Of the many styles of leadership, the situational approach sounds like it would be one of best approaches. Just the name “situational” would imply that each situation is different and therefor a leader would change their leadership style to fit the situation. Situational leadership does focus on leadership in situations, the theory is based on different situations demand different types of leadership and this requires a leader to adapt or change their style to meet the demands of the situation (Northouse, 2016). But like with anything that sounds like a good thing, the situational approach does have its weaknesses.
The Situational Leadership II model was refined by Blanchard (1985) and Blanchard et al. (1985; 2013) and is broken into four styles high directive-low supportive (S1), high directive-high supportive (S2), high supportive-low directive (S3) and low supportive-low directive (S4) (Northouse, 2016). The style the leader uses is dependent on what the follower needs in the situation. Development levels of followers are also broken down into four levels; low in competence and high in commitment (D1), having some competence and low commitment (D2), moderate to high competence but have variable commitment (D3), and high competence and commitment (D4) (Northouse, 2016). This approach calls for the leader to determine the situation and change their style accordingly, this sounds simple enough but is every leader capable of changing with the situation?
There are strengths using this model of leadership, and there are many leaders that can adapt and lead according to circumstances. One strength of this model is that it is practical and easy to understand and can be applied in a variety of setting, even outside of work (Northouse, 2016). As long as the leader identifies the situation and what leadership style to use. It is also flexible, but stresses that the leader find out about their followers’ needs so they can adapt their style accordingly (Northouse, 2016). Hersey and Blanchard (1993) state that situational leadership approach has been used in Fortune 500 companies training programs and this model is perceived by organizations as a useful training for people who have become effective leaders (Northouse, 2016).
While all of this sounds like this would be a good approach to lead a group, it could also become distracting to focus on the situation and figure out what style to use. I think anyone in a leadership role has used this at one time or another whether they though about the leadership style or not. Depending on the work being done and the followers it may be easy to implement this type of leadership.
Sounds too good to be true, maybe it is, the criticisms of this theory are many. Although many dissertations address situational leadership many have not been published and few research studies have been done to justify the assumptions and propositions of this approach (Northouse, 2016). If there is no empirical date to support this theory, why is it used in leadership training classes for well established organizations. Another concern with this approach how the followers’ developmental levels are conceptualized, it is not made clear how commitment is combined with competence to form the levels of development (Northouse, 2016). If the guidelines are not clear how is a leader going to trying and put the follower into a category. Even the developers of this theory realize further research is needed to establish how competence and commitment are conceptualized for each development level (Northouse, 2016).
While the situational approach initially sounds like an easy way to help guide followers to meet the group goal there are many questions about this approach. I’m not sure there is one best approach to leadership, depending on the followers and the situation I agree that the leader needs to adjust their leadership tactics. On the surface situational leadership sounds like an easy and effective way to lead a group, and in some organizations it works well. I will not be making the situational approach to leadership my primary leadership approach.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 7th Edition. Los Angeles: Sage Publication.