Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leader

This Model by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard also argues that leaders must change their behaviour according to the circumstances. This theory is based on the concept of variable leadership, where, depending on the situation, a leader is able to adapt to suit the current environment.

This theory also incorporates the maturity of those being led as it is important that the leader is able to mould their leadership style to best led the team.

This Model introduces four behavioural styles (or situations) and then four ‘Readiness Levels’ that define the maturity levels of the team members.

This model tends to suit one-to-one (individual) leadership rather than one-to-many leadership.  Members of a team may differ significantly in their competence, confidence and commitment, so one behavioural approach may not suit all of them. The first key for leaders using this model is to figure out which category a team member belongs to.  The second key is flexing their behaviour to suit that individual.  The third key is to recognise when that person has moved from one category to another and then change your leadership behaviour accordingly.

Now, let’s take a look at how we are pair the four leadership styles and readiness levels to optimise performance.

Hersey and Blanchard defined leadership styles as the amount of Relationship and Task Behaviour that the leader need to provide their team members. They categorised these into four behaviour types (known as S1 to S4).

Selling: Selling is a more collaborative leadership style. Although team members are still directed by the leader, the leader will often work alongside the team members. During this approach the leader is more likely to work along the team members, however the leader may still guide the team members towards a specific outcome.

Telling: Telling is the most direct form of leadership styles as the leader will simply tell the team members what to do and how to do it. This is not a collaborative approach and the leader will typically work separate from the team members.

Participating: Participating is all about building relationships with members of the team. You will notice this style is very different from the Telling style, as the leader will ‘blend’ in with the team. In some cases the leader may even encourage other members of the team, who have more knowledge in this particular area, to make the decisions.

Delegation: Delegating is about empowering the team to take responsibility for the given task at hand.  This style is typically used when the team is more experienced, as they will not need much guidance or direction.

To support the leadership styles this theory also introduces Readiness Levels, or Maturity Levels).  These levels are used to describe the capability of the team members, only when the leader understands the maturity level of the team will the leader be able to lead the team in an efficient manner.

R1: These are workers who have the least experience, often they will need to be instructed on what to do and how to do it. While typically this means working with younger team members, it is important to note that team members who don’t have much experience, or subject knowledge, in this area will also fit into this category.

When leading this readiness level a Telling leadership style should be implemented, as team members will need a lot of direction.

R2: Next we have the team members who, while are still inexperienced, will hold some knowledge in this area. When thinking about the different readiness levels bear in mind that readiness is also measured in the team members’ willingness to learn. Therefore at a Readiness 2 level, team members will be eager to be involved in all tasks, even when they might not have the right capability to do so.

When leading at this readiness level a Selling leadership style should be implemented as, while the team members will still need direction, the leader should work alongside the team member.

R3: Readiness 3 team members will hold most of the skills required to complete the task at hand, as well as being enthusiastic to do so. While some direction may still be required, they are able to get most of the task done by themselves.

When leading this readiness level a Participating leadership style should be implemented as full direction is not required and the leader will be promoting more of a collaborative environment.

R4: Readiness 4 team members hold the capability to complete the task at hand without any help from the leader. Team members have the confidence to complete the task at hand, and expect to work independently.

When leading this readiness level a Delegating leadership style should be implemented as team members are capable of completing the task at hand independently.

Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. H. (1969). Life cycle theory of leadership. Training and Development Journal 23 (5): 26–34.