The Situational Leadership Theory (SLT) was proposed by Hersey and Blanchard in their work Life Cycle Theory of Leadership (Hersey and Blanchard, 1969). According to this theory, there is no optimal leadership style. A leader should choose a type of behavior due to the follower’s competence and attitude toward work (readiness). The SLT became popular among managers who applied this theory for their work. After small cosmetic changes, this theory remains useful up to date (Lorinkova, Pearsall, & Sims, 2013). The SLT could be used in resolving problematic situations, issues, or conflicts. The Situational Leadership Theory might be effective for the integrating of a new employee into a workplace.
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Brief Theory Description
A leadership style, according to the SLT, depends on the follower’s development (readiness). This parameter described the employee’s competence as well as positive attitude toward the work. Four levels of readiness were described:
- the enthusiastic beginner (D1) – low competence and high motivation
- the disillusioned learner (D2) – low competence and low motivation
- the capable but cautious contributor (D3) – high competence and low motivation
- the self-reliant achiever (D4) – high competence and high motivation (Dugan, 2017).
The SLT described four types of leadership behavior:
- directive (S1) – low-supportive and high-directive behavior applied for a D1 employee
- coaching (S2) – high-supportive and high-directive behavior applied for a D2 employee
- supportive (S3) – high-supportive and low-directive behavior applied for aD3 employee
- delegating (S4) – low-supportive and low-directive behavior applied for a D4 employee (Thompson & Glasø, 2015).
For each leadership style, four bases of power were described:
- coercive power with the system of sanctions and punishment for S1
- connection power with no sanctions and perceived connection for S2
- reward power with the system of rewards and bonuses for S3
- expert power with the exertive knowledge providing for S4 (Hersey, Blanchard, & Natemeyer, 1979).
Integrating of a New Employee
To choose a leadership style which is appropriate for this particular problem resolve, it is necessary to determine employee’s readiness. A new employee could be either a former student who got the first job or an experienced worker who decided to change the workplace. In both cases, an employee can be described as an enthusiastic beginner with the D1 readiness level. A new worker is usually characterized by the high level of motivation and high expectations from a new job. Due to the competence and skills level, a former student does not have an experience of work while an experienced employee has some practical skills but does not completely understand issues and particularities of a new company. Thus, all new employees have the D1 readiness level.
According to the SLT, the most appropriate leadership style for a D1 type of readiness is an S1 (directive) style (Thompson & Glasø, 2015). In this situation, a leader should give clear instructions to a new employee and define one’s role in a working group. Until a worker gets enough experience, it is important for a leader to direct one’s working process with the purpose to avoid possible mistakes and teach an employee (Meier, 2016). Due to the level of communication between a leader and a worker, a new employee is characterized by the high level of motivation and does not require leader’s supporting. Thus, the communication should be one-way and directive.
Any leadership style is built on leader’s power bases. To apply a directive style, a coercive power base should be chosen. This type of power allows providing sanctions and punishment for not performing the task. With every new worker, a leader should attain and develop the power. It means that a worker should learn the leader’s role in a group and one’s responsibilities and possibilities. A coercive power base with a system of sanctions and punishment leads to the leader’s power attainment and development. This base is effective for new employees because it is an approach to demonstrate the leader’s role and power. A worker should learn from the beginning that the irresponsibility and non-efficient work will be punished (Hersey et al., 1979).
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Performance Readiness Enhancement
A chosen leadership style based on the coercive power leads to the readiness enhancement. On the next stage, an employee reaches a D2 level of readiness and become a disillusioned learner. Due to the system of punishment in response to worker’s mistakes, one’s attitude toward tasks decreases. A worker becomes more competent and skilled but less motivated. On this stage, it is a time to change a leadership style to coaching (S2) and a power base to a connection power base (Meier, 2016).
The Effectiveness of Leadership Style and Power Base
When a new employee comes to a company, a leader should deal with two main problems. First, a new worker is characterized by the low level of competence. Even if an employee has a working experience, he or she does not know the particularities of a company. Second, a leader should demonstrate to an employee his or her power and determine a worker’s place in the group hierarchy. A directive leadership style with a coercive power base is an approach to succeed in these tasks. A system of punishment demonstrates to an employee the leader’s power (a leader has rights to punish a worker). On the other hand, with the danger of sanctions, the process of learning became more effective and fast. As a result, a new employee integrates into a company and reaches the second level of readiness.
Dugan, J. P. (2017). Leadership theory: Cultivating critical perspectives. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1969). Life cycle theory of leadership. Training & Development Journal, 23, 26-34.
Hersey, P., Blanchard, K. H., & Natemeyer, W. E. (1979). Situational leadership, perception, and the impact of power. Group & Organization Studies, 4(4), 418-428.
Lorinkova, N. M., Pearsall, M. J., & Sims, H. P. (2013). Examining the differential longitudinal performance of directive versus empowering leadership in teams. Academy of Management Journal, 56(2), 573-596. Web.
Meier, D. (2016). Situational leadership theory as a foundation for a blended learning framework. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(10), 25-30.
Thompson, G., & Glasø, L. (2015). Situational leadership theory: A test from three perspectives. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 36(5), 527-544. Web.