Hersey & Blanchard’s situational leadership model takes a different perspective of situational variables. They feel that the leader has to match his style according to the maturity of subordinates which moves in stage & has a cycle. Therefore, this theory is also known as life-cycle theory of leadership. There are two basic considerations in this model: leadership styles & maturity of subordinates. Hersey & Blanchard suggested four leadership styles – telling, selling, participating & delegating – which vary in the kind of guidance & support offered by the superior according to the maturity level of the subordinate.
Telling (S1) - Leaders tell their people exactly what to do, & how to do it.
Selling (s2) – Leaders still provide information & direction, but there’s more communication with followers. Leaders ‘sell’ their message to get the team on board. It means that leader still takes the decisions but attempts to overcome disagreement & resistance among the workforce.
Participating (S3) – Leaders focus more on the relationship & less on direction. The leader works with the team, & shares decision-making responsibilities.
Delegating (S4) – Leaders pass most of the responsibility onto the follower or group. The leader still monitor progress, but they are less involved in decisions.
Thus, styles S1 & S2 are task-oriented whereas styles S3 & S4 are relationship-oriented.
The leadership style selected by a leader depends on the maturity level of the subordinate. In this model, maturity has been been defined in the context of ability & willingness of the people for directing their own behavior. Ability refers to the knowledge & skills of an individual to do the job whereas willingness refers to the psychological maturity & is concerned with the confidence & commitment of the individual. In this model, maturity has been breaked down into four different levels.
M1 (low willingness/low ability) – People at this level have low maturity.They are low in ability as well as willingness to perform & need to be pushed to take the task on. Thus, the leader need to adopt the telling style ie. he must constantly give directions to such subordinates.
M2 (low ability/high willingness) – At this level, subordinates might be willing to work on the task, but they don’t have the skills to do it successfully. Thus, the leader needs to adopt the selling style ie. he has to give directions as well as the required support to the employee to perform the task.
M3 (high ability/low willingness) – At this maturity level, subordinates are capable of performing the task but not willing as they are not confident of their abilities. Thus, the leader needs to adopt the participating style ie. he has to give less direction & more responsibilities & should extend support to the employees in carrying out his responsibilities.
M4 (high ability/high willingness) – Here, the subordinate is capable as well as willing to carry out the task & the ledaer can adopt the delegating style & can simply delegate tasks & responsibilities to the subordinate.
Implications of the Model
This model is simple & intuitively appealing & focus on an important situational variable – employee’s capabilities on a task – that is sometimes overlooked. The model suggests that as the maturity level of employees changes, there must be a change in the leadership behavior.
However, there has not been much research evidence to support or reject the applicability of the model as it could not arouse enough interest in researchers & also only one aspect of the total situation of leadership ie. maturity level of employees has been taken into consideration. Therefore, this model does not truly reflect the situational leadership.