Situational Leadership Theory

Situational leadership theory, in simple terms talks about different leadership styles and how a leader can choose an appropriate style with respect to team that he/she is leading and situation in which they are in, to complete the given task. An organization fasces different situations in different times depending on many factors, internal and external which are hard to control. Situational leadership theory helps an organization to face this kind of circumstances.

Hersey and Blanchard (1969-1977), first introduced a theory named “life cycle theory of leadership” which was then developed and renamed to “situational leadership theory”.

Hersey and Blanchard talks about.. Four leadership styles and how a leader can choose different style depending on the maturity level of the team members. Maturity of the team members can be defined as the individual’s knowledge required to complete the given task, commitment and willingness to complete the given task. Different styles define, where the leader’s focus should be i.e. on team members or on the task.

Vroom and Normative talk about How can a leader increasing the team member’s commitment, effectiveness and efficiency through, allowing team members to participate in “decision making”. Decision making is a process of deciding what the goals are and how the team is going to achieve them? And how far a leader can allow team members to participate in the decision making? depending on various situations.

House and Mitchell (1974) talked about Various styles a leader can chose to explain the vision to the team members and to support them when they get blocked or having difficulty in completing the task, depending on the situation. (The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership, 1974)


According to Hersey and Blanchard The team members of a team can be divided in to four groups depending on their commitment, required knowledge for the job, and willingness to work, which is also known as “maturity level of the team”. And a leader should choose an appropriate leadership style depending on the maturity level of the team.

If the team members doesn’t have required knowledge for the job, and they are not committed and willing to work. Leader should keep more focus on completing the given task compared to focus on the team member’s needs.

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If the team members are somewhat committed to and have knowledge about the work, but not willing to work. Leader should keep more focus on completing the given task as well as team member’s needs.

If the team has the required job knowledge but are not willing and committed to work. Leader should focus more on team’s needs compared to completing the given task.

If the team has the required job knowledge, and are willing and committed to work. Leader can keep less focus on team’s needs as well as completing the given task.

According to Vroom and Normative When the team members are allowed to participate in the process of developing goals and paths to achieve goals, then they show more commitment and willingness to work. Depending on the situation a leader can choose to

Take information or advice from team members, and then choose few that he/she likes. Share the ideas with team members, discuss with individuals then choose few that he/she likes. Share the ideas with team members, discuss with the group and listen to the new ideas and choose few to follow. Share the ideas with the team and then follows according to the majority of the team’s decision.

This model only focuses on decision making strategies in the organisation and how they can affect the performance of the team members.

According to House and Mitchell (1974) Leaders chooses goals that organization is going to reach and how they are going to reach the goals alone. However, leaders can explain clearly or not clearly the way that team should follow and he/she can also support team to face the difficulties on the way to reach the goals. Leader can also provide rewards to the team members who are performing well to increase the commitment and willingness of the team. Depending on the situation they can choose different styles like

Supportive Leadership: Here leader’s focus is more on the team member’s needs and creating a supportive environment for the team in times of high work pressure. Directive Leadership: Here leader focuses on both the team members needs and completing the given task, gives them information which is needed and supports them when necessary. Participative Leadership: Works with the team, allows them to develop new ideas and considers them when he/she is taking decisions. Achievement-Oriented Leadership: Here leaders develop themselves and the team. They take challenging tasks and decisions to achieve goals which are tough to achieve.

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Critical view on Situational Leadership Theory

Claude L Graeff said “Theoretical issues undermining the robustness of the situational leadership theory and the utility of its prescriptive model and discusses. More specifically, conceptual ambiguity associated with the mechanics of applying the concept of job-relevant maturity and other problems with the normative model are seen as seriously limiting its pragmatic utility.” (Academy of management. The academy of management review 1986. ABI/INFORM Global)

The situational leadership theory even though many pioneer, has many disadvantages. Every model has its own advantages and disadvantages like

Job maturity talks about the required knowledge to do the job, where as maturity considers many other factors like experience in the job, general knowledge and problem solving abilities, etc. “Self-esteem and confidence” play a vital role in an individual’s performance which comes under psychological maturity, which was never mentioned in the theories. Participation in decision making can increase pressure on the team and also can bring misunderstandings between the team members. The relationship between decision making and increase in commitment and willingness of the team members is not always directly proportional; sometimes it may result in serious problems. If leader is focusing less on the task and the path that team is following to reach the task, the team may lose the way and not achieve the goals in time.

Relevance with Contemporary Organizations

Albert Humphrey (1960-1970), created a tool which helps an organization to understand its “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats”. With the help of this tool an organization can develop strategies to overcome weaknesses and threats, and to improve strengths and opportunities.

Organizations are facing more and more competition as globalization and international markets are growing. Most of the organizations are depending on the same resources, so it is important for a leader to use the resources properly to achieve the given task. And to achieve this, a leader should use appropriate styles according to ever changing situations. To analyse external factors which affect the organization, another model “PESTEL analysis” can be used which talks about factors like “Politics, Economics, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal factors”, which an organization cannot control, and any change in these factors can change the situation an organization is working in. So, it is important that leaders should change their styles and behaviours according to the situations and help the team to complete the given task.

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Example: Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan recently triggered nuclear meltdown in the nation, which not only affected the nation’s economy but also world’s economy. Organizations which are based in Japan even though doesn’t got any direct impact from the natural disaster have lost their stocks. In situations that cannot be controlled by the organization it is necessary for the leaders to help the team and the organization by playing different roles according to the situation.


This theory talks about following different approaches according to or appropriate to the situations, the developers also helped to form or build different strategies to follow in different cases. So it is a process of influencing the maturity of the follower or team to achieve the given goal in a given situation. Here a leader must be focus on both team and the task, more or less.


P. Hersey, K. H Blanchard and William Morrow (1999). Leadership and the One Minute Manager.

P. Hersey, K. H Blanchard and D. E Johnson (2007). Management of Organizational Behaviour: Leading Human Resources. Prentice Hall.

V. H Vroom and P. W Yetton (1973). Leadership and decision-making. University of Pittsburg Press.

R. J House (1971). A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly.

R. J House and T. R Mitchell (1974). Path-Goal Theory of Leadership. Contemporary Business.

M. G Evans (1970). The effect of supervisory behaviour on the path-goal relationship. Organizational Behaviour and Human Performance.

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