Applying the Situational Leadership Approach
I work in the accounting field for the Department of Defense and in my office; where there are five employees and one supervisor.
Understanding Situation Leadership as leadership being composed of both a directive and a supportive dimension, and that each has to be applied appropriately in a given situation; we will see how situational leadership should be applied.
Three of the employees in the aforementioned scenario are working at the fourth stage of development (D4), which is the highest level of development; one can attribute the title of subject matter experts (SME). These three employees are devoted to the organization and have proven their professional competencies. Two of the employees operate at the first stage of development, which is the lowest level of development (D1). These two employees could be considered new employees.
In an ideal world, the supervisor’s leadership style for the first group of employees would be that of delegation. This leadership style (S4) is low supportive – low directive style. The leader would offer very little task input and social support in an effort to boost the confidence and motivation of the D4 level employee. However, because the employees may feel they need to maintain their SME status they may not inform or demonstrate to the supervisor their lack of understanding for a certain procedure they have not fully grasped. In this case, the leader may continue to adopt the delegation style (S4) when s/he should be adapting the coaching style (S2) by focusing on communicating goals and meeting the socioemotional needs.
In the case of D1 level employees; the employees have develop their skills and have moved from the D1 level to that of a D3 level where they have a moderate level of competency but lack of commitment. If the leader fails to see tell-tail signs such as that of their growing level of absenteeism and continues to maintain the S1 leadership style instead of adapting a high supportive and low directive (S3) approach the leader may lose these employees by attrition or stagnation.
In order for the leader to adapt the appropriate leadership style, Northouse advises that the leader must determine the nature of the situation by asking questions such as: “What tasks are subordinates being asked to perform? How complex is the task? Are the subordinates sufficiently skilled to accomplish the task? Do they have the desire to complete the hob once they start it?” (Northouse. 2013, P 193). Once the leader has answered these types of questions, s/he can then adapt their leadership style to meet the needs of the employees thus achieving organizational goals and sustaining a high level of employee performance.
Applying the Style leadership Approach
In order to understand the style leadership approach I am going to utilize the case study of Susan Parks (Northouse, 2013, Case Study 4.1, pp 88-89). Parks has fallen into a trap that many of today’s successful professionals fall into. Susan is a hard working person and apparently very successful with fifteen percent growth each year in a relatively small college town. She is well liked by half of her staff and yet the other half appear to spurn her drive and motivation. It is quite ironic that those that do not appreciate her drive do not appreciate her because she is someone whom is driven. It is apparent that Susan has difficulty at living a balanced life; she works hard at work but does not play hard at home. Although this lesson does not discuss the need for a balance between the professional and personal, she needs to be aware that some of her employees desire to have that balance. Her style appears to be work, work and more work. This is apparent in the rumor that “she eats lunch while standing up.” The impression that this is giving to her employees is that while at work, that is what they should do, without proper breaks and lunch periods, the employees will eventually burn out. This would hinder if not hault the fifteen percent yearly growth, negatively affect the relationships between the employee and clients and ultimately jeopardize the organization.
In the Ohio State Universities Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ-XII) model Susan’s leadership, style is that of High Initiation Structure where she is clear with the tasks and goals she communicates to her employees and Low in Employee Consideration as she demonstrates by not taking breaks and eating lunch while standing. While in the University of Michigan’s model, her behavior can be classified as High production orientation just as in the previous model Susan is clear with the task and goals and low employee orientation as evidenced by her skipping breaks and eating lunch while standing. (PSU WC, L.3 P. 3)
In the Blake and Mouton’s model Susan Parks’ leadership style appears to be that of Authority – Compliance management and in my uneducated opinion at the 9.2 or 9.3 level. In the Managerial Grid Susan exhibits the Authority-Compliance Style of leadership. She demonstrates this style as previously stated by placing the emphasis on the tasks and goals she has set forth for her employees. In so much that, some of her employees may feel they are only tools in getting the job done at Marathon Sports. Although it is not apparent that Susan give the impression of being controlling, demanding, and overpowering, it is clear that her only focus is getting the job done. (Northhouse, 2013) This is demonstrated in how she makes sure that the tasks and goals for everyone is clear, yet she fails to interact with them as humans. Although it is important for someone in leadership to ensure tasks and goals are clear, her style indicates that is all that is important. She rarely takes breaks and even is rumored to eat standing up. Although this may work well for her, it is showing her employees that breaks and lunch are merely speed bumps in a workday.
My advice to Susan would be under all three models is to increase her consideration/concern/orientation for her employees, first by taking the time for breaks and eating lunch by sitting down and then not only making the tasks and goals clear (Initiating structure/production orientation/production) to her staff but gradually asking them about their personal lives. Questions such as the composition of their families. What do they like to do when they are not at work, what do they like about working at Marathon Sports. Questions that are not viewed as too personal yet sincerely interested in the overall well-being of the employee. And although it is not a part of this assignment I would encourage her to apply the same principles to her personal life. While working fifty hours a week may be a necessary evil for the organizations success, she also needs to ensure that her private life is taken care of. The excess hours may result in overtime which facilitate providing for her children and spouse, she needs to ensure that the physical needs are not her focus but also the emotional needs of her family. I feel if she finds the balance between her personal and professional life that both will be just as rewarding and fulfilling.
