Hersey & Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model

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Leadership comes in a variety of different forms and styles. It is also a complicated concept that denotes a clear action of leading a group of followers towards various goals, yet it has no fixed frames and boundaries as to how and by what means the leading is to be accomplished. This paper is focused around one leadership model that is Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational model; it is introduced and defined in the first part of the paper. The further discussion of the model is followed by its comparison to two other models. Finally, the applications of the model are described and analyzed.

Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Model Definition

Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational model is founded on the connection between the leader and the followers. In other words, the situational model is based on the belief that the leadership style of an individual who is in charge is to be adjusted to the development and maturity levels of the followers. This is why the model is called situational. Basically, the leadership style is designed specifically for the group of people who are being led and their competency and confidence rates. The followers with the higher level of maturity and independence may be guided by a leader using a delegating style where the trust to the followers is higher and where they are required to show as much initiative as possible. At the same time, if a group of followers is not as ready to deal with responsibilities and does not have competencies to take over independent projects, a leader is to allow less creativity and be more in control of all the tasks and operations.


Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed their situational approach during the end of the 1960s and published it at the beginning of the 1970s (Northouse, 2012). This leadership model has been tested, improved, and adjusted many times ever since its first release. Currently, Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational model is used to train leaders. Unlike the previously widespread belief that a leadership style is a fixed attribute and cannot be changed, Hersey and Blanchard’s model is based on an assumption that leadership can be flexible and shift depending on the situations (Schermerhorn, 2010).

This model explores leadership from the perspective of situations and conditions, treating the responses of a leader from the environmental point of view. In other words, if previously leadership styles and behaviors were seen as dependent on the individual features and characters of the leaders, Hersey and Blanchard’s model suggested viewing leadership as a part of situation instead of isolated from it. This model is supported by the situational leadership theories that have an objective to adapt leadership to various circumstances and make it more responsive and flexible (Schermerhorn, 2010). That way, the potential actions of a leader become more varied and do not work based on the same mechanisms and formula all the time.

The strength of Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational model is, definitely, its diversity and flexibility. A leader adopting this model of leadership prepares themselves to deal with versatile scenarios and work out approaches crafted specifically for the conditions under which the leader is to operate. The weaknesses of the situational model are twofold. First of all, the model makes the leader too dependent on the followers and the environments. Secondly, the model does not help the leader who employs it to influence and change the situations he or she has to encounter.

Composition and Attributes

Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational model emphasizes that leadership has more than one dimension and can be both directive and supportive (Northouse, 2012). It is the duty of a leader to determine which kind of leadership has to be applied in various situations. In order to identify that, a leader is to evaluate the commitment, competency, and readiness to perform of the followers.

Within the situational model, a leader is to be able to distinguish between four main behaviors that are directed at building relationships with the followers or at accomplishing necessary tasks. These behaviors are telling (providing clear instructions and controlling the work done by the followers), selling (guiding the followers in a persuasive but inspiring way), participating (accomplishing common goals through the fulfillment of shared ideas), and delegating (leaving the initiative to the followers and choosing them as decision makers) (Schermerhorn, 2010). The levels of task and relationship orientation vary in these four behaviors. That way, selling and participating are more relationship-focused activities, telling is concentrated on tasks, whereas delegating has low degrees of both orientations.

The main leadership competencies vital for a situational leader include adaptation (being able to shift the leadership style depending on a situation), advancement (be an active leader, and move as the circumstances move), diagnosing (an ability to recognize the situations they are dealing with and make appropriate conclusions as to the leadership tactics needed), and communication (interaction with the individuals around in comprehendible manners).

Research that Supports Situational Model

The situational model of leadership has been tested and applied in a variety of professional fields, among which there are business, healthcare, education, and military. The model and its capacities, strengths, and weaknesses have been actively explored throughout the 1980s and 1990s. However, it was challenging to locate more modern research works focused on this model even though situational leadership specifically designed to address rapid change would be highly applicable nowadays when due to the impacts of technological progress and globalization enforce fast changing environments in all career fields.

