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The Leader as Situational Manager

Q1: Discuss the natural development of situational leadership, given the history of leading up to that point in time.

A1: The development of leadership theory since the early 20th century has been marked by the evolution of two major approaches that have come to define the nature of the leadership debate. As underlined by Greenwood (1993), early Taylorist writings on industrial management did not appear to adopt any distinctive viewpoint with respect to the leadership concept. In particular, Taylor himself seemed to have mixed opinion on the exact relationship between the trait and situational aspects of “functional foreman,” as he termed the supervisor/manager, who would appear to possess the spectacular leadership qualities (Greenwood 1993, p.5). Hence, subsequent development of both the trait and situational approaches to leadership would be marked by diverse impacts of Taylor’s early writings.

In general, the years from the 1920s to 1930s were characterized by the unquestioned dominance of various trait theories with the works by such authors as Henry Fayol and Morris Viteles, being some of the most prominent expressions of this approach (Greenwood 1993, pp. 8-9). A common major denominator of all these theories was the assertion that manager’s personal traits, ranging from certain personally acquired practical skills to the ill-defined ‘sixth sense’, were related to the alleged managerial prescience (Greenwood 1993).

However, very vagueness and multiplicity of the existing trait theory stimulated a search for the ‘One Best Way’ of leadership practice with the work by Rensis Likert as well as that of Blake and Mouton. The situational approach was subsequently bolstered by the similar findings of proponents of the so-called contingency approach, spearheaded by Fred Fielder’s research on the subject of diversity of leadership situations as well as the need to take account of the followers’ specific demands and abilities (Greenwood 1993). The situational approach’s proponents reject the attribution of specific managerial decisions to the high-performance managers’ individual traits, arguing instead that “the principles used by the highest-production managers” are basically the same in various industries, while the application of managerial methods should be aligned with the concerns of respective workload situation (Greenwood 1993, p. 12). Given the growing demand for subordinates’ participation in managerial functions that became one of the key trends of the 1960s – 1970s organizational developments, the focus on organizational science thus was shifted from the emphasis on managers’ personal features to the more comprehensive understanding of relevant situational and group dynamics (Tannenbaum & Schmidt 1973).

Q2: How did it evolve, for example, from the Blake-Mouton Grid? Rely upon Hersey, Blanchard & Johnson (2007), Greenwood (1993), and Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1973) in your historical analysis.

A2: Proceeding from the analysis provided in Answer 1, it is possible to evaluate the subsequent development of the situational leadership concept itself. As its earliest incarnation was presented in the form of so-called Blake-Mouton Grid, it would be necessary to begin such analysis from this theoretical construct, subsequently addressing the more modern versions thereof.

The Blake-Mouton Grid, with its differentiation of managerial leadership styles, was developed in the course of 1957-1964 with a view to distinguishing specific leadership styles based on different concerns for either human personnel or the organization’s production goals. Different leadership styles were expressly tied to the attitudinal concerns of managers in question rather than to their behavioral attributes (Greenwood 1993). Hence, the transition from behavioral to attitudinal conceptualization of the leadership dynamics was brought about.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1973) presented the next generation of the situational leadership approach with their ‘leadership pattern’ concept. Originally published in 1958, their work was further enlarged via the publication of a further article in Harvard Business Review (Tannenbaum and Schmidt 1973). The authors contrast two leadership styles (democratic and authoritarian), positioning various modes of managerial behavior within two continuums: (a) that of leadership behavior with the extremes of ‘boss-centered’ and ‘subordinate-centered’ leadership and (b) that of manager-non-manager behavior with manager power and influence-oriented practices forming one extreme of this continuum, while non-manager power and influence being its opposite (Tannenbaum and Schmidt 1973). The authors did not purport to opt for some universal recipes of selecting appropriate practice choices, opining instead that the selection of a particular course of action would depend on both group dynamics and the specific ‘amount of freedom’ present in the respective situation.

Finally, Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson (2007) conceptualize Situational Leadership Model as the “interplay among… the amount of guidance and direction (task behavior)…; the amount of socioemotional support (relationship behavior)…, and… the performance readiness level” exhibited by followers in the course of discharging their societal functions (Hersey, Blanchard & Johnson 2007, p. 132). Accordingly, the separate continuums of relationship-task behavior-related leadership styles and performance readiness are provided by the authors in order to connect them with the managers and followers’ organizational capacities.

Q3: Then, consider whether you believe situational leadership stands the test of time or whether newer models, such as leader-member exchange theory or other attributional or relational models (see, for example, Graen & Uhl-Bien 1995), have replaced or should replace it as more realistic contemporary approaches.

A3: Even though the development of certain newer types of leadership theories (e.g. Leader-Member Exchange (LME) theory with its emphasis upon the leader’s charisma and followers’ attitude toward the goals set by leadership; Graen & Uhl-Bien 1995) would seem to displace the situational leadership paradigm, in fact, it is evident that its basic features still retain their relevance and policy significance. This may be seen from the very fact that LME theory, with its multi-domain perspective, would be just a specific case or continuation of the very situational leadership approach it may purport to displace.

Thus, the domain approaches introduced by Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995, p. 224) are explicitly based upon the notion of ‘appropriate’ situation, with, e.g., the leader-based approach being defined as appropriate in the case of “fundamental change” or “limited diversity among followers”, while the follower-based approach is recommended if “highly capable and task committed followers” may constitute the bulk of the workforce (Graen & Uhl-Bien 1995, p. 224). In consequence, the basically situational nature of the LME approach may be evident in itself.

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