Let’s state the obvious. With different work tasks, employees have different levels of readiness. What may not be as obvious is leaders must adapt their behavior to each individual’s readiness with each task. But how? That’s what the Situational Leadership Model teaches.
“In one sentence, it’s matching your leader behaviors to the performance needs of individuals,” said Dr. Paul Hersey, founder and chairman of the board of the Center for Leadership Studies and author of The Situational Leader. “It’s not different strokes for different folks. It’s different strokes for the same folks depending upon what it is you’re attempting to get done through that person.”
To become a situational leader, you must first identify the task at hand, assess the individual or group’s ability and willingness to accomplish that specific task and, lastly, match your leadership behaviors to that individual’s performance needs.
“When my son, David, was in high school, it wasn’t a question of what kind of leadership style do I use with David for homework? You even had to identify what kind of homework it was,” Hersey said. “When it came to getting in shape for football and wrestling, I didn’t need to give him any direction [or] guidance. He was gung-ho. He had both capability and willingness. But when it came to math, I had to closely supervise. [So] it’s matching your behaviors to their performance needs [for] that specific activity.”
In developing leaders who can adapt to each employee’s needs, organizations should familiarize the leaders with the model, teach them how to diagnose an individual’s readiness and then teach them how to match their behaviors to that level of readiness by using vignettes, case studies or role-playing. But how do you diagnose an individual’s readiness at a specific task?
“Readiness is a combination of ability and willingness,” Hersey said. “Ability is knowledge, experience and skill. [So] you look at what is the ability they bring to [a] particular task, and then you look at their willingness to do that particular activity. It’s very easy to pick up those things when people are working with you, when they’re part of your team.”
If your leaders adapt their behavior to their employees’ performance needs, it will ultimately lead to a more effective workforce.
“One of the main benefits is bottom-line results,” Hersey said. “If you do a better job of leading your people, you get more productivity at whatever you’re doing. [This model is] a way of getting the best you can from your people.
“As far as I’m concerned, if training doesn’t make a difference in bottom-line results, why bother? Why spend the resources? Training only makes sense if you’re getting more productivity — if you’re accomplishing your goals in a more effective manner.”