This post is one of a series of blog posts exploring specific leadership competencies and how they fit in the various stages of the organizational life-cycle, organizational culture, and change management efforts. Your comments and suggestions are welcome to guide the areas of focus.
When Hersey and Blanchard rolled out their Situational Leadership Theory in the 1970s, their premise was that strong leaders will adapt their approach to the situation in order to lead one
follower. They proposed adjusting leadership styles based on the task at-hand, the relationship between the leader and the follower, and the competence and motivation of the follower. Just as Hersey and Blanchard proposed a situational leadership style approach for individuals, I propose a situational leadership approach for teams and organizations. When leading multiple followers, situational leadership needs to move to the next level, taking into consideration three critical factors:
- Organizational Life-Cycle
- Organizational Culture
- Change Management
As an organization matures, leaders need to possess certain attributes in order to move the organization through the different levels of growth. For example, a visionary and innovator is needed during the start-up phase, but through the growth and plateauing stages time that same leader will need to evolve into a strong decision maker and an active listener. Leaders who lack the requisite attributes at different stages of an organization’s growth often find themselves to be ineffective or even replaced. We have all heard of a company founder being replaced once the company has established itself.
Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1981) introduced the idea of a competing values framework in which organizations have four basic values that are in tension with one another: collaborate, create, control, and compete. One or two of those values will be higher in a given organization compared to a different organization. The leader’s skills and characteristics should align with the culture of the organization to maximize effectiveness. Imagine a super-driven, competitive leader who is highly disciplined and achievement oriented. Now imagine inserting that same leader into an organization with a highly collaborative and relationally intensive culture. Such a combination is a recipe for disaster – not because the leader is a “bad leader” or the organizational culture is unhealthy; rather, because there was not a match and the leader could not adjust his or her style and/or the organizational culture could not change to align with the leader’s style.
When an organization is in the midst of a significant change initiative, it requires a certain set of attributes from a leader more so than at times of stability. Those skills include inspiring people to action, effective communication, and caring for people. If a leader cannot align his or her style to meet the unique needs of an organization during a major change effort, the change may fail and the leader may be viewed as ineffective.
Effective leadership is part art, part science. It is the ability of leaders to adapt, change, and align to the world in which they find themselves and the ability to identify and apply the required attributes to a given situation. Those attributes must evolve along the organization’s life-cycle, culture, and change management climate. Leaders should be self-aware of what is needed at different stages, but it is also the responsibility of the individuals who develop them (consultants, coaches, L&D professionals, etc.) to identify where the leaders excel and where there is an opportunity for development.
Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. (1977). Management of Organizational Behavior (3rd ed)
. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Quinn, R. E. and Rohrbaugh, J. (1981). A competing values approach to organizational effectiveness. Public Productivity Review, 5