Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Model: Adapting the Leadership Style to the Follower

Hersey and Blanchard created the Situational Leadership Theory in response to behavioural leadership methods like Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid. This theory contends that the most effective leadership style is influenced by the environment in which leaders find themselves. They contend that particular contextual elements affect a leader’s capacity to lead. Leaders will have far more success influencing their environment and followers if they understand, recognize, and adjust to these elements than if they do not. In order to determine the proper leadership behaviours, Hersey and Blanchard especially concentrated a significant portion of their study on the traits of followers. They discovered that when followers’ levels of task readiness and psychological readiness to complete the needed task changed, leaders had to adapt their leadership styles accordingly. As these skills and willingness might evolve over time, a leader’s connection with their followers is likely to go through several stages. This article will discuss the four leadership philosophies developed by Hersey and Blanchard to cope with these various stages of followers, namely Telling, Selling, Participating, and Delegating.

Also Read: Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

An important note about Hersey and Blanchard to start with!

Although Hersey and Blanchard collaborated for many years to advance the idea that leadership styles should be situational, they made the decision to part ways in 1977 so that they could concentrate on their own goals. As a result, the Situational Leadership Model of Hersey and Blanchard (Figure 1), often known as the Life Cycle Theory of Leadership, has evolved into two somewhat different models. The Situational Leadership II Approach is what Blanchard opted to term his adaptation of the model (or SLII Model). Figure 2 puts the two distinct versions side by side. The main differences are semantic: Blanchard chose the phrase “Development (D)” whereas Hersey preferred the word “Readiness (R)”. And Blanchard used the phrases “directing,” “coaching,” and “supporting” in place of Hersey’s usage of “telling,” “selling,” and “participating,” respectively.

Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Model Adapting the Leadership Style to the Follower-1

Follower’s Task Readiness (Task Development)

A task for a subordinate or follower Their level of readiness includes their capacity to carry out the request made of them. Regardless of the direction provided by a leader, their abilities, expertise, and skills will influence how well they do a task. Blanchard favoured the term “development” over “readiness” because he believed that followers would likely “grow” in their skill over time. In addition, Blanchard substituted Hersey’s phrase Ability for the term Competence, which refers to knowledge, skills, and talents.

Follower’s Psychological Readiness (Psychological Development)

The level of a follower’s or subordinate’s psychological readiness is their willingness to accept accountability for their actions. This includes characteristics like their desire, enthusiasm, and self-assurance. In place of Hersey’s phrase “willingness,” Blanchard employed the term “commitment,” which denotes motivation and assurance.

R1 (D2): Unable and Unwilling (Low Competence and Low Commitment)

Having an R1 status prevents a follower from doing the needed duty since they lack the relevant skill set. Additionally, they lack confidence or are hesitant to complete the necessary duty. Notably, Blanchard gave this follower style the D2 designation rather than the D1 one. Blanchard sees this follower type as the second step in a follower’s evolutionary development, which explains his decision.

R2 (D1): Unable and Willing (Low Competence and High Commitment)

A R2 follower is similar to an R1 follower in that they are unable to complete a job, but unlike an R1 follower, they are still ready to attempt it. In other words, individuals are driven to try despite when they don’t have the necessary abilities, knowledge, or skills. This follower approach is frequently observed in new hires who are eager to impress their manager but who do not yet have the necessary job experience to be effective straight away. Because it is likely to be the initial stage of a follower’s development, Blanchard chose to designate this follower style as D1. Followers who have more experience attain development level 2 (D2) and become more competent, but their dedication wanes as a result of the work perhaps being more difficult than they initially thought.

R3 (D3): Able and Unwilling (High Competence and Low Commitment)

Given that they have acquired the required skill set, R3 followers are likely to be able to complete their mission successfully. The issue, though, is that they aren’t willing to. There are two possible explanations for this behaviour: either the followers lack the motivation to carry out the leader’s request or they may still be anxious about completing the work without the leader’s adequate support and encouragement. In Blanchard’s description of the D3 follower type, commitment is described as changeable since it initially is little but progressively increases as a result of increased self-worth and confidence until a follower achieves the D4 level.

