Situational Leadership Theory

The most common approach to the study of leadership concentrated on leadership traits per se, suggesting that there were certain characteristics, such as physical energy or friendliness, that were essential for effective leadership. These inherent personal qualities, like intelligence, were felt to be transferable from one situation to another. Since all individuals did not have these qualities, only those who had them would be considered to be potential leaders. Consequently, this approach seemed to question the value of training individuals to assume leadership positions. It implied that if we could discover how to identify and measure these leadership qualities (which are inborn in the individual), we should be able to screen leaders from non-leaders. Leadership training would then be helpful only to those with inherent leadership traits.

Empirical studies suggest that leadership is a dynamic process, varying from situation to situation with changes in leaders, followers, and situations. Current literature seems to support this situational or leader behavior approach to the study of leadership. The focus in the situational approach to leadership is on observed behavior, not on any hypothetical inborn or acquired ability or potential for leadership. The emphasis is on the behavior of leaders and their group members (followers) and various situations. With this emphasis upon behavior and environment, more encouragement is given to the possibility of training individuals in adapting styles of leader behavior to varying situations. It is believed that most people can increase their effectiveness in leadership roles through education, training, and development.

According to Situational Leadership Theory, as the level of maturity of their followers continues to increase in terms of accomplishing a specific task, leaders should begin to reduce their task behavior and increase relationship behavior until the individual or group reaches a moderate level of maturity. As the individual or group begins to move into an above average level of maturity, it becomes appropriate for leaders to decrease not only task behavior but also relationship behavior. Now the individual or group is not only mature in terms of the performance of the task but is also psychologically mature. Since the individual or group can provide their own “strokes” and reinforcements, a great deal of socio-emotional support from the leader is no longer necessary.

The individual or group at this maturity level sees a reduction of close supervision and an increase in delegation by the leader as a positive indication of trust and confidence. Thus, the situational leadership theory focuses on the appropriateness or effectiveness of leadership styles according to the task-relevant maturity of the followers.

Situational leadership is therefore the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation. In essence, leadership involves accomplishing goals with and through people. Therefore, a leader must be concerned about tasks and human relationship.

Source: Paul Hersey and Kenneth, Management of Organizational Behavior, Third Edition, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977.

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