What Is Situational Leadership? - Theories, Styles & Definition

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  • 0:01 Situational Leadership Defined
  • 0:34 Styles of Situational…
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Situational leadership is a theory developed in 1969 by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. In this lesson, you will learn what situational leadership is, the different leadership styles under the theory, and be provided some examples. A short quiz will follow the lesson.

Situational Leadership Defined

Situational leadership is a theory of leadership that is part of a group of theories known as contingency theories of leadership. Generally speaking, contingency theories of leadership hold that a leader's effectiveness is related to the leader's traits or behaviors in relation to differing situational factors. According to situational leadership theory, a leader's effectiveness is contingent on his ability to modify his management behavior to the level of his subordinates' maturity or sophistication.

Styles of Situational Leadership

The style a leader uses under situational leadership is based upon combining levels of directive behavior and supportive behavior. You can think of directive behavior as an order and supportive behavior as providing support or guidance.

Hersey and Blanchard focused on four different leadership behaviors based on the levels of directive and supportive behavior:

  1. Telling is where the leader demonstrates high directive behavior and low supportive behavior
  2. Selling is where the leader demonstrates high directive behavior and high supportive behavior
  3. Participating is where the leader demonstrates low directive behavior and high supportive behavior
  4. Delegating is where the leader demonstrates low directive behavior and low supportive behavior

A follower's overall maturity for the purposes of situational leadership theory is a function of two components. A follower's task maturity is the ability of a follower to perform the task. A follower's psychological maturity represents the follower's willingness to perform a task.

Under situational leadership, the leader's function is to determine the level of a follower's task and psychological maturity. Once the leader determines a follower's overall level of maturity, the leader should adjust his behavior in a way that most effectively manages the follower's behavior in light of the follower's maturity. More mature employees require less direction and support, while employees with less maturity require more direction and support.

Let's use some examples to illustrate the theory. First, let's say that you are the leader of an engineering team at a robotics facility. You have led the team for some time, and all of your team members love their jobs and are top engineers in the robotics field. You determine that all of your team members have high task and psychological maturity - they know how to perform their jobs and are very willing to do so. Thus, you decide to modify your management behavior by focusing on delegation because you believe your team members need little direction and support given their high level of maturity.

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