R4 (D4): Able and Willing (High Competence and High Commitment)

The R4 supporters are the last group; they are prepared, capable, and eager to work. This indicates that followers are competent at the necessary work and confident in their own capacity to complete it successfully and on their own. They have the skills and motivation to do the work and accept accountability for it. According to Blanchard’s interpretation of the Situational Leadership Model, both competence and commitment are regarded as being high at this point.

Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Model Adapting the Leadership Style to the Follower-2

Leader’s Directive Behaviour

Leaders should modify their leadership style to suit the demands of their subordinates based on these various follower styles. By striking the correct mix between directive and supportive behaviour, they can achieve this. A leader’s directive behaviour reflects the managerial grid’s “care for productivity” component and will fall somewhere on a scale from high to low. This indicates the degree to which a leader emphasizes the need to complete a task by being task-focused. Depending on the followers’ degree of preparation or growth, leaders will need to decide on the right amount of directed behaviour.

Leader’s Supportive Behaviour

The ‘care for others’ feature of Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid is reflected in a leader’s supporting behaviour. This refers to the degree to which a leader emphasizes developing and sustaining positive relationships with subordinates through attending to the safety, wellbeing, and individual requirements of the workers. Similar to directing behaviour, the optimal level of this relationship-focused strategy is based on the followers’ preparedness or developmental stage.

S1: Telling (Directing)

The Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Model’s S1 leadership style places a high value on directive behaviour and a low value on supporting behaviour. A leader is more focused on job completion than on the needs of their followers on a human level. Hersey claims that providing step-by-step directions, clearly outlining the repercussions of non-performance, and providing tight monitoring are typical behaviours for an S1 leadership style. In this case, it’s critical that the task be well-defined and the steps of the process be simple to follow. This is significant because the leader thinks the follower (R1) needs some level of coercive authority since they are either unable to act or unwilling to act. On the other hand, Blanchard contends that D1 followers who are particularly ‘Enthusiastic Beginners’ should employ this method. It is less necessary to act in a helpful manner since they already have the drive to do the necessary duties. They still lack competence though, which makes them even more dependent on authoritative behaviour.

S2: Selling (Coaching)

The S2 leadership style, which is very directive and highly supporting, comes next. According to Hersey, this approach is required for R2 adherents who are willing but unable to complete a task. Therefore, a leader’s approach should focus on boosting followers’ abilities and confidence so that they may eventually assume more accountability for their activities. However, Blanchard contends that D2 adherents who were first very enthusiastic but lost confidence as a result of their failed skills need to adopt this approach. Therefore, these “Disillusioned Learners” require a leader who has a higher regard for supporting behaviour that gives them confidence and inspires them once again.

S3: Participating (Supporting)

Both R3 and D3 followers can be led in an S3 manner. This manner (still) exhibits high levels of helpful behaviour but moderate levels of directive behaviour. This could entail attentive listening, complimenting, and intense follower-leader contact. Additionally, because of the follower’s increased skill over time, the leader has a high degree of confidence in their ability to do daily responsibilities. As a result, the boss won’t compliment the subordinate’s performance on the assignment, but rather will only provide encouragement and criticism when it’s necessary to inspire and advance the employee. This is because the leader thinks the follower is competent enough to do the necessary responsibilities primarily on their own.

S4: Delegating

The final leadership approach requires minimal levels of directive and supporting behaviour from R4 and D4 followers. The subordinate is completely capable and eager to carry out the chores independently and with great responsibility, therefore this is very much a “hands-off attitude.” While being careful not to overwhelm the follower with responsibilities and keeping them in close contact, the leader can promote autonomy even further. In order to give the necessary assistance if necessary for these types of followers, it is crucial for a leader to continue studying and monitoring them (although to a much-reduced extent).

Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership in Sum

On the idea that there would be a single optimal “one-size-fits-all” leadership technique that could be adopted throughout businesses, Hersey and Blanchard clashed with academics like Blake and Mouton. Instead, leadership philosophies need to be adjusted for the situation. Since Fiedler’s Contingency Model of Leader-Situation Matches is a part of the wider Situational and Contingency Theories of Leadership, the model may be seen as a component of those theories as well.

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