A telling style: a short-term approach designed to create movement in the employee. This is not necessarily a good leadership style, but the idea behind the situational leadership style is that you adjust your approach to leading others based on the needs of the moment. In a telling style, there’s a high amount of supervision from managers, and it’s much more focused on completion of tasks than boosting the relationship and psychological safety between manager and employee. Think of this tier as “get stuff done now.”
A coaching or explaining style: which is intended to create buy-in and understanding. It aligns with followers who have limited (if any) experience performing the task but exude both confidence and motivation toward the process of leader-driven skill development. John Wooden, one of the most successful basketball coaches of all-time, used a similar style most of the time.
A participating leadership style: is used to create alignment. If the follower is developing, he/she might have demonstrated task proficiency but still have some degree of trepidation about performing it on their own. If the follower is regressing, they are aware they can effectively perform but have lost commitment, motivation (or both) to do so.
A delegating leadership style: which is ultimately designed to create autonomy at the employee level and let employees run with their own projects. In some studies with law firms, this has actually been shown to be the most profitable of the leadership styles.
The basic concept behind a situational leadership style is that the leader changes their approach to leadership based on the needs of the moment, hence the term “situational.” It’s the opposite of one size fits all. Sometimes you need to micromanage a more junior employee, and focus on tasks and deadlines extensively. With other employees, on other projects, you can provide tons of autonomy and only check in periodically. No situation is the same, and hence a situational leadership style borrows from many other leadership styles to find the right approach to each project and context.
Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard described this leadership style in their 1969 book, Management of Organizational Behavior. In the book, they originally called it the “Life Cycle Theory of Leadership,” renaming it “situational leadership theory” several years later.
Later, Hersey and Blanchard each developed individual theories based on the initial concept of situational leadership, which they further described in their books, The Situational Leader (Hersey 1985) and The One-Minute Manager (Blanchard 1982).
These almost directly correspond with what approach the leader should take; M1 employees are better for telling styles, and M4 employees are better for delegating styles, etc.
Victor Vroom and Phillip Yetton provide a model that helps leaders decide when to use each approach. The model walks leaders through a series of questions about the decision to be made, and the answers will lead the decision-maker to the suggested approach. The questions focus on a few key factors:
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