturity are very questionable.
Why as with Blanchard should workers - in general - have high commitment when low taskmature, have variable commitment when more taskmature, have low commitment when being even more taskmature, etcetera ? Or why as with Hersey, should a worker go through the four stages of competence development via 1 uncertain, 2 certain, 3 uncertain, 4 certain ? Why is a worker when growing in competence not equally (as for example lineair) growing in certainty, and are not specific uncertainties visible at each stage of development ?

5. The model uses conflicting algoritms.
One algoritm states: pick your point at the taskmaturity/competence development  scale (say point X)  then go up high and find your contingent behavioral leadershipstyle on the bellcurve (say point A). The other algoritm supports one of the main goals of the model: the development of the worker. It states: when you know the point on the first scale (X), go a little more to the left (say a point         X+1) and choose style B (not on the bellcurve) at the same height of the supporting scale as Y. Then, after proven succes, go up the supporting scale were you arrive at point C on the bellcurve.
6. Clear dominance of directivity and power by position of the leader. Organisational goals/tasks are fixed.
In the norms behind the model we observe a dominance of directive (top-down) management. The worker is factually a machine that has to arrive at set high performance levels. Building good relations with a worker is necessary for maximum results and not an act of humans who work together. The leader is always most taskcompetent, whereas workers difffer in competence. The leader does never depend upon the knowledge and or experience of his followers in order to get his unit to perform fixed tasks. His main challenge is to develop workers in more or less prescribed tasks.
Showing power-by-position is seen as an absolute necessity for a manager and a leader.
In our view leader-worker relations in the 21th century should be based primairily on the authority of the leader. Authority resulting from a mix of competence in his own task as a manager, personal regard, and for example position in the organisation to get things done for workers such as realising adequate financial rewards and remunerations and protecting workers against to high and too stressfull productiontargets that deminish the workers pleasure-to-work. When power by position is necessary for leading then all non formal hierarchical relations of leaders and workers as in certain forms of coŲrdination and projectmanagement do not comply with the model.

7. Workers learn the given task, and do not learn from the learning of earlier tasks.
Only first order learning is possible. Workers do not learn from their learning of earlier tasks and the per task walking from low to high taskmaturity. There is no deutero-learning. Let alone second order learning. Workers do in this sense in this model not learn and do not grow. A worker may in time for instance have learned what kind of information is needed to get an overview of the taskprotocol he/she has to perform. And wanting communication to be as efficiŽnt as possible he can feel the need to interact with leader to obtain this (or other) necessary information. So with these experienced workers there can be a high degree of interaction when instructing a task as leader.

8. The leader is not an integral part of the situation. Interaction is functional to developing taskmaturity for the fixed task at the lower leves of an organisation, not for creatively solving new problems.
The leader stays outsite the setting. He does not have to look at his own competence or his goals in order to be effective. Interaction is only functional for developing taksmaturity. Interaction between leader and workers in order to get new tasks, problems, challenges creatively solved with all the knowledge and commitment they have available is not a relevant reality for Hersey & Blanchard. For the most of the leaders (and workers) we know it is their most important organisational challenge. They work at mid, higher, topmanagementlevels. There many tasks are not fixed and protocolised as at the lower levels of an organisation

9. Negotiation is disregarded as a important field of interaction between worker and leader.
The fact that their leader-worker relations are always hierarchical shows their model of leadershipstyles lacks an important part of daily managementreality.

10. As a trainingtool only very basic levels of unilateral leadercommunication are reached.
The variable labeling of styles does not add to comprehension of the model and use in training. When it is possible to name one style (S3) participating, motivating or laying a relationship (and do the same with other styles) this must mean that either each style is behaviorally so generally described that this is possible or that these stylenames and their respective behavioral components are interchangeable. Their four behavioral leadershipstyles are only very generally worked out: in training one learns four styles with a handfull of points that only indicate what the leader verbally has to say in the very beginning of implementing a leadershipstyle choice. Only very basic levels of unilateral managementcommunication can so be reached.