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Situational Leadership Theory by Hersey and Blanchard

Weaknesses and Justification of Situational Leadership

Hersey and Blanchard developed a theory that reflects how a leader should behave towards workers in relations to their different levels of maturity to the work. They argued that a high-maturity subordinate possesses both the confidence and ability to perform a task. Conversely, a low-maturity worker has no self-confidence and ability to perform a task. Scholars acknowledge the contributions of the theory in understanding elements of dyadic leadership. The theory stresses the importance of adaptive and flexible behavior in leadership. This theory also highlights the need to treat different workers differently as situations change. Hersey and Blanchard also point out that leaders must identify chances of enhancing skills and confidence among their subordinates (Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy, 2012). However, theory also has weaknesses.

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Definition of Leadership

Critics of the theory observe that conceptual weaknesses limit the application of the theory, and there is no clear research work to support it. They argue that Hersey and Blanchard did not clear define leadership behavior in a consistent manner from one quadrant to another. Graeff argues that the two theorists defined relations and tasks behaviors using decision styles such as consulting, delegating, and autocratic telling. He stresses that the model does not clearly explain the process by which leaders’ behavior influence subordinate performance (Graeff, 1983).

Situational leadership theory does not provide one and effective style of leadership. Effective leadership depends on a task. Consequently, any successful leaders must relate their style of leadership to maturity of the subordinate. The problem also comes due to varied compositions of maturity. Thus, effective leadership differs from one group or person to another. Leadership will also depend on the job or task that a subordinate needs to perform. Hersey and Blanchard also provide a room for a subordinate regression due to dependence on leadership behavior. For instance, a motivated subordinate may become unproductive after some indifference with a leader. This may leader to a closer supervision and engaging of intervention measures in restoring maturity of the subordinate to its former state of high maturity level.

The question of Maturity

Maturity has elements of developmental interventions that influence a subordinate’s level of maturity. A leader and a subordinate may negotiate a role and its responsibilities and how a leader will help subordinate achieve the set goals. How long it takes for a subordinate to achieve maturity also depends on tasks, self-confidence of subordinate and complexity of the task. However, there is no set formula for determining maturity. Thus, it may take a few days, or many years for a subordinate to move from one quadrant to another, or from low to high maturity on a certain job. On the other hand, Barrow notes that maturity consists of diverse elements such as ability, task complexity, subordinate’s confidence, and motivation. However, he notes that the procedure Hersey and Blanchard used to weigh and combine them is highly questionable (Barrow, 1977). It is easy to explain the effectiveness of leadership when all the components of maturity are in distinct and conceptualized manner. The authors argue that leaders can control some elements of maturity using developmental intervention. Therefore, it is appropriate to define ability and motivation of a subordinate as controlling factors in developing maturity rather than considering them as external elements. This theory also fails to define situational elements that may be essential in defining appropriate pattern of leadership behaviors.


Barrow, J. C. (1977). The variables of leadership: A review and conceptual framework. Academy of Management Review, 2(8), 231–251.

Graeff, C. L. (1983). The situational leadership theory: A critical review. Academy of Management Review, 8(2), 285–291.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., and Curphy, G.J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, 7th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

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