Leadership Part 2

Last month I briefly discussed the “Qualities Approach” adopted by many when asked the simple question of “what does a leader do in order to lead?”  My conclusion was that the “qualities approach” did not answer the question despite, however, that the fine qualities listed were admirable and worthy of adoption by all those who aspire to lead.

In any discussion on leadership one can expect the issue of the situation approach (sometimes called contingency approach) to be raised.  The argument put forward is that the situation will dictate the leaders’ actions.

‘Situational’ (or ‘Contingency’) leadership models are based on the idea that the leader’s actions should vary according to the circumstances he or she is facing – in other words leadership methods change according to the ‘situation’ in which the leader is leading. This category includes most notably Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership® model.

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard first published their Situational Leadership® Model in their 1982 book, Management of Organisational Behaviour: Utilizing Human Resources. The concept has become perhaps the best known of all the Situational/Contingency models.

The Situational Leadership® model is sophisticated. Its notable features are briefly that the model:

  1. Focuses on followers, rather than wider workplace circumstances
  2. Asserts that leaders should change their behaviour according to the type of followers
  3. Proposes a ‘continuum’ or progression of leadership adaptation in response to the development of followers

These points are explained in greater detail below.

Situational Leadership® theory is commonly shown as classifying followers according to a 2×2 matrix, using the highs and lows of two criteria, thereby giving four types of follower groups.

  • Note: It is important to consider that groups and individuals may require different approaches when using Hersey and Blanchard’s model.
  • Notably, where members of a group possess different levels of capability and experience, Hersey and Blanchard’s model requires a more individualistic approach, rather than a broad group approach.

Accordingly, this summary refers mainly to ‘follower’ or ‘followers’, rather than a ‘group’, in explaining how the model is best appreciated and used. The criteria of the followers are outlined below. 


The term ‘follower’ may be interpreted to apply to an entire group for situations in which members possess similar levels of capability and experience:

  • Competence
  • Confidence and commitment


  • Ability
  • Willingness

Logically the four group types are:

  1. Low Competence/Low Confidence and commitment
  2. Low Competence/High Confidence and commitment
  3. High Competence/Low Confidence and commitment
  4. High Competence/High Confidence and commitment

or more simply:

  1. Unable and Unwilling
  2. Unable but Willing
  3. Able but Unwilling
  4. Able and Willing

Extending the logic of this, Hersey and Blanchard further described and presented these four follower ‘situations’ as requiring relatively high or low leadership emphasis on the Task and the Relationship.

  • For example, a high task emphasis equates to giving very clear guidance to followers as to aims and methods. 
  • low task emphasis equates to giving followers freedom in deciding methods and perhaps even aims.
  • high Relationship emphasis equates to working closely and sensitively with followers.
  • low Relationship emphasis equates to detachment or remoteness, and either a trust in people’s emotional robustness, or a disregard for emotional reactions. This ‘low relationship’ aspect is also called ‘separated’.

High Task means followers have Low AbilityLow Task means followers have High Ability.

High Relationship means followers are Willing. Low Relationship means followers are Unwilling.

Note that ‘Unwilling’ may be because of a lack of confidence and/or because the aims/goals are not accepted. It is possible for a group of followers to be good at their jobs, but not committed to the aims/task.

Given the name of the Situational Leadership® theory, it’s useful to note that Hersey and Blanchard used the word ‘situational’ chiefly to suggest adaptability, more than the situation in which people operate.

In fact, Situational Leadership® focuses firmly on the follower(s), rather than the wider situation and workplace circumstances, and the model particularly asserts that a group’s performance depends mostly on how followers respond to the leader.


The Situational Approach to leadership is a useful approach and it goes some way towards explaining what a leader must do in order to lead, but it does not provide the complete answer.