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Adjusting your approach: A quick introduction to Situational Leadership

It is a fairly safe assertion to suggest that you don’t talk to your spouse or child in the same way that you would to a subordinate at work. Neither would you advise a contractor on how you want work completed in your home in the same way that you would approach your bank for a loan. Different situations, naturally enough, require different approaches to ensure you are most effective within them.


Situational leadership, at its core, suggests the same thing for leadership. First developed as a theory in 1969 by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard (and later refined by each separately), the basic concept refers to the idea that a leader needs to adjust his leadership style to suit the development level of those they are trying to influence. The idea suggests that organisational challenges of today cannot be handled through an inflexible adherence to one particular form of leadership and must, instead, be tailored to the team, individuals, and the task in question. The ability to correctly judge leadership flexibility is critical.


At a basic level, the effect of this can be understood as being that a leader gets the best from their followers when they properly understand their followers’ level of competency, and the task or goal they are setting them. It is evident, for example, that a fresh graduate who has recently joined the organisation with limited practical experience would not be the best choice to handle a high-level complex task of crucial importance to the whole organisation.


The other side of this is how a leader’s assessment of the task and the followers’ developmental level impacts on the selection of an appropriate style of leadership. Blanchard and Hersey developed a matrix that is aimed at supporting leaders to easily identify the appropriate style in a given situtation. In brief, it would suggest that a directive style of leadership (where the leader is very closely involved) would be appropriate for followers with limited experience and high development needs. By contrast, a delegating style (at the other end of the spectrum in terms of leadership involvement) would be more useful where subordinates possess high levels of task competence.  
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