My though is that work is the means to an end, the money that is provided by my profession is to make sure that my family is taken care of not only with “things” but also with a single father that loves and adores them.
Northouse, P. (2013). Introduction. In Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed., pp. 19-
42, 26-39) Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Pennsylvania State World Campus (n.d.). Module 5 4 Style and Situational Approaches retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp15/psych485/001/content/05_lesson/printlesson.html
Filed Under: situational, style
This model states that in the modern world, a leader cannot just rely on one management style to fit all situations. Mangers and leaders must be flexible in their leadership styles , in order to get the best out of their teams and individuals.
The situational leadership theory argues that for leaders to be truly successful, they must adjust the way they lead their teams, to suit two factors:
- The ‘task maturity’ of the people they are leading – That is, how competent a person or team is at the task at hand.
- The details of the task –
In situational leadership theory, leaders place more or less emphasis on the task, and more or less emphasis on the empowerment with the people they’re leading, depending on what’s needed to get the job done successfully
The Situational leadership model represents four quadrants. Each quadrant denotes a different leadership style.
The diagram can be seen below:
Matching the Leadership Styles
The different leadership styles in situational leadership theory, range from S1 to S4 and vary in the level of leadership involvement direction involved.
This level of direction and control and ultimately, the correct leadership style to use, is understood by mapping the ‘Development Level’ (D1 to D4) of the team or individuals against one of the quadrants.
In other words, by asking, how competent the team/individual is at completing the task at hand, one can gauge a level from D1 to D4 in maturity. This then allows the leader to pick the correct style to suit the team / individual’s competency levels, by matching the appropriate leadership style to their development levels.
Looking at the diagram:
D1 task maturity is mapped to S1 leadership style
D2 task maturity is mapped to S2 leadership style
D3 task maturity is mapped to S3 leadership style
D4 task maturity is mapped to S4 leadership style
The 4 Leadership Styles
(S1) Telling: Normally at this level of maturity, the individuals or team do not have much task knowledge. They are yet to learn the skills needed to be proficient and so they need clear direction and guidance. As a result, the necessity is to be told how to do something and what to do. To this end, the style reflects much of an autocratic behaviour .
(S2) Selling : This is the next step up in the development cycle and although the leadership style is slightly less autocratic, it still requires a good degree of direction from the leader, whereby he/she now begins to explain ideas and the reasons for such. This approach helps the individual / team to start to develop their skills and reasoning. With this style, leaders begin to sell their message to influence and develop the team.
(S3) Participating: At this level of development, the leader adjusts their style to reflect a more democratic stance and focuses further on relationships and less on task direction. He/ She allows the team(s) to create their goals but works with them to do this.
The main aim here is to develop the team further to take action and to think more autonomously, releasing the leash, if you like, and giving them greater scope for self-leadership.
(S4) Delegating: At this point in the cycle, the team are now competent. Their levels of development are high with the task at hand, and the leadership style reflects a hands-off approach. The manager now delegates goal creation and decision making to the team and as such, they competently get on with the task; setting goals, creating plans and executing them autonomously. The leader is normally kept abreast through regular updates.
Using the Situational Leadership Model
The whole idea of situational leadership is to be able to flex your style to suit the task and the individual’s needs. This is based on tasks, so an person can easily be a D1 on one task and a D4 level on another. This person then should be managed differently, depending o ntheir task competency.
Knowing what level of competency each individual is at, is the key to the effective use of this model. Once understood, the leader has a good blue print to be able to use to constantly flex their style to suit the situation and the individual’s / team’s growth.
Your task as an effective manager is to keep developing your team through the cycle, so if an individual is at S4 (delegation level) for a specific task, try to add an additional level of responsibility and complexity, so they start back at S1, working with and leading them through levels 1-4 again.
This pattern is a continuous loop, and enacted correctly, the leader can develop empowered, energised and highly skilled teams.
For more information on how and when to adjust your leadership styles, and how to follow a system to get results, you can purchase our Ebook, The Flexible Leader System. It’s packed with:
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Flexible Leadership is Key
Growth and productivity effectively have a symbiotic relationship with good leadership. To get the best out of a team, the situational leadership theory suggests that a leader must understand to manage people effectively with reference the tasks they are set and their level of competency.
It would be suicide to introduce a novice and let them get on with a highly complicated task that requires years of training to become competent in. This person would soon become unhappy, stressed and demotivated. That is before he/she walks out!
So too, it is of just as much detriment to productivity and morale if a team member is so competent at a task that they can easily do it quickly, efficiently and competently, but they are still being micro-managed. This scenario will lead to feelings from the individual of being stifled in development, not trusted and even anger at the supervisor for being a bad manager.
It is clear that flexibility is critical for effective leadership to take place. As with the definition of leadership , the critical thing to do is to lead and manage individuals effectively so they can work in harmony with the team and achieve the objectives set.
The task of the manager therefore, is to:
1. Recognise the different leadership styles available in situational leadership theory
2. Be bold enough to adjust your style appropriately to match the individual’s needs
3. Learn from your mistakes and develop as a leader – Practice makes perfect.
If you can master becoming a flexible leader using the principles from situational leadership theory, then your team can develop and improve and so too your team(s) outputs and goals.