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  • Writer's pictureBahar Önderol

Situational Leadership For Optimal Performance

The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model

As a leader, one of your primary responsibilities is to inspire and guide your team members to achieve peak performance in their respective roles. But how can you effectively influence your subordinates to excel?

 

Within the realm of leadership, two fundamental behavioural approaches stand out: directive and supportive. Directive behaviours involve activities such as decision-making, instruction, observation, and feedback provision, while supportive behaviours encompass actions like inclusion in decision-making, active listening, problem-solving facilitation, and skill development encouragement.

 

Over the years, directive leaders have often been accused of being too controlling, while supportive managers have been accused of being too soft. However, in 1968, Ken Blanchard and Dr Paul Hersey proposed a groundbreaking theory called ‘Situational Leadership’: leaders who adeptly blend directive and supportive behaviours, tailoring their approach to the needs of individual team members, can achieve optimal performance outcomes. This theory was further refined in Blanchard's seminal work, "The One Minute Manager," and has since become widely embraced across industries and organisational settings.

 

According to the Situational Leadership theory, effective leaders adapt their leadership style based on the readiness and willingness of their team members to perform tasks—commonly referred to as their development level. The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership model delineates four leadership styles corresponding to four developmental stages of subordinates as described below.


 

DIRECTIVE LEADERSHIP STYLE (S1)

  • Leadership Behaviour: High Directive | Low Supportive

  • Subordinate Development Stage: D1- Enthusiastic Beginners, Low Competence, High Commitment


At the first developmental stage (D1), the subordinate is new to the task and does not have the specific skills and experience required for the task. In other words, they have low competence but high commitment. In other words, they are enthusiastic and willing to do the job. At this stage, the employee needs instructions on how to perform the task.

 

In this situation, leaders provide clear instructions and guidance, setting a strong task focus while maintaining a lower emphasis on relationship-building. This style is associated with autocratic leadership. The leader tells the subordinate how and when to do the task and expects them to follow instructions. Communication flow is one-way; the leader does not receive feedback from the subordinate.

 

COACHING LEADERSHIP STYLE (S2)

  • Leadership Behaviour: High Directive | High Supportive

  • Subordinate Development Stage: D2- Disillusioned Learners, Some Competence, Low Commitment

 

As subordinates progress to the second developmental stage (D2) — displaying moderate competence but low commitment. They may feel there is more to learn than they thought or may have low self-confidence for other reasons. If the subordinate can do the job somehow and perhaps overconfident about their abilities, 'telling' them what to do (giving instructions) can demotivate them or lead to resistance.   needs coaching.

 

At this stage, a coaching leadership style becomes pivotal. Leaders in this context balance directive guidance with supportive encouragement, fostering a collaborative environment where ideas are exchanged, and decisions are made collectively. The leader still gives instructions and guidance but also explains the reasons behind the instructions. They "sell" their ideas and plans to the subordinate. Additionally, they involve the subordinates in the decision-making process and seek their opinions. In this style, communication is bidirectional. The leader is open to input and feedback from the subordinate. They listen to the subordinate's concerns and provide perspective. They support the subordinate in developing the skills necessary for the task through a coaching approach.

 

SUPPORTIVE LEADERSHIP STYLE (S3)

  • Leadership Behavior: Low Directive | High Supportive

  • Subordinate Development Level: D3- Capable but Cautious Performer, Moderate to High Competence, Variable Commitment

 

In the third developmental stage (D3), where subordinates exhibit above-average competence but variable commitment. They may not fully trust themselves to perform the task independently or make some decisions alone. They are cautious and need to discuss their ideas with others.

 

In this situation, a supportive leadership style prevails. Here, leaders prioritize building strong relationships, offering guidance when needed while empowering subordinates to make decisions and providing ample support and encouragement.

 

DELEGATING LEADERSHIP STYLE (S4)

  • Leadership Behavior: Low Directive | Low Supportive

  • Subordinate Development Level: D4- Self-Reliant Achiever, High Competence & Commitment

 

Finally, at the fourth developmental stage (D4), characterized by high competence and commitment, the subordinate is self-motivated and can work independently.

 

In this situation, an empowering leadership style is paramount. Leaders in this phase delegate authority, empowering subordinates to take ownership of tasks and providing minimal intervention while acknowledging their contributions. This style is similar to visionary leadership, a hands-off leadership style.


 

By using these four leadership styles, the leader demonstrates a flexible approach tailored to the skills and motivation levels of team members. In this way, by embracing the principles of Situational Leadership and adeptly managing the changing needs and talents of team members, leaders can cultivate an environment that fosters peak performance and organizational success.


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