June 19, 2024

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Situational Leadership (Hersey-Blanchard) Model: How It Works

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What Is the Situational Leadership (Hersey-Blanchard) Model?

The Situational Leadership Model or Theory, also known as the Hersey-Blanchard Model, suggests that no single leadership style is better than another. Instead of focusing on workplace factors, the model suggests that leaders should adjust their techniques to those they lead and their abilities.

Under the model, successful leadership is both task-relevant and relationship-relevant. It is an adaptive, flexible style in which leaders are encouraged to consider their followers—individuals or a team—then consider the factors that impact the work environment before choosing how they will lead. This gives them a better chance of meeting their goals.

Key Takeaways

  • The Situational Leadership (Hersey-Blanchard) Model suggests that no leadership style is better than another.
  • The model suggests that managers adapt their leadership style to tasks and relationships in the workplace.
  • The model’s leadership styles are related directly to employees’ different maturity categories.

Understanding the Situational Leadership (Hersey-Blanchard) Model

The Hersey-Blanchard Model, or situational leadership style, was developed by author Paul Hersey and leadership expert Ken Blanchard, author of “The One Minute Manager.” The model is not a static leadership style. Instead, it is flexible, wherein the manager adapts their management style to various factors in the workplace, including their relationship with employees.

That means managers who live by the model must choose a leadership style related to followers’ maturity. For example, if an employee’s maturity is high, the model suggests the leader provide minimal guidance. By contrast, if their maturity is low, the manager may need to provide explicit directions and supervise work closely to ensure the group has clarity on their goals and how they are expected to achieve them.

The maturity level of followers is divided into four categories:

  • High maturity: Highly capable and confident individuals who are experienced and work well independently
  • Moderate high maturity: Employees who are capable but lack enough confidence to take on the responsibility of the work
  • Moderate low maturity: Employees with the confidence to complete the task but not the willingness
  • Low maturity: Employees who are not skilled enough to do the task but are very enthusiastic

Because the Hersey-Blanchard Model depends on a leader’s decision-making skills, it uses an individualistic rather than a group approach.

Special Considerations

Hersey-Blanchard Model and Leadership Styles

Hersey and Blanchard developed four types of leadership styles based on the tasks and relationships that leaders experience in the workplace. According to the model, the following are styles of leadership that managers can use:

  • Delegating style: A low-task, low-relationship style in which the leader allows the group to take responsibility for task decisions. This is best used with high-maturity followers.
  • Participating style: A low-task, high-relationship style that emphasizes shared ideas and decisions. Managers can use this style with moderate followers who are experienced but may lack the confidence to do the tasks assigned.
  • Selling style: A high-task, high-relationship style in which the leader attempts to sell their ideas to the group by explaining task directions in a persuasive manner. This, too, is used with moderate followers. Unlike the previous style, these followers have the ability but are unwilling to do the job.
  • Telling style: A high-task, low-relationship style in which the leader gives explicit directions and supervises work closely. This style is geared toward low-maturity followers.

Applying the Hersey-Blanchard Model and Its Limitations

This leadership method lets executives, managers, or people in other positions of authority take charge of their followers based on the acumen, understanding, and context of the group.

By considering how the employee’s characteristics can affect a project’s performance and outcomes, leaders can apply an appropriate structure and degree of control to achieve the desired result.

There are limitations to the model that may be beyond the leader’s control. The position and authority of the leader may be restricted by the operational chain of command or hierarchy for an organization, which could force them to adopt rigid styles rather than adapt to follower maturity.

Time constraints, a narrow field of options, and limits on available assets can also force managers to act based on their circumstances, eliminating the possibility of enacting strategies built around follower maturity.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Situational Leadership (Hersey-Blanchard) Model

Although this leadership model may be sound in theory, it may not necessarily apply in every situation. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.

Advantages

One advantage of an adaptive leadership style is that leaders can change anytime. Second, employees may find a leader who adapts to shifts in the workforce as a desirable trait.

It is also a simple and easy-to-apply leadership style, meaning a manager can quickly evaluate a situation and decide as they see fit.

Disadvantages

On the downside, situational leadership may put too much responsibility on the manager, whose decisions may be flawed. Additionally, the model may not work well in certain work cultures, industries, or sectors.

Lastly, there is a chance that this model might prioritize relationships and tasks instead of a company’s long-term goals. A manager should be mindful of this when using this approach.

What Does the Situational Leadership (Hersey-Blanchard) Model Focus on?

The Situational Leadership (Hersey-Blanchard) Model focuses on adapting your management style to the maturity level of the employees you’re addressing.

What Are the 4 Domains of Hersey and Blanchard?

What Is the Situational Leadership Model by Hersey and Blanchard?

Situational leadership is adapting your style based on who you manage and assign tasks to and the situation.

The Bottom Line

The Situational Leadership Model was proposed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1996 as a way to guide leaders to more effective leadership based on situations and people. Because employees work and mature professionally—or not—the theory suggests that they may respond better to different levels of guidance, supervision, and instruction.

The theory behind the model is to use different approaches with employees based on their abilities, willingness to work, knowledge, and experience.

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