Influence of Situational Leadership Styles on Subordinate Development

As we know that the situational leadership theory proposes that a leader needs to change his/her leadership style as per the situation and environment. Leaders also need to consider the level of their followers; to decide on a particular leadership style. Let us now try to explore, whether the leadership style practiced by the leader influences the subordinates at all and if they do then how does it happen?

In the organizational context a manager is not just a superior for his team of subordinates but is also their leader. This implies that as a manager he/she has to make sure that the subordinates are working cohesively as a unit to achieve department or function goals, and if a problem arises the manager has to step up and take the responsibility as a leader.

How would a manager ensure that each member and the team collectively are working towards that common goal? Sometimes, the contribution from each member is not equal, some are working and some are not, which often leads to imbalances and negativities in the team and work environment.

It is the leadership style practiced by the manager which to quite an extent is responsible for such a situation to arise. Every team has people who have different level of competence and commitment towards the work they do, some are pro-active and others need to be pushed. In either case, the role of the manager as a leader becomes all the more important where he/she needs to be flexible with the kind of leadership style they can practice with each subordinate.

Let’s try to understand the relationship between leadership styles and subordinate development in a little detail. Recall the four situational leadership styles identified by Hersey and Blanchard. They were:

  • Telling
  • Selling
  • Participating
  • Delegating

Now, have a look at the following diagram which depicts the development level of the followers based on their competence and commitment towards their work.

Development Level of Followers

So, which leadership style would be appropriate with each of these levels? A manager as a leader has to partner in the developmental journey of his/her subordinate.

For a subordinate who is at a level D1, where he has low competence but high motivation, the leadership style could be Participative where the leader involves the subordinate and further motivates him to build on his competence to increase his/her effectiveness at tasks.

For a subordinate, who stands at a level D2 where he has some competence but lacks or shows inconsistent commitment, the leader can resort to the Telling style. In this case, the subordinate cannot be relied upon to complete the task without instructions and guidance.

For the subordinates who fall into the category of D3 or high competence but variable commitment, the leadership style could be Selling as the leader would have to create a buy in from these subordinates to secure their commitment towards the task. Since they have the necessary competence to do the task, instructions are not required but such subordinates wish to see the value of the work they are doing to get committed to it.

And lastly, if the subordinate fall into the category of D4 where they have both high commitment and high motivation, the leadership style best suited could be Delegating, where the leaders need to understand, acknowledge and appreciate the competence and commitment of the subordinates and entrust them with responsibilities.

Leaders have to be aware of their surroundings and sensitized to the abilities and motivations of their followers/subordinates in order to be able to take effective decisions.

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