Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory

Created by Dr. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, the situational leadership theory that they created explains that leaders must place an emphasis on maturity and style in any given task that needs to be completed. When style and maturity aren’t properly matched up, the end result will always be failure. When they are evaluated properly, however, success can always be achieved.

Here’s a classic example: a supervisor has just hired a new employee. That employee has just spent two weeks going through orientation and is now ready to begin working. This new employee is given instructions on how to complete a task that your team needs to get done and then left to their own devices. At the end of the work day, the new employee has only done a fraction of the needed work, if they have done anything, because of three specific reasons.

1. They didn’t know how to complete the task based on the instructions that were received.
2. There was no supervisor close by that could observe that the work was not being completed as requested.
3. The new employee did not have the confidence to ask for help.

The end result is wasted hours of work that still need to get paid and a rush to finish the job that needed to get done.

There Are 4 Primary Styles to This Leadership Theory

The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory states that there are four main leadership styles that are used today and the maturity level of the employee or team indicates which style must be implemented by the leader.

1. Telling. This leadership style is about clear direction. Leaders tell their teams what they need to do and provide specific instructions on how to do it.

2. Selling. Under this leadership style, the leader will communicate more with their team and get their input, but ultimately direct their team toward a specific task with specific instructions that must be followed.

3. Participating. Leaders will work on their team relationships more than the direction of a task under this leadership style. The team shares decision-making responsibilities with the leader.

4. Delegating. The leader using this style will do virtually none of the work or dictate how that work must be accomplished. They will monitor progress, but won’t get involved with specific decisions.

This is why knowing the maturity level of an employee or a team is so important. If you have a new employee who is fresh out of their orientation classes, delegating a high-risk project to them is probably not the right leadership style to implement. On the other hand, if you have someone on your team with 30 years experience in managing high-risk situations, delegating a project to them makes sense because they could get the job done and receive joy in the fact that their leader has confidence in their abilities.

Not every employee or team is created equally and neither is every leader. By being able to identify the maturity level of a team or worker and by knowing which leadership style will be the most effective, leaders can bring people to high levels of success thanks to the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory.

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