The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory – A Study

Passionate about his work and his team

An Introduction

If managers maintain the same style of management with all subordinates, it might be harmful for the growth of a company. Therefore, he or she should delegate responsibilities to his or her team members as per the capability and maturity of each team member. This article is about one of the most talked about leadership styles, The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory.

Watch the video first, then read the rest of the article.

Definition of Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory

According to Hersey and Blanchard, leadership style varies from person to person. A successful leader is one who can apply varying leadership styles depending on the maturity of a follower.

Follower maturity - The confidence and capability of the team members guided by a leader is called follower maturity. The maturity of followers is known by their attitude towards various tasks. Leaders have to adjust their own style to match the attitude of the followers.

History of Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory

The situational leadership theory was developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. Hersey was a professor who authored the book, ‘Situational Leader’ and Blanchard wrote ‘The One minute Manager’.

The theory was first cited as "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership", but in 1970s it was renamed as "Situational Leadership theory".


Leadership styles

According to Hersey and Blanchard, there are four leadership styles.

Telling or Directing (S1)

The leader is focused on high task and low relationship. He or she supervises work closely and gives clear instructions.

Selling or Coaching (S2)

Here the leader’s focus is on both high task and high relationship. The leader passes his or her decisions to a single follower or group of followers in a persuasive manner.

Participating or Supporting (S3)

The leader emphasizes on sharing decision making ideas with the followers. It is based on high relationship and low task.

Delegating or Observing (S4)

The leader permits his or her followers to take decisions. In this case, both relationship style and task are low.

Maturity of followers

Hersey and Blanchard have broken down maturity into four parts
M1- These are people who have low confidence, low commitment and low capability. They often need a push to start their work.
M2- The maturity of M2 people is such that they are willing to take up a task, but are not skilful enough to complete it on their own. They have some degree of commitment.
M3- These followers have high competence, but are not confident enough to deliver a task on their own.
M4 - They are characterized by high competence, high commitment and high motivation. They are willing to complete a task on their own.

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Factors to Determine Follower Maturity

Analysts have come up with two factors that can help determine the maturity level of followers

# Confidence of follower

Follower confidence is the extent to which a follower or a team member thinks that he or she can do a task. A confident team member needs less direction than what a team member with low confidence requires. An experienced team member has high confidence and therefore, requires fewer instructions to complete a task. Confidence brings in motivation and an impetus to learn.

# Ability of follower

Follower ability is the extent to which a follower has the capability to do a task. An experienced team member needs less instruction than what a less experienced team member needs.

By matching the leadership style with the maturity level, the following table is obtained.

Leadership Styles Maturity level Inference
S1 (Telling) M1 (Incapable and Insecure) Incapable followers are unwilling to try and therefore, the leader gets into an instructive role without much concern for relationship.
These types of followers are low in confidence and deny their capability. The leader takes a strict position and does not want to confuse the followers by getting into high relationship style.
S2 (Selling) M2 (Incapable but willing) This form of leadership style is implemented when followers have some amount of capability and are therefore, over-confident. Under such circumstances, the ‘telling’ style may be de-motivating for the followers. So, the leader has to listen, be persuasive and explain his or her idea to the followers. This leadership style helps the followers in gaining skills.
S3 (Participating) M3 (Able, but not willing) This leadership style is applicable when the followers are capable, but not willing to do a task. The leader knows that telling him or her what to do will not help in this case. The leader thus, tries to find out the reason behind the low commitment by camaraderie. The leader listens to the followers and praises them for good performance. This style is based mostly on motivation.

Example of Leadership Style

A leader is asked to monitor a team. He or she realizes that the team members possess some skills required to meet objectives of the company, but not all of them. The followers are motivated and want to do the task. The leader identifies M3 maturity level among the team members i.e. they have high competence, but low confidence. He or she uses S3 leadership style, i.e. participative attitude with low stress on task and high emphasis on relationship. The leader coaches them wherever required, but mostly allow them to take their own decisions. As a result, relationship between the leader and the followers is strengthened and the team successfully executes the given task.

In a nutshell

From this article, it can be deduced that situational leadership should be implemented by a leader who wants to be successful in his or her endeavor to manage a team efficiently. By adjusting his or her leadership style according to the capability and confidence of his or her team members, a leader can ensure desired outcome.

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