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Changing Minds Group: Leadership Theories. Situational Leadership

by David Straker January 21, 2008

Hub member Mike Ormesher asked for our thoughts on Situational Leadership recently. To help us comment on this, here's a quick primer from :

Situational Leadership


The best action of the leader depends on a range of situational factors.


When a decision is needed, an effective leader does not just fall into a single preferred style, such as using transactional or transformational methods. In practice, as they say, things are not that simple.

Factors that affect situational decisions include motivation and capability of followers. This, in turn, is affected by factors within the particular situation. The relationship between followers and the leader may be another factor that affects leader behavior as much as it does follower behavior.

The leaders' perception of the follower and the situation will affect what they do rather than the truth of the situation. The leader's perception of themselves and other factors such as stress and mood will also modify the leaders' behavior.

Yukl (1989) seeks to combine other approaches and identifies six variables:

  1. Subordinate effort: the motivation and actual effort expended.
  2. Subordinate ability and role clarity: followers knowing what to do and how to do it.
  3. Organization of the work: the structure of the work and utilization of resources.
  4. Cooperation and cohesiveness: of the group in working together.
  5. Resources and support: the availability of tools, materials, people, etc.
  6. External coordination: the need to collaborate with other groups.

Leaders here work on such factors as external relationships, acquisition of resources, managing demands on the group and managing the structures and culture of the group.


Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1958) identified three forces that led to the leader's action: the forces in the situation, the forces in then follower and also forces in the leader. This recognizes that the leader's style is highly variable, and even such distant events as a family argument can lead to the displacement activity of a more aggressive stance in an argument than usual.

Maier (1963) noted that leaders not only consider the likelihood of a follower accepting a suggestion, but also the overall importance of getting things done. Thus in critical situations, a leader is more likely to be directive in style simply because of the implications of failure.

See also

  • Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership, Vroom and Yetton's Normative Model
  • Tannenbaum, A.S. and Schmitt, W.H. (1958) How to choose a leadership pattern. Harvard Business Review, 36, March-April, 95-101
  • Maier, N.R.F. (1963). Problem-solving discussions and conferences: Leadership methods and skills. New York: McGraw-Hill
  • Yukl, G. A. (1989). Leadership in Organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.