The Leadership Challenge part 1

Situational Leadership

In this blog we can read that an employee goes through different stages in his or her development process. Each stage requires a slightly different form of leadership. In four steps, the style of leadership changes from directing, to coaching, to supporting and finally to delegating.

In addition, we look at a model of Hersey and Blanchard. Is an employee not only able but also willing to carry out his or her task?

In the context of self-leadership, these models offer a handhold when you are aware of the stage of development you are in. It is not strange to expect and ask for help at a certain point. Just as experiencing resistance to performing a certain task need not be abnormal. By reflecting on this, it becomes possible to take the next step in your development.

During our leadership challenge we naturally talk about and practice (self) leadership principles. An important model is that of situational leadership. The first blog in this series will explain more about this form of leadership and is written by Rob Kieboom.


Situational Leadership

Studying the literature on leadership reveals that almost all of the theories (since the end of the 1960s) revolve around two main themes: On the one hand, the leader's focus on the task and, on the other hand, the leader's focus on the relationship. In the beginning, people thought a leader had to be either task oriented or relationship oriented, but we now know that a combination of both is more effective.

At first, people looked for the best way of leading, but situational leadership, a style of leadership that assumes that the "ideal style" does not exist, quickly gained in popularity. Hersey and Blanchard thoroughly elaborated on this assumption in their situational leadership theory. Although this theory has been around for quite some time, it has not lost any of its pertinence. Hersey and Blanchard specified a number of concrete statements that describe both the preferred style for the leader (one of the four basic leadership styles they distinguished) and the employee's need for a specific style. The employee's need is not static but varies depending on the situation. In their theory, they make the link between the employee's need and the effectiveness of the leadership style to be selected. Effectively applying the leadership styles can stimulate the employee's development.

Terminology used in situational leadership

Hersey and Blanchard introduced the following terminology:

a) four leadership styles

b) four task maturity levels

c) effective application

ad a) four leadership styles

- Style 1 (S1) Directing;

The employee is not able to perform the task (yet) and needs clear directions from the leader. In this basic style, the leader is very task oriented and not very relationship oriented. He tells the employee exactly what he has to do, how to do it, where, with whom, by when he has to be done and so forth, and continues to supervise him to ensure the task is really carried out as desired.

- Style 2 (S2) Coaching;

The employee has some experience performing the task. However, the leader might have a better idea of how he wants the task to be carried out than the employee. In this basic style, the leader is very task oriented and very relationship oriented. This style can also be characterized by the term "convincing," because the leader still displays a very task-oriented behavior (he tells how he wants things done), but uses two-way communication and socio-emotional support to encourage the employee(s) to accept decisions psychologically (the why). This style tackles the whys and the problems employees have performing a task. In the event of variations or mistakes, the discussion focuses on directing.

- Style 3 (S3) Supporting;

The employee is pretty much able to perform the task on his own but lacks self-confidence. Typically, when applying the supporting style the leader gives little direction for the task but emphasizes relationship-oriented behavior. The leader does not give any task-related suggestions or assignments, but focuses on the problems the employee experiences performing his task. These problems can be related to insecurity as well as to a lack of motivation.

- Style 4 (S4) Delegating;

The employee is able and willing to perform the task on his own. In this basic style, the leader is not very task oriented and not very relationship oriented. This style can be characterized by the term "delegate," because the leader knowingly and confidently lets the employee do what he thinks is best and does not intervene. He does, however, make sure he is informed and facilitates where necessary. He is more interested in the "what" than the "how." For his employees, he is the link to the rest of the organization. He ensures the conditions to work autonomously are met. The leader often focuses on team building.

ad b) four task maturity levels

Hersey and Blanchard distinguish task maturity levels. Task maturity depends on the degree to which an employee is able to perform a task (is he competent in the sense of having the right knowledge, skills and experience) and the degree to which an employee is willing, i.e. has the confidence to perform a task (is he ready in the sense of self-confidence, responsibility and motivation).

- Low task maturity D1

Unable but willing: The employee does not have the required competence to take responsibility for a specific task. He is however willing to do the task. This is also referred to as unconscious incompetence.

- Low to moderate task maturity D2

Unable and unwilling. At this stage of task maturity, the employee encountered the first problems and although he is more able than before, he is not so willing anymore to perform the task. He found out that the real world is different than he had anticipated. This is also referred to as conscious incompetence.

- Average to high task maturity D3

At this level, the employee is competent enough to take responsibility for the task but hesitates, is insecure. Insecurity plays tricks on him; this is also referred to as unconscious competence. An employee that slips back from D4 level to D3 level is not so much insecure but lacks motivation.

- High task maturity D4

At this stage of task maturity, the employee is fully able to perform the task and is aware of it. This stage is also referred to as conscious competence.

ad c) Effective application

Hersey and Blanchard's message is that the leadership style (S1 to S4) has to be adapted to the task maturity of the employee (D1 to D4). It is the most effective to:

- tell an employee with a low task maturity (S1)

- convince an employee with a low to average task maturity (S2)

- support an employee with an average to high task maturity (S3) and

- delegate to an employee with a high task maturity level (S4)

Workshop result

The workshop Situational Leadership is a part of the Leadership Challenge and gives you clear understanding of the four basic leadership styles. It makes you aware of the different needs from leadership from different people. It helps you to diagnose the needs, to be flexible and adapt your leadership style to the person, the tasks and the situation. You will understand what you can do to develop the people you lead in an optimal way. After the workshop you have all the tools to become a better, more self-aware leader.

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