The article written by Grover and Walker (2003) is called “Changing from production to quality: Application of the situational leadership transtheoretical change models”. In their study, the authors explore the ways to shift the employees’ mindset and orientation from the quantity to quality of the produced services or goods (Grover & Walker, 2003). In this research, a situational model of leadership is tested for its ability to bring change in the attitudes and focuses on the followers and their perception of their professional goals and tasks (Grover & Walker, 2003). The authors are convinced that the situational model is capable of changing an organization at the level of followers by means of adjusting the leadership behaviors (Grover & Walker, 2003).

The article by Parke and Pehlke called (2015) “Get on the Train or Get Out of the Way: A Passing Glance at Transformational Leadership” in concentrated on the changes in the university organization and subculture through the introduction of transformational approach facilitated by the situational model of leadership. The authors investigate how a university can be changed by means of influence on its culture from within by a new president (Parke & Pehlke, 2015). The authors address a common belief that the educational facilities have a fixed organizational culture and structure which is practically impossible to alter. The fractionalized structure of a university that still works based on a centralized model of authority is the built traditional for an educational facility (Parke & Pehlke, 2015). That way, to bring change, a leader needs to follow the situations and apply the situational leadership to be able to address the environments enforcing a transformational change on all the levels of this organization (Parke & Pehlke, 2015).

The thesis by Mwai (2011) called “Creating Effective Leaders through Situational Leadership Approach” explores the ability of the individuals who have never heard of situational leadership to apply it when facing various leadership situations with the followers of different degree of competency. The author finds that the students who have not been trained in situational leadership but who have studied leadership in general are more inclined to adjust their style to the type of the followers that those who have less knowledge about leadership behaviors (Mwai, 2011). This research signifies that situational leadership is based not only the theoretical and practical leadership and management knowledge but also on the intuition and the ability to perceive and analyze the situations and the followers (Mwai, 2011). Mwai’s work demonstrates that a high level of emotional intelligence is required for a leader to be able to apply the situational model.

The research by Thompson and Vecchio (2009) presented in the article “Situational leadership theory: A test of three versions” concludes that out of the three variations of Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational leadership model the first and the third ones are useful for the projecting and evaluation of the changed organizational outcomes. The authors agree that the latest revised version is the most promising when it comes to the changes in the employee reactions based on the leader’s choices of style following the levels of the follower development (Thompson & Vecchio, 2009).

Discussion of the Research

The research articles exploring various aspects and impacts of Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational leadership model show that the key factors that interest the scholars are the influence of the situational leadership on the followers and its ability to change the follower outcomes and views, the suitability of the model for various organizational cultures and structures, its applicability in different fields, and for diverse kinds of leaders (Grover & Walker, 2003; Parke & Pehlke, 2015; Thompson & Vecchio. 2009). The model is highly appreciated for its flexibility and responsiveness to fast developing scenarios and rapidly changing environments typical for the businesses and organizations of the present days (Grover & Walker, 2003). The model is also valued due to its ability to change the followers’ attitudes and enhance their performance through the application of the appropriate styles of leadership (Parke & Pehlke, 2015).

As showed in the reviewed research papers, situational leadership is suitable for many different environments and can be used by the leaders in charge of more and less enthusiastic workers (Grover & Walker, 2003; Parke & Pehlke, 2015). Overall, the researchers conclude that the model is highly practical and especially effective in the organizations where the changes are happening on the daily basis and require quick reactions from the leaders, or the businesses where the change at the follower level is needed (Grover & Walker, 2003; Parke & Pehlke, 2015; Thompson & Vecchio. 2009). The researchers also mention that even though the model is beneficial and promising, it lacks the capacity to be able to predict results (Thompson & Vecchio. 2009). Mainly, this occurs because the model targets the behaviors of the leaders and their followers, but cannot impact the situations that arise (Grover & Walker, 2003; Parke & Pehlke, 2015).

