Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard introduced their theory of situational leadership in the 1969 book Management of Organizational Behavior. Situational leadership states that there is no single, ideal approach to leadership because different types of leadership are required in different contexts. The Hersey and Blanchard model explains effective leadership in terms of two variables: leadership style and the maturity of the follower(s).
Task Behavior and Relationship Behavior
For Hersey and Blanchard, leadership style is determined by the mix of task behavior and relationship behavior that the leader shows. Task behavior concerns the actions required of followers and how they should be conducted. Relationship behavior concerns how people interact together to achieve a goal. The various combinations of high and low task and relationship behaviors suggest four leadership roles:
- S1 – Telling: The leader’s role is to direct the actions of the followers. The leader instructs the followers on how, what, where, and when to do a certain task. This is primarily task behavior.
- S2 – Selling: The leader is still primarily concerned with directing action but now accepts communication from followers. This communication allows the followers to feel connected to the task and buy into the mission. S2 leading is still primarily task behavior, but now it includes some relationship behavior.
- S3 – Participating: This role is similar to S2, except now the leader welcomes shared decision-making. Participating leadership shifts the balance toward relationship behavior and away from task behavior.
- S4 – Delegating: The leader simply ensures that progress is being made. Decisions involve a lot of input from the followers, and the process and responsibility now lie with followers. S4 is primarily relationship behavior.
The other fundamental concept in the Hersey and Blanchard model is maturity of the group. Group maturity describes how confident group members are in the group’s ability to complete its tasks. This concept, too, is broken into four categories:
In Hersey and Blanchard’s model, group maturity is divided into four distinct categories based on how able and willing the group is to complete the job.
- M1: The group does not have the skills to do the job, and is unwilling or unable to take responsibility. This is a very low maturity level.
- M2: The group is willing to work on the job but not yet able to accept responsibility. Imagine a group of volunteers working on a house for Habitat for Humanity: the volunteers are willing to perform the work, but probably not capable of building a house on their own.
- M3: The group has experience but is not confident enough or willing to take responsibility. The main difference between M2 and M3 is that the M3 group has the skills to work effectively on the job.
- M4: The group is willing and able to work on the job. Group members have all of the skills, confidence, and enthusiasm necessary to take ownership of the task. This is a very high level of maturity.
Because maturity level varies based on the group and the task (for example, professional football players are an M4 group on the football field, but an M1 group if asked to play baseball), the leadership style must adapt based on the situation.
Effective leadership varies not only with the person or group that is being influenced but also depending on the task, job, or function that needs to be accomplished. The Hersey and Blanchard model encourages leaders to be flexible and find the right style for the task and the group maturity level. The most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the maturity of the group they are attempting to lead or influence and to that group’s purpose.