What is the 'Hersey-Blanchard Model'

The Hersey-Blanchard model is a situational leadership model which suggests that there is no single optimal leadership style, and successful leaders adjust their styles based on "follower maturity." Follower maturity is determined by the ability and confidence of the group they are attempting to lead. The model proposes that leaders deal with varying levels of follower maturity by adjusting their relative emphasis on task and relationship behaviors. According to the model, this gives rise to four leadership styles -

  • Delegating Style is a low-task, low-relationship style wherein the leader allows the group to take responsibility for task decisions.
  • Participating Style is a low-task, high-relationship style that emphasizes shared ideas and decisions.
  • Selling Style refers to a high-task, high-relationship style, in which the leader attempts to "sell" his ideas to the group by explaining task directions in a persuasive manner.
  • Telling Style refers a high-task, low-relationship style wherein the leader gives explicit directions and supervises work closely.

BREAKING DOWN 'Hersey-Blanchard Model'

Managers using the Hersey-Blanchard model must be able to select the leadership style that matches the maturity of followers. For example, if follower maturity is high, the model suggests a delegating style of leadership where the leader has to provide minimal guidance. By contrast, if follower maturity is low, due to inexperience or unfamiliarity on the part of the followers, a telling style could be more appropriate in order to ensure the group has clarity on their goals and how they are expected to achieve them.

The model was developed in 1970s by professor and author Paul Hersey and leadership expert Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager.

Applications and Limitations of the Hersey-Blanchard Model

This leadership method lets executives, managers, and other positions of authority take charge of their followers based on the acumen, understanding, and context of the group. By taking into consideration how the strengths, weaknesses, and awareness of the followers can affect their performance and the outcomes of the project, leaders can apply an appropriate structure and degree of control to achieve the desired result.

There are limitations to the model that may be beyond the leader’s control. The position and authority of the leader may be restricted by the operational chain-of-command or hierarchy for an organization, which could force them to adopt rigid styles rather than adapt to follower maturity. Furthermore, time constraints, a narrow field of options, and limits on available assets can also force managers to act based on the circumstances they face, eliminating the possibility of enacting strategies built around follower maturity.

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