Comparison of Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model with Two Other Models

The models chosen for this comparison are emotional intelligence and transactional leadership. This choice was made specifically to demonstrate the contrast and similarities between the two additional models and to show how they are synthesized within the situational leadership model.

Transactional Leadership

As a model, transactional leadership belongs to the transactional leadership theories. The name of the theory and the model outlines the main orientation of this kind of leadership – the transactions that happen between the leaders and their followers (Schermerhorn, 2010). In transactional leadership, the leaders is the one in charge of all the transactions – he or she provides the tasks, evaluates the results, delivers criticism or appreciation, fines or rewards the worst and best performers (Northouse, 2015).

Emotional Intelligence

The leadership based on emotional intelligence is characterized by an objective for the leader to be able to manage the emotions of their own, and also those of the followers. Emotional intelligence includes four main characteristics that are self-awareness, self-management, interpersonal skills, and social awareness (Northouse, 2015). In other words, a leader who relies on the emotional intelligence is to be able to recognize the feelings, their manifestations, and the impact they produce on the individuals around (Schermerhorn, 2010).


As signified by the definitions above, emotional intelligence is the model of leadership that is more oriented to the creation and maintenance of the relationships between the followers and the leader (Northouse, 2015). At the same time, transactional leadership is more focused on the performance of tasks and the accomplishment of goals (Schermerhorn, 2010). Both of these orientations can be found within the situational model of leadership where the approach towards the followers is adjusted based on their readiness to show enthusiasm and work independently without the close supervision. This way, the main difference between the transactional leadership and Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational model is that the former operates within just one dimension whereas the latter can provide both – directions and support. Transactional leadership certainly includes the actions of support such as praise and reward, yet all of them are oriented to the achievement of better task result instead of the improvement of relationships with the followers (Northouse, 2015).

Emotional intelligence leadership model is determined by an individual’s ability to understand the situations and to address them adequately (Schermerhorn, 2010). This model is very similar to the Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational leadership where the acknowledgment and comprehension of the environments are the keys to the adjustment of the leadership style. Besides, both of these models are focused on the relationships – in emotional intelligence and situational leadership models the quality of the relationships determined the future adjustments in the leader’s behaviors. As to the similarities between the situational and transactional leadership, they have only one type of activity in common – telling, the task-oriented kind of leadership behavior that is majorly applied within the low-skill jobs and assignments where the initiative or creativity of the followers is needless.

In the contemporary world, leadership as well as management, is the activity oriented to both transactions and relationships. However, while the task-focused leadership shows immediate results, the leadership concentrated on relationships is able to demonstrate excellent long-term outcomes (Schermerhorn, 2010). That is why most of the managers and leaders of the modern days spend more time building up connections instead of providing strict and limiting directions to the followers. Controlling autocratic type of leadership is perceived as a less sophisticated and old-fashioned way to lead, while democratic and allowing styles that require delegating and supportive guidance are more preferable.

That way, situational leadership contains the elements of such models as transactional, emotional intelligence, and transformational leadership. The behaviors are chosen by the leader and adjusted based on the situations they encounter and the followers of whom they are in charge (Northouse, 2015). At the same time, discussing the meaning of the emotional intelligence as a part of any leadership style Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2013) emphasize that the influence and charisma of a single leader is not able to make much change, and that the organizations that deliver excellent long-term results are guided by transformational leaders who are able to tutor and raise generations of similar individuals in charge.

Application of the Model

As it was mentioned earlier, situational leadership model is very flexible and, due to this, it suitable for a wide variety of fields. My personal experience with this kind of leadership falls into the sphere of education. Not so long ago I have to tutor a couple of my peers to help them learn new material better and improve their understanding of some subjects. Even though the tasks I had to accomplish with each of the students were almost identical, and the objectives of our interactions matched, the situations I encountered with each of the learners were very different. As a result, I chose to adjust my approach to the tasks and my role as a leader according to the performance of the followers.

