Initial leadership research focused primarily on the leaders, their tasks or roles in an organization, their personalities like natural traits and learned skills, their behavioral approach to problem solving or style. What they were discounting was the readiness of the people in the organization which the leader was attempting to influence. The followers are also crucial factor in outcome of leadership since they accept or reject a leader; they actually determine the personal power of the leader.
A leader evaluates his or her organization by simply asking the question “What is the current situation of my subordinates or organization?” The assessment of the organizations competence, skills, motivation and general confidence leads to the “situation” the leader has to work with in order to successfully lead the organization.
The situational leadership stresses that a leader has to adapt his style according to the situation of his group or organization. Hence, based on the situational analysis, the leader must determine which leadership style he must adopt to meet the developmental level of the organization. The situational approach differentiates itself from style theory by emphasizing on the need for leader to change his style rather than having a natural dominant style. If the leader is inflexible, then the organization is forced to be accustomed to his style, which cannot be very fruitful in a long run.
How is situational leadership different from the opportunistic leadership style? An opportunistic leader ‘switches’ his style in order to gain control and for his selfish goals, while a situational leader ‘adapts’ his style to aid in the development of others in the organization. The motive of situational leader is not self interest but the growth and effectiveness of the organization.
Also, the situational leadership is a model and not a theory; it is based on tested methodologies and provides a practical guidance to leadership.
Hence the situational leadership can be easily conceptualized as following:-
Situational Leader = Leadership Grid + Follower’s Development Level
Organization/Group Development Level
Similar to the styles of a leader – task vs people, a group or followers need to be competent as well as committed to their assigned tasks. The two major components of the developmental levels are:-
- Ability: It is the job related knowledge, experience and proficiency of individual or group. Knowledge represents the theoretical understanding; experience is the application of the knowledge to accomplish the task. Proficiency is measure of quality and timeliness of the task, both knowledge and experience aids proficiency.
- Willingness: It is the confidence, commitment and motivation demonstrated for the assigned task. Willingness is not independent of ability but rather closely related, lack of experience leads to lack of confidence which in turn might lower the commitment level. However, the excitement to do something new might heighten the motivation.
Based on the two components above, there are four possible developmental levels
- Low: (low ability & low willingness).The group or individual are new to the task, they lack experience, unclear about directions, unwilling and insecure due to lack of confidence in completing the task.
- Low-Moderate (low ability – high willingness). The group or individual have begun to be productive, but mostly due to being given proper directions. Their initial success in task completion makes them more enthusiastic and confident. Their dependence on the leader makes them good listeners who are eager to seek clarity; they began to open up with their leader in a two-way communication.
- Moderate-High (high ability- low willingness). The group or individual have attained sufficient proficiency in their job, but their willingness towards task accomplishment reduces suddenly. Once the followers become productive in their assignments, the leaders automatically reduce the amount of directions they generally provide, putting the burden of taking decisions on the followers. Hence there is a shift from “leader-directed decisions” to “self-directed decisions”; this shift results in reduced confidence and thereby willingness on the part of followers.
- High (high ability-high willingness). The group or individual has attained required proficiency in the task and they are able to take decisions independently, they perform to highest standards and keep the leader informed of their progress.
Situational Leadership Styles
To understand the situational leadership model, consider again the two dimensions of leadership grid, task vs people concern. However instead of focusing on what leaders do, think about what leaders should do to enhance the development level of subordinates. If the developmental level is low, leader must exhibit higher task concern, or should be directing the subordinates.
The task oriented behavior can be considered as “directive”, which implies giving directions on how to proceed with the task, establishing goals, setting timelines etc. Directive behavior represents a one-way communication, leader directs, followers follow the directions.
Similarly, people oriented behavior can be considered as “supportive”, it implies a two way communication with the leader and responses exhibit social and emotional support. The followers actively participate with leader in discussions, while a leader actively listens and praises the followers.
If one draws similar analogies, there are four distinct situational leadership styles
- Directing: (high directive- low supportive).The leader gives instructions about what and how task goals are to be achieved by subordinates and constantly supervises them. There is little “supported” behavior exhibited by the leader, most interactions are constraint to achieving the task. This style is similar to that of a parent dealing with a toddler child.
- Coaching: (high directive-high supportive). Coaching is an extension of directive style; leader still provides detailed directions and takes the decisions. However he also focuses on giving encouragement and solicits inputs from subordinates while explaining the reasons for decisions taken. In this style, the leader acts like a teacher for the followers.
- Participating: (low directive-high supportive). In this style, the leader tries to make the followers more independent in achieving their task, he lets them take routine decisions while still tries to facilitates high level problem solving. He shares the ideas with the team while refraining from taking final decisions. However, the leader still maintains a high level of supportive behavior by quickly giving recognitions and provides necessary social support. In this style, the leader acts as a sincere friend for the followers.
- Delegating: (low directive-low supportive). In this style, the leader lessens his involvement in the activities of the followers since the followers have attained necessary skills to carry out the assigned tasks independently. Once the details of the tasks and goals are agreed upon, the leader gives complete freedom to the followers on how they want to accomplish and deliver the task. In this style, both leader and follows acts as responsible adults.