SSDL Situational Leadership

Situational Leadership

From the article, “Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed

by Gerald Grow

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Situational Leadership

One of the leading concepts of modern management theory, Situational Leadership is described in full in their classic work, The Management of Organizational Behavior (first published in 1969; 5th ed. 1988). A simpler account appeared in their popular book, The Family Game: A Situational Approach to Effective Parenting (1978, now out of print).

Situational Leadership has been applied to educational administration, but it seems to have received almost no attention in teaching. Computer searches have turned up only peripheral references to Hersey and Blanchard in pedagogical research. My indebtedness to Hersey and Blanchard is profound; their concepts and their terminology shape this model. However, their discussion of teaching is nearly all contained on a single page of The Management of Organizational Behavior (p. 192 in the 5th edition). The details presented here are my own responsibility.

The idea of a progression from dependency to self-direction is not unique to Situational Leadership. A movement of that kind is often presumed to be part of maturing into adulthood (as in Knowles, 1980). Erickson and others have charted life as a series of stages that have the same tendency. The seminal article on how leaders can assist this progression is Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s (1957) description of a leadership continuum, which influenced the Situational Leadership model and is reflected in several articles in adult education. For example, Millar et al. (1986) use Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s model, and Pratt (1988) employs some of their terminology to explore the roles teachers should take with students who have differing degrees of self-direction.

Situational Leadership has a wide following among managers in business and education, but studies of its effectiveness are inconclusive and it has critics and competitors. Nicholls (1985) claims that the model suffers from fundamental flaws, but like several other critics, offers an only slightly revised version of Situational Leadership to replace it. Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid (1964) advocates a team approach as a way to maximize both productivity and personal development, claiming, in effect, that there is a single best way to manage. Both models–Managerial Grid and Situational Leadership–have attempted to subsume one another and the debate between them is not over.

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