The Concept of Follower Readiness As It Relates To Situational Leadership Model
The model suggests that successful leadership is accomplished by selecting the right leadership style, based on the level of followers readiness. Emphasis on the followers in leadership effectiveness reflects the reality that it is the followers who accept or reject the leader. Regardless of what the leader does, effectiveness depends on the actions of his or her followers.
Fred Fiedler, developed the Leadership Contingency Model; and, I think that situational leadership uses the same two leadership dimensions that Fiedler identified: task and relationship behaviors. However, Hersey and Blanchard delved a step further by considering each as either high or low; and also, combining them into four specific leader behaviors: telling (high task-low relationship). The leader defines roles and tells people what, how, when, and where to do various tasks. It emphasizes directive behavior; selling (high task-high relationship).
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The leader provides both directive behavior and supportive behavior; participating (high relationship-low task). The leader and follower share in decision making, with the main role of the leader being facilitating and communicating; and also, delegating (low relationship-low task). The leader provides little direction or support. An example of task behavior, for instance, is when I asked my neighbor to show me how to prepare a dish referred to as “arroz con pollo” in her culture. It is a chicken and rice meal that is full of flavor and is truly delicious.
She was very precise and descriptive in telling me what and how much ingredients to use. Also, she clearly explained the steps required to properly prepare the meat and rice.
Four Levels of Follower Readiness
The four levels of follower readiness applied to what I’ve read as follows:
- Level 1: the follower is unable, unwilling, or insecure; lacks confidence, commitment, and motivation.
- Level 2: the follower is unable but willing, motivated, or confident; lacks ability but confident with leader’s guidance.
- Level 3: the follower is able but unwilling or insecure about performing task alone.
- Level 4: the follower is able and willing or confident.
A high school student, in example of a level 2 follower, is hired for his very first job as a crew member at a local fast food restaurant. Although he does not have any prior experience, he is motivated and confident that he is able to learn the task with on-the-job training provided to him by his supervisor.
Four Leadership Styles
- Style 1, Telling: is characterized by demonstrating, guiding, explaining, and giving feedback on performance. An example, “Just stand by and observe me perform this task. I’ll give you an opportunity to try it as well, so don’t worry. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask me. I’m here to help you in any way you may need. ”
- Style 2, Selling: is characterized by coaching, persuading, instructing, and clarifying. It is very similar [in terms of structure] to Style 1. The difference is found in the higher amount of supportive behavior provided by the leader, whom engages in more listening and advising. If necessary, the leader will help the follower gain necessary skills through coaching methods.
- Style 3, Participating: is characterized by supporting, collaborating, facilitating, and reinforcing. The leader shares responsibility for decision-making; the leader does not tell or direct the follower.
- Style 4, Delegating: is characterized by a hands-off approach that gives the follower room to make and implement decisions.
Matching Leadership Style to Follower Readiness:
Situational Leadership Model R1/S1-Directing low readiness, telling:
The follower has low ability, low willingness; lacks motivation and/or insecure. The leader has high task focus, low relationship focus. It may be a situation where a follower cannot perform a task or lacks confidence (motivation). In this case, the leader will take a guiding role by telling the follower what to do, how to do, and when to do without any concern for the relationship. R2/S2-Guiding low-to-moderate readiness: The follower has some ability and is willing; motivated and confident. The leader provides high direction combined with high support. Coaching is still needed because of followers limited experience. Also, two-way communication is highly used to build followers motivation and confidence to learn new things.
R3/S3- Supporting moderate-to-high readiness:
The follower has high competence, is able but unwilling or insecure. The leader has high relationship focus and low task focus. In this case, the follower is capable of performing a task but is refusing to do so. The leader needs to be available and become a good listener, in essence, find out why the follower is refusing; hence, persuading them to cooperate by encouraging the follower to take the lead.
R4/S4-Delegating to high readiness:
The follower has high ability and high willingness; secure and motivated. The leader has low relationship and low task focus. At this level, followers have less need for support or praise. They have sufficient knowledge, skill, and confidence to perform the task. Although feedback and recognition is not a strong desire, it is welcomed by the follower. Followers need the leader to provide them enough space to [independently] get the job done. The leader gains more freedom at this level and may keep watch from a distant to ensure all is well according to the organizational goals.
Leadership Style Applied by Lewis
Based on the information I have learned from this case study, Lewis varied in utilizing different leadership styles based on the type of situation she was faced with during here tenure at Staples, Inc. In my initial reading of her case study, she explained that company merger distractions were going on and some issues were taking place without resolve. In this particular situation, Lewis pointed out that as a new person on board she wanted to clarify what her goals were for the organization. She wanted things to happen quickly; and, in fact she incorporated the Style 1 leadership due to follower readiness being at an R1 level.
Lewis further explained that when things appeared as a new problem or when a sense of timing is obvious; she intervenes and demonstrates an effective way to complete the task to make change happen quickly. When Lewis became director of operations in 1994 for New England, she concluded that the stores were not performing highly due to a lack of effective leadership. She used the Style 1 type leadership which resulted in her replacing several store associates over a course of one year. Lewis’ leadership style was described by one of her followers as hardworking, inspiring, with disarming charm.
It seems that Lewis achieved referent power based on the leadership skills she possessed and demonstrated. Based on the various opinions mentioned throughout this case study about Lewis’ leadership style, her followers gained trust, acceptance, affection, willingness to follow, and emotional involvement for her as their leader. One example is when Krasnow asked her to lead the marketing and advertising merger team. She found her followers readiness level at R3: able but unwilling or too apprehensive to do what she needed as a leader to accomplish her goals.
Lewis found her followers exceedingly disconnected from the strategic objectives of merchandising and operations. She adapted the leadership style 2 behavior because she believed if they knew more about each other (in terms of each other’s job responsibilities) and the marketing results, inclusive of knowing more about company’s overall objectives, they would do a better job. One of Lewis’ followers described her leadership style as a style 3 explaining that, “She asks the kind of questions that provoke real interaction, so it really is a joint discussion. . . In another example of follower readiness is when Lewis was asked to move into merchandising as vice president and divisional manager for furniture and decorative supplies. She entered the department as an “outsider” and the people who reported to her followers had a strong experience base. Lewis couldn’t afford to waste time having her followers teach her because she needed matters to repair quickly. As a result, Lewis used the participating leadership style #3, which she shared the responsibility for decision making with her followers, however, facilitating and communicating with them as well.
One follower maintained that he initially worried that Lewis were a micro-manager, but he soon realized that she inspires dialogue and debate to ensure that her team dug deeply in their decision making. The readiness level of her followers on this team was at a R4: both able and willing to do what was asked of them. Lewis and her team developed a successful strategy for turning the department around by “replacing over 75% of product assortment. ” Although Lewis started off by using leadership Style 1 as director of operations, she shifted her leadership style according to the maturity of her followers in each situation.
As the maturity of her followers improved to her organizational goals, she shifted her leadership style ranging from a “telling” style 1 to a “selling” style 2, to a “participating” style 3; and, finally, to a “delegating” style.
- Suesse, J. M. (2000). Jeanne Lewis at Staples, Inc. (A) (Abridged). Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing. Pp. 1-14 (78-91).
- Hersey, P. , Blanchard, K. H. , and Johnson, D. E. (2008). Management of organizational behavior-leading human resources (9th edition). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
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