To be more precise, the students I had to tutor had quite different academic capabilities. One of the peers had more advanced knowledge and literacy level, whereas the other one had to be taught everything from scratch. Naturally, I had to provide more guidance to the latter. Besides, working with these two people I noticed that more capable student learned faster when provided with a higher level of independence to sort things out on their own. The student who was less knowledgeable required more control and would easily get confused and frustrated when left to deal with the tasks of their own.

Judging from the description of the two peers it is easy to notice that their level of competency and readiness to perform the assignments independently differed a lot. Therefore, the level of my participation as a leader also had to vary. Giving more freedom to the less competent learner produced lower results. The same happened when I tried to give more supervision to the student who was more competent – my intrusions only slowed down their work.

Applying the situational leadership to the interactions with my peers I found out that the learner with better level of knowledge already had some kind of structure for the comprehension of new information, this student worked with the material processing it based on their individual system of understanding. At the same time, the peer who was less capable seemed to have no such system, which made me responsible for the creation of the required structure for this learner to understand the new information better.

In my opinion, this experience is an excellent demonstration of how situational leadership works in practice. The maturity of the followers is the factor that determines which leadership style is more suitable. That way, in a situation when the followers are ready to work independently the excessive control of the leader will serve to limit and slow down the performers who require a higher level of independence and creativity. At the same time, the followers who are less competent need stricter supervision and clear guidance to be able to match the expectations and accomplish tasks. If the followers with the lower level of maturity and readiness are given too much independence, it is very likely that they will fail to accomplish the issued tasks or make serious mistakes working on them. Besides, when interacting

With more confident and experienced followers, it is unnecessary to spend too much time trying to control their working process and will only result in irrationally wasted time and effort of both the leader and the followers. That way, adjusting one’s leadership style to the level of readiness of the followers is not only practical but also more productive and cost-effective.

In order to increase my leadership effectiveness, I believe that I need to develop my emotional intelligence because to begin the application of the situational leadership model and select the style that is more appropriate to the specific environment, one is to assess the situation they are dealing with first. In other words, emotional intelligence is the key element for an individual to be able to apply the situational leadership. Without an appropriate and adequate evaluation of the situation and the followers’ level of maturity, one will not be able to correctly choose and implement the suitable leadership style. A leader is to take into consideration such factors as the competence of their team, the character of the tasks and objectives that need to be fulfilled, the environment they are working with in order to make an effective decision as to the choice of the interaction style (selling, telling delegating, or participating).

I need to work on my social- and self-awareness to improve my emotional intelligence. To accomplish that, I have to focus on my environments more often and ask myself what situations, people, and feelings I am dealing with; I also need to explore how I could impact them and which effect they can produce on me. Practicing these activities, I will improve my social- and self-awareness and maximize my knowledge of the situations I deal with to be able to apply the situational leadership in a more effective manner.


Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational leadership is a multidimensional and highly functional model that allows a leader to select the most appropriate style based on their assessment of a situation and the people they are in charge of (Northouse, 2015). This leadership model can be applied in various environments and career fields such as education, healthcare, military, and business, to name a few. This model is so universal because it includes the elements of both transactional and transformational leadership. Moreover, it is important to notice that the application of the situational leadership model requires a leader with a higher level of emotional intelligence who will assess the environments and people they work with adequately in order to select the appropriate style. The effectiveness of this model was tested by me in practice while tutoring two of my peers with various levels of competency.

Reference List

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Grover, R. A., & Walker, H. F. (2003). Changing from production to quality: Application of the situational leadership transtheoretical change models. The Quality Management Journal, 10(3), 8.

Mwai, E. (2011). Creating effective leaders through situational leadership approach. Web.

Northouse, P. (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Parke, L., & Pehlke, J. (2015). Get on the Train or Get Out of the Way: A Passing Glance at Transformational Leadership. The Vermont Connection, 25(5), 1-3.

Schermerhorn, J. (2010). Management (11th ed.). New York, NY: Wiley.

Thompson, G., & Vecchio, R. (2009). Situational leadership theory: A test of three versions. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(5), 837-848.

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