Situational leadership theory encourages leaders to adapt their leadership style based on the difficulty of the task and the maturity of the team member. Relationships play a key role. In the Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model, "maturity" refers to both psychological and job maturity with an assumption that job skill level matches psychological maturity. This tenet has generated debate about the pros and cons of situational leadership.
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Characteristics of Situational Leadership
Hersey and Blanchard espouse four leadership styles: telling/directing, selling/coaching, participating/coaching and delegating/observing. These styles represent decreasing levels of leader direction and increasing focus on leader-follower relationships, starting with heavy focus on providing direction, then coaching, sharing decision-making, and allowing subordinates to create solutions for issues identified by the leader. Leaders move from one style to another based on the situation, task and maturity of the follower.
Positive Aspects of Situational Leadership
Situational leadership has advantages in terms of ease of use and simplicity. It recognises the need for flexibility on the part of leaders and the importance of the followers as determinants of leader behaviour. It also has intuitive appeal.
Drawbacks of Situational Leadership
The situational leadership model has a North American bias that neglects the way other cultures communicate and prioritise values such as individualism and family. This model may also ignore differences between female managers who typically have a nurturing style, and male leaders who may lean toward a task-oriented management style.
Situational leadership can divert leaders' focus away from long-term strategies, symbols, structure or politics.
Critics of situational leadership point to the difficulty in defining and quantifying maturity, who should rate it, and the tendency to assume that job maturity matches emotional maturity. Hersey and Blanchard define job maturity as "ability to take responsibility" but do not provide a credible source to support that definition.
Situational leadership focuses on follower maturity as a key determinant of the leader's focus on tasks over relationships. This view conflicts with other leadership models that embrace numerous situational factors as determinants of numerous leader behaviours such as providing support and direction, participation and focus on follower achievements. In the other leadership models, situational factors include relationships between leaders and followers, position power and the structure of the task.
The Hersey-Blanchard model also ignores interpersonal relationships within work groups that can have a negative impact on performance.
Contemporary Leadership Theory
In a world of globalisation where the rate of change escalates, leadership models continue to evolve toward team approaches, employee empowerment and continuous learning. Relationships between leaders and followers continue to play a significant role in the effectiveness and outcomes of the work produced. Aside from relationships, tasks and outcomes, other factors such as responsible and ethical exercise of power have become topics of discussion regarding effective leadership.
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- "Academy of Management Review"; The Situational Leadership Theory: A Critical Review; Claude L. Graeff; Vol. 8: 2, 1983