Situational Leadership Theory and Organizational Leadership

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Situational Leadership Theory and Organizational Leadership


Among all the resources of an organization, the employees are the most important as they perform all the key operations towards the attainment of the set goals and objectives. Henceforth, it is essential to ensure good leadership and guidance for the attainment of unity in direction. Leadership is the process of influencing a group of individuals towards the accomplishment of the organizational strategy.

Good leadership ensures that there is effective management of a situation or a group of individuals. Additionally, effective leadership culture in any organization acts as a motivator, which improves employees’ morale. Therefore, any organization requires managers who are efficient leaders, which contributes largely towards high productivity of employees. In the light of this, there exist different leadership theories that managers use in developing effective leadership cultures in their organizations, notably, situational, contingency, trait, and behavioral leadership theories (Hall, 2013).This paper discusses the situational leadership theory in more details to show its usefulness and relevance in any effective leadership culture.

Situational leadership theory

As the name suggests, leadership depends upon each specific situation, and none of the leadership style is the best. Situations are dissimilar with unique tasks. Each task thus requires a distinct leadership behavior. Accordingly, good leaders should have the ability to adapt their style to changes, and achieve the goals of each particular situation. With this in mind, there exist three theories of situational leadership namely, Hersey and Blanchard’s Life-Cycle Theory, House and Mitchell’s Path-Goal Theory, and Fiedler’s Contingency Theory.

Hersey and Blanchard’s Life-Cycle Theory

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed this proposition in 1969 giving it two pillars, the leadership style and maturity level of subordinates. It is important to note that, apart from the leadership style applied, the maturity level of team members also plays a crucial part in getting the job done. That is to say, the knowledge, confidence, and competence of employees are essential for effective leadership. Therefore, new and inexperienced staff requires a different leadership approach from the mature, experienced and established workers. According to this theory, there arises four leadership styles, which include, telling, selling, participating, and delegating. Hersey and Blanchard used letters to denote each style as follows: S1, S2, S3, and S4 respectively.

In the Telling style, leaders supervise subordinates closely, giving explicit instructions in every step. It is a high-task situation but with low relationship between leaders and workers as information only flows downwards. Transactional leadership best applies in this situation. In the Selling style, leaders try to sell their ideas to subordinates by explaining tasks, and providing direction through social and emotional support. There exists a two-way communication channel but the leader is still in control. With the participative style, leaders involve workers in decision making, which makes this system democratic. They focus more on building human relationships rather than emphasizing on achieving a set goal. The fourth style, delegating, leaders allow subordinates to make decisions relating to specific tasks as they monitor.

In addition to the leadership styles, Hersey and Blanchard posited four maturity levels of subordinates, and denoted them as follows. M-1 refers to basic incompetence and unwillingness to perform. M-2 is the inability to carry out the task but there exists willingness to perform. M-3 relates to competency to do the task but think they cannot. M-4 shows that the team is competent, ready, and willing to do the task. Accordingly, good leaders can cultivate the ability levels and the willingness to perform in employees by raising the expectation levels.

This theory is easy to apply following its simplicity. Additionally, it gives a chance to focus on the maturity and competence levels of subordinates, two elements that many leaders often overlook. However, time constraints and complexity of tasks limit the situations in which leaders can apply this theory.

House and Mitchell’s Path-Goal Theory

According to this proposition, leaders specify their behavior that best fits the employees and work environment. The intention here is to motivate employees, empower and increase their satisfaction, so that they become productive team players in the organization. To emphasize, the Path-Goal theory allows leaders to select styles that best suit employees’ needs and work environment to guide the subordinates through their path to the attainment of daily work activities. The Path-Goal Theory deduces four types of leadership styles namely, directive, supportive, participative, and achievement (Malik, 2013).

In directive behavior, the leaders inform subordinates on their expectations and coordinates work. It is a useful style in an environment characterized by uncertainty. Supportive leaders show concern for subordinates by being friendly and approachable. Situations with tasks and relationships that psychologically and physically challenging benefit greatly from this style. In participative behavior, leaders consult with workers on how to perform task. It is a style best suited to employees with high levels of competency and experience. Finally, in achievement style, leaders set challenging expectations for subordinates and require them to exhibit confidence and ability to meet them.

The Path-Goal theory allows leaders to be flexible according to the work situation and the need of their subordinates. In addition, unlike Hersey and Blanchard’s Life-Cycle Theory, it is applicable in uncertain and challenging work environments. Nevertheless, leaders who focus solely on getting the job done cannot use it.

Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

According to this theory, no single leadership behavior works for all employees. There exist situational contingent factors that influence the effectiveness of a leader. Fiedler further recognized that, the productivity of subordinates depends largely on how a good match subsists between the leadership behavior and the situation at hand. Therefore, he suggested three variables that dictate leaders’ situational control, which include leader to member relations, positioning power, and the structure of tasks (Nunes et al, 2011).There exists good leader to member relationships once the level of trust, confidence and respect between leaders and subordinates is high. Positioning power is the degree to which leaders possess intrinsic in their position. Finally, task structure is the degree of clarity in structure of activities in a task.

Under this theory, to determine leaders’ leadership style, they rate their least preferred co-worker against the least preferred co-worker (LPC) scale. Areas of measurement on the scale include unfriendly or friendly, uncooperative or cooperative, hostile or supportive, and guarded or open. After tallying the scores, the highest scoring leaders are more relationships oriented whereas the low scoring are task oriented. High LPC leaders can lead strong teams only in favorable situations while low LPC leaders guide teams in both favorable and unfavorable situations as their main goal is to achieve results. Once leaders determine their best leadership style, they then determine the variable to control their situation.

Strength of this theory is that subordinates are productive in high LPC situations as leaders show more concern for leader to member relations. However, only on favorable situations is this possible, which translated to poor performance in unfavorable situations.


To conclude, identifying a situation and applying the best leadership style is essential for effective leadership. Remember that, there exist dissimilar situations in an organization, characterized by unique tasks, different maturity levels of employees, and rates at which leaders prefer to work with individual subordinates. Nevertheless, good leaders change as situations change and use leadership behaviors that best fit a situation. Accordingly, using correct leadership styles when leading workers in the organization improves employees’ morale, which increases their productivity. Consequently, a high performing organization gains a competitive edge in the industry.




Hall, D. S. (2013, January). LEADERSHIP: THEORIES, STYLES AND VISIONING. In NAAAS Conference Proceedings (p. 36). National Association of African American Studies.

Malik, S. H. (2013). Relationship between Leader Behaviors and Employees’ Job Satisfaction: A Path-Goal Approach. Pakistan Journal of Commerce & Social Sciences7(1)

Nunes, A. J. S., Cruz, M. R. P. D., & Pinheiro, P. G. (2011). Fiedler’s Contingency Theory: Practical application of the least preferred coworker (LPC) scale. The IUP Journal of Organizational Behavior10(4), 7-26.

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