Because it is a broad theory, its relevance to business managers is ever-changing.
“The theory is so ingrained now that people don’t necessarily call it situational leadership,” says Anne Hach, executive director for professional training at Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College. “It’s accepted as a management truism that good leadership does not come in one size. Different types of employees and different types of situations dictate different responses.
“The most important thing for managers to know is that the more they can understand their employees and the forces around their employees, the more productive they can make their employees.”
Smart Business spoke with Hach about how to put situational leadership theory into actual day-to-day practice.
What is the theory of situational leadership?
The theory is that people can be ranked into four different quadrants that measure their competency/skills and their level of commitment/dedication. The theory dictates that you should differently manage people who fall into each quadrant. Based on the theory, the four styles of management are directing, coaching, supporting and delegating.
Employee competency should determine how much direction you give them. Their commitment level should determine how much support you give them. For instance, if someone is highly committed but has a lower skill level, you would want to train and direct him, so his skill level matched his commitment level. If you had a highly skilled employee, you could just delegate a task without direction.
So in order to practice situational leadership, you have to know the person you’re dealing with and you have to know the complexity of the task at hand.
In all fairness, can’t a manager treat all of his or her employees the same way?
From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to have different ways of managing or leading because you can produce better outcomes in your day-to-day interactions with employees. If your employees are more productive, your company will be more profitable.
What are the fundamental differences that situational leadership takes into account?
There are three forces at play in any management/subordinate interaction: forces around the employee and his or her work style; forces around the manager and his or her management style; and forces around the task or the situation.
Forces around the employee can be age, culture, personality and skill set. The forces that you bring to the table as a manager are similar.
One of the common problems today is managing the generation mix. Different generations have entirely different thought processes and attitudes, not just different competency levels. While effectively managing the generation mix is intuitive — you can’t manage your grandmother the same way you manage your child — the difficulty is knowing how to react to their differences. That’s where the learned — situational — approach comes in.
Is the situational leadership theory documented by research?
According to research from the Gallup Group, there are 12 major management issues that include: letting employees know what is expected of them, giving them the materials and equipment to do their job right, giving them recognition, making their jobs seem important and listening to their opinions.
It would certainly seem that the business of being a good manager is fairly intuitive. The trick is to practice the skills enough so that, in stressful situations, you make the right decision. You have to know which arrow to pull out of the quiver and when to pull it out — and then you have to be steady enough to hit the bullseye.
Where can managers find out more about situational leadership?
You can take college-level programs or register at business schools like Corporate College, which offer courses like ‘Managing the Generation Mix,’ ‘Managing Priorities’ and other issues surrounding situational leadership. Leadership conferences are valuable, too.
Blanchard’s book ‘Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership’ is available through www.amazon.com, as is the article ‘Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II’ and ‘12: The Elements of Great Managing’ by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter, Ph.D.
ANNE HACH is the executive director for professional training at Tri-C’s Corporate College. Reach her at (216) 987-2962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.