Situational Leadership


The situational perspective is another approach for looking at leadership. Experts define it generally as the relationship between a leader's style and his or her environment to influence the performance of subordinates . The overriding assumption is that a leader can adopt an "appropriate" style under certain circumstances. One of the most common situational theories is Fiedler's contingency theory. [12]

In a nutshell , contingency theory looks at the relationship between the leader's style and his or her environment. Three situational dimensions are considered : leader-member relations associated with the confidence in the leader; task-structure, the degree of routine in tasks ; and position power, formal influence in a position. He also defines two different leadership styles: task oriented (production) and person oriented (relationship).

Fiedler uses a continuum or index known as the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale to determine his findings. He concludes that the style of a leader and his or her situation will determine effectiveness. Three options are available for negative situations: change the leader's style, change the environment, or move the leader to an environment more suitable to his or her style. Under certain circumstances, a task-oriented style might be more appropriate, and for others, the person-oriented style is more appropriate. In general, a task-oriented style is best when all three dimensions are very favorable, and the person-oriented style is better in a mixture of all three dimensions.

The Vroom-Jago, or Yetton, Model determines the extent to which subordinates participate in decision making under different circumstances and time requirements. In other words, once again, the appropriate leadership style depends on the circumstances. The model identifies five leadership styles that are appropriate, depending on the answers to a set of questions that address the quality of a decision and subordinate acceptance. The leadership styles relate to the degrees of being autocratic, consultative, and group oriented when making decisions. The model accounts for situational variables , such as significance of decisions, commitment, and expertise.

The model reveals that a participative decision generally works best; however, the important point is to match the appropriate style to certain conditions, e.g., different combinations of answers to the set of questions.

The Vertical Dyad Linkage Model, also known as the Leader Member Exchange Theory, is based on the assumption that a leader does not treat subordinates equally. Rather, he or she often has an "In" and "Out" group, treating each one differently. For In-group members, a more positive relationship exists, typified through informal interactions and trust, accompanied by better performance, more commitment, and greater satisfaction. Leadership exhibited towards the Out-group members , however, is more "negative," e.g., more aloof and formal. The implication is that the results of the In group are more spectacular than for the Out group.

Another look at situational leadership is Robert House's Path -Goal Theory. [13] According to House, a leader can increase effectiveness through goal satisfaction using an appropriate leadership style. He or she matches a subordinate's perceptions and behavior with a desired outcome by matching the appropriate style to situational factors (e.g., type of task), which results in a more satisfied and productive subordinate. The Path-Goal Theory is related to the Exchange Theory of Motivation, whereby the behavior of the individual is influenced by the likelihood of achieving a desired goal and the resulting award that will follow.

According to House, the four leadership styles are: directive, where the leader is not seeking participation; supportive, displaying friendliness and interest; participative, seeking suggestions; and achievement oriented, setting challenging goals. Situational factors include a subordinate's personality, perceived ability, and environmental characteristics.

House concludes that, under certain situations, the leader's behavior can impact a follower to effectuate a specific outcome. For example, an ambiguous job situation may involve a directive style to provide a clear path to reach a goal. In this case, and others, leadership style influences the motivation, satisfaction, and performance of subordinates by clarifying their path to achieve goals under a given set of circumstances.

Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt provide a leadership continuum of seven different styles. [14] The choice of style depends on the relationship between the authority of the leader and the latitude given to subordinates. The extremes range from an autocratic, boss-centered style that is very task and control oriented to a democratic , subordinate-centered style that is very relationship and people oriented. Tannenbaum and Schmidt did not embrace a particular style. Rather, they determine that the most effective leaders adopt the most appropriate style suitable to circumstances.

Perhaps the most widespread situational model is the one developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard. [15] The model consists of two dimensions that reflect the connection between task and relationship behavior. The element that ties the two dimensions together is the ability and willingness of the subordinate to perform a task; in other words, the maturity of the subordinate.

The two dimensions create a matrix divided into four quadrants: delegating, participating, selling, and telling. Delegating reflects low task and low relationship, allowing the subordinate to make decisions. Participating is high relationship and low task, allowing the subordinate to participate in a decision. Selling reflects high task and high relationship, where the leader makes a decision and sells it. Telling is high task and low relationship, where the leader decides and proclaims the decision.

The overall conclusion by Hersey and Blanchard is that no "best" leadership style exists. Instead, a leader, particularly an effective one, must adjust his or her style accordingly depending on in which quadrant, or circumstance, he or she finds himself or herself in connection with task and people relationships. Once again the key is to match one's maturity level and situation in question. This requires leaders to constantly know their subordinates, as well as develop their own ability and willingness to change styles, such as participating and telling. [16]

[12] James H. Donnelly, James L. Gibson, and John M. Ivancevich, Fundamentals of Management , Business Publications, Inc., Piano, TX 1981, pp. 301 “305.

[13] James H. Donnelly, James L. Gibson, and John M. Ivancevich, Fundamentals of Management , Business Publications, Inc., Piano, TX 1981, pp. 305 “306.

[14] James H. Donnelly, James L. Gibson, and John M. Ivancevich, Fundamentals of Management , Business Publications, Inc., Piano, TX 1981, p. 295.

[15] Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior , Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1982, pp. 183 “219.

[16] Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior , Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1982, pp. 183 “219.




Leading High Performance Projects
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