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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Formal study of leadership relatively new 'science', October 28, 2007, 2D.

Leadership has been around as long as people have lived and worked in groups.  The Old Testament and other ancient texts are full of examples of the accounts and accomplishments of leaders.  The ancient Egyptians even had hieroglyphic symbols for leadership, leader, and follower 5,000 years ago.

The formal study of leadership, using the procedures and principles of the scientific method, is relatively new—within the past 100 years.  Beginning first with an analysis of traits and characteristics of leaders, the field then moved into an analysis of leader behaviors.  Researchers concluded that there are two types of behaviors that leaders exhibit—task-oriented and people-oriented.  Leadership researchers from Ohio State University labeled the two types of behaviors “Initiating Structure” and “Consideration.”  Initiating structure refers to direction, goal facilitation, task-related feedback, well-defined patterns of organization, and procedure.  Consideration, on the other hand, refers to behaviors stressing friendship, mutual trust, respect, interpersonal warmth, concern for the feelings of followers, and participative communication.   Some researchers of this era concluded that leaders who exhibited high-task and high-people behaviors were most effective in the workplace.  Those beliefs led to the idea of “Universal Leadership”—where the “universally” best style of leadership was the combination of high-task and high-people behaviors.

The proposition that there was a “best” style of leadership caused some researchers to reexamine and refine their models and thinking.  With that reexamination, the contingency era of leadership thought was born.  It was realized that characteristics of the situation help determine the most appropriate and effective combination of task and people behaviors.  Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard hypothesized that “follower maturity” (or follower readiness) was the situational characteristic that determined the optimal combination of task and people behaviors.  Hersey and Blanchard describe follower maturity as a combination of willingness and ability of followers to perform a task.  As followers increase in willingness and ability, their maturity levels increase and the combinations of task and people behaviors required to most effectively guide them change.  As follower maturity increases, the required levels of task behaviors decrease.  People behaviors increase through the middle levels of maturity before dropping at higher levels of maturity. 

According to Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory, followers who are unwilling and unable to perform a task are of lowest follower maturity and require a “telling” (high task, low people) style of leadership.  As followers increase in maturity, leaders should advance to “selling” (high task, high people), “participating” (low task, high people), and “delegating” (low task, low people) styles of leadership—each one appropriate for a progressively higher level of follower maturity.

Hersey and Blanchard’s model makes it clear that leaders need to adjust their behaviors and styles of leadership toward followers in relation to their degrees of task-related maturity.  Effective leaders can identify the appropriate degrees of task and people behaviors required in all types of work situations.  Effective leaders recognize that people, tasks, and situations change and that leadership styles must also change to bring about optimal compliance and performance from their people.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved