Leadership is the basis of the success of any organization. Leaders and their followers are the two major elements of the organizational structure and their fruitful interaction is what develops the company. The Situational Leadership Model is one of the most influential models in Leadership Theory. The current paper will focus on its major principles and their practical implementation by Jeanne Lewis at Staples.
To begin with, it is necessary to describe the primary elements of the Situational Leadership Model. They are the ability of leaders to motivate their followers and the readiness of the latter to follow the lead of the former. The very essence of the model lies in the fact that the leadership styles (discussed further in this paper) depend much upon the situation and the personal peculiarities of every single human being taking the leading position in an organization (Hersey et al. 2000).
Accordingly, the first element of the Situational Leadership Model consists of such skills necessary to a successful situational leader as the ability to motivate the followers, proper education and knowledge of psychology to approach every follower in a particular way and create the friendly environment in a team. Further on, the second element of the Situational Leadership Model lies in the skills and abilities demonstrated by the followers. In other words, their desires to follow the leader’s instructions and their abilities for the proficient fulfillment of the instructions are the elements creating the follower readiness. There are four major levels of the follower readiness distinguished by scholars. Also, there are four major leadership styles. A leadership style matches with a follower readiness level, and determines the success of the situational leadership policies (Hersey et al. 2000).
Leadership Styles and Follower Readiness
Thus, the four major styles of leadership include the democratic, autocratic, laissez-faire and charismatic leaderships. Also, according to the leadership methods, these styles are often called directing, delegating, guiding and participating. In more detail, the democratic style of leadership involves the collective decision making with the supreme power of the leader still preserved. It is also typical of this style to encourage group discussions of the major issues, welcome the proposals made by the group members and support the latter in their own issues. This style corresponds to the 4th level of readiness marked as R4 “able and willing or confident” (Hersey et al. 2000). Autocratic leadership style involves the exclusive power of the leader who makes decisions and sets the deadlines for tasks completion him/herself. Groups are not consulted which results in the resistance to the leader and more effort necessary to control the group. This leadership style is characterized by the first level of the follower readiness R1 “unable or insecure” (Hersey et al. 2000).
Laissez-faire leadership is the most liberal one, as leaders are slightly involved in role distribution and decision making of the group. Sometimes, this style leads to anarchy in a group and should be used only in highly motivated and skilled groups. The R3 level of the follower readiness characterized as “able but unwilling or insecure” can be often observed under such a leadership style. Finally, charismatic leadership is the ability of a leader to control the group without obvious effort by only being present at the meeting and expressing his or her ideas in a simple language. Charismatic leaders usually support team members, use positive language and are widely respected in their teams. It can be matched with the R2 readiness level characterized as “unable but willing or confident” (Hersey et al. 2000).
Application to Lewis’ Case
To apply the above considered theory to the Lewis’ case, it is necessary to state that her leadership style is rather difficult to find out clearly. From the case study considered, the leadership style used by Jeanne Lewis combined the features of democratic, charismatic and even autocratic styles. Such a wide range of leadership styles applied can be explained by the fact that in operations and merchandising teams Lewis had to bring something new to their work and was entitled to make decisions autocratically. However, in the marketing department such a style would mean conflict with the CEO and board of directors. To avoid it, Lewis resorted to more tolerant leadership styles including the democratic and charismatic ones.
For example, according to Lewis, her style “is that I want things to happen quickly.” (Suesse, p. 2) This is an example of the autocratic leadership as far as autocratic leaders want the tasks to be done quickly and are rather strict as for the timing. However, employees in the merchandising department were reluctant to follow Lewis’ style as if saying “What do you know about buying and negotiating?” (Suesse, p. 4) Thus, the follower readiness can be characterized as “unable or insecure”.
However, the charismatic and democratic trends are paramount in Lewis’ leadership style: “Jeanne’s charm could be disarming. She worked really hard, and her personality motivated you. She tended to manage tightly at first, then loosened the reins. She challenged us a lot, and invited us to challenge each other.” (Suesse, p. 4) This is a proof of the charismatic authority and a democratic way of leading a company. Under these styles, the follower readiness ranges from “unable but willing or confident” to “able and willing or confident”. Accordingly, the evolution of the follower readiness of Lewis’ employees can be seen from the above quotation.
Hersey, P., Blanchard, K.H., & Johnson, D.E. (2000). Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Suesse, M. (2000). Jeanne Lewis at Staples, Inc. (A) (Abriged). Harvard Business School.