Situational Leadership Theory In Change Management – Different Strokes For Different Folks
Given the catastrophic 70% failure rate of all change management initiatives, the quality of leadership exercised is clearly a significant component in reducing this risk.
In essence, situational leadership theory emphasises 2 areas:
(1) “Different strokes for different folks” – different leadership styles are applicable to different situations
(2) “Cometh the hour cometh the man” – leadership extends potentially to just about everyone in an organisation – at some time
Dr Paul Hersey, who is closely associated with the development of situational leadership theory, suggested in a fairly recent presentation that: “… a situational leader is anyone, anywhere who recognises that influencing behaviour is not an event but a process. The process entails assessing followers’ performance in relation to what the leader wants to accomplish and providing the appropriate amounts of guidance and support.”
According to change management guru John Kotter “…today’s organizations need heroes at every level. To truly succeed in a turbulent world, more than half the workforce needs to step up to the plate in some arena and provide change leadership.”
To my mind, the idea that effective leaders change their leadership styles to fit the situation is an expansion of Robert Blake and Jane Mouton’s “Managerial Grid” theory, which suggest that the effective leader “moves appropriately” along the spectrum of task versus relationship orientation.
4 Communication Components
According to a recent study [Baker, Brown], successful use of situational leadership relies on effectiveness in four communication components:
– Communicating expectations
– Providing feedback
The Hersey and Blanchard Leadership Model takes this all a bit further and introduces the notion that the level of development or maturity of the followers is also something that the leader takes into account.
“Maturity” in this context to do with the preparedness and ability of a person to take responsibility for directing his or her own behaviour in relation to a specific task in a specific situation.
4 Distinct Leadership Styles
Clearly the appropriate leadership style to use in a given situation is going to be determined by the leader’s assessment of the maturity level of the followers in that specific situation. The leader will move appropriately long the task-directive versus relationship-supportive spectrum.
Four distinct leadership styles are identified in the Hershey and Blanchard Leadership Model – each reflecting the evolving levels of maturity of the followers:
(1) Directing – the leader is very directive providing clear, specific instructions
(2) Coaching – whilst the leader retains control of decision making, he/she encourages two-way communication and helps build confidence and motivation on the part of his/her people
(3) Supporting – the people no longer need the leader to tell them what to do or to make the decisions – so decision making is shared
(4) Delegating – when the people are ready, willing and able the leader delegates full responsibility to them
Whilst I agree with this style of flexible leadership, I have to say that, in a change management context, extending leadership throughout an organisation in the manner suggested is asking a lot of most organisations as it requires a complete and total change of culture.
Also, all of this is dependent on the supporting framework of change management processes that are derived from adopting a programme-based approach to leading and managing the change.
For more on this: ” Situational leadership theory “
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Stephen Warrilow, based in Bristol, works with companies across the UK providing specialist support to directors delivery significant change initiatives. Stephen has 25 years cross sector experience with 100+ companies in mid range corporate, larger SME and corporate environments. Practical strategies for leading and managing change
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