Situational Leaders

Description of Situational Leaders

Situational leadership theory is a theory developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. The theory was first referred to as life cycle theory of leadership, but was later renamed situation leadership theory in 1970s. Situational leaders do not exhibit a specific best style of leadership. They display task-related leadership and adapt their leadership roles to the maturity of the followers they are attempting to lead or influence. Such leaders set high but attainable goals. They also show responsibility for the tasks they are required to perform and possess relevant education and experience to discharge their leadership roles. According to the situational leadership theory, effective leadership varies depending on two factors: person or group to be led or influenced, and the function to be accomplished.

The Characteristics of Situational leaders

The features of situational leaders are based on two key concepts of leadership: maturity level of the group or individual and the leadership style. Hersey, Blanchard & Johnson (2008) described leadership styles in terms of task behavior and relationship behavior displayed by situational leaders. The roles of leaders in this perspective are categorized into four types of behaviors which describe the characteristics of leaders in terms of the roles they play in leadership. These leadership styles are named S1 through S4 as explained below.

  • S1: Telling – this involves a communication mechanism by leaders whereby the leader defines the duties and responsibilities of the individuals or group of individuals. Situational leaders also give the what, when, how, why and where to perform a specific task. This is a one-way type of communication.
  • S2: Selling – this is a two-way type of communication whereby the leader provides a socio-emotional support to his/her followers.
  • S3: Participating – this refers to a high relationship behavior whereby the leader provides less task behavior and participates in shared decision making concerning how a given task is to be performed.
  • S4: Delegating – in this case, the leader passes the process and responsibility of task performance to an individual or group. The leader is involved in decision making and progress monitoring.

Situational leaders also exhibit self-motivation and are good at developing people. A good situational leader develops the commitment and competence of his/her followers so that they can be self-motivated instead of depending on others for guidance and direction (Pava, 2003). Situational leaders also exhibit high and realistic expectation to enhance good performance by his/her followers. Low expectations of a leader leads to low performance of his followers. Situational leaders are therefore categorized into four levels of development:

  • D1: Low competence and high commitment
  • D2: low competence/low commitment
  • D3: High competence/high commitment
  • D4: High competence/low commitment

Therefore, a situational leader should motivate his/her followers effectively in order to make a good cycle of task performance.

Controlling the Situations within the organisation

Situational leadership recognizes the fact that despite the effectiveness of an organization’s planning, programs and decisions may still be poorly implemented if an appropriate control system is not in place. Situational leaders should ensure that the organizational activities are regulated to ensure that actual performance is in line with the expected goals and standards of the organisation (Pava, 2003). Leaders seek to know if organizational tasks are on the right track for attainment of its goals. If that is not the case, the leaders then establish appropriate mechanisms to determine why.

Controlling situations within an organisation in situational leadership involves the use of benchmarks. Controls enable situational leaders to identify opportunities, manage uncertainties, detect irregularities, delegate authority, and handle complex situations. The control process involves the following steps:

  • Establishing specific areas of control – it’s impractical to control all aspects of an organisation, so controls should be based on the goals and objectives of the organisation.
  • Provide standards, and establish criteria for performance evaluation. These standards should be related to the behavior of employees.
  • Determine the method of measuring performance depending on specific standards.
  • Make a comparison between performance and standards
  • Identify performance above standards and appreciate well-performing employees. The leader should also help the less performing employees to improve regularly.
  • Assess performance to establish the reason why standards are not met and make a corrective step.
  • Adjust the initial standards and performance measures appropriately.

The impact of a situational leader

A situational leader provides various benefits to an organisation. First, he/she contributes to better performance within an organisation. This is possible because situational leaders are responsible for developing the competence of employees and motivating them to perform better (Bass, 1994). Situational leaders also provide control measures to ensure that an organization’s activities are in line with the goals and objectives achievement in the organisation. These roles of a situational leader result in better performance of an organisation and enhance the achievement of organizational objectives of the organisation.

A situational leader also leads the organisation to effect changes in its operations. This is possible through the control roles of the leader. Controls enable the leader to determine the tradeoff between task performance and attainment of organizational goals and objectives. As a result, the leader will determine the changes needed within the company’s operations in order to meet the goals and objectives of the organisation. Situational leaders also monitor activities to ensure that there is a good progress of the activities, otherwise appropriate changes will be initiated to correct activities that are not on the right progress.

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