Situational Leadership and the Phases of Parenthood
by Steven R. Hemler
According to the Situational Leadership Model, there is no one "best way" to go about leading or influencing others. Similarly, there is no one "right way" to always parent our children. It is not appropriate to parent our teenagers in the same way that we parented them as toddlers or as grade school students. Rather, just like leaders must adapt their style to fit the readiness level of their followers, so too parents must adapt their style to fit the maturity level of their children. Understanding Situational Leadership not only helps leaders be more effective, it can also help parents be more effective.
The Situational Leadership Model was originally developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey and is presented in their book, Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources. Ken Blanchard's latest thinking on this subject can be found in his book, Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership.
Situational Leadership holds that a leader should use the right combination of the two dimensions of leadership, namely task behavior and relationship behavior, depending upon the ability and willingness of the followers to accomplish the task at hand. Task or directive behavior is when a leader tells people what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and closely supervises their performance. Relationship or supportive behavior, on the other hand, is when the leader engages in active listening, explaining, clarifying, and providing feedback, affirmation and encouragement, as well as involving followers in decision making. More or less of both types of leadership behavior are appropriate in certain situations depending on the readiness of the followers to accomplish the task.
Just as in leadership, parents need to adapt their parenting style depending upon the maturity of their children. As children mature and grow older, parents need to decrease control over their activities and grant them more autonomy. Situational Leadership involves the leader using one of four styles of leadership depending upon the ability and willingness of the follower(s) to accomplish the specific task. Just as there are four styles of leadership, there are also four phases of parenthood.
The four leadership styles are shown in the four quadrants (labeled S1, S2, S3, S4) on the following model. Just like the four phases of parenthood, each style of leadership involves either high or low task behavior combined with either high or low relationship behavior, depending upon the follower's readiness.
The first phase of parenthood has been called "The Commander" and involves high levels of directive behavior combined with relatively low levels of supportive behavior. The parent's task during the early years of a child's life is to encourage the child's growth from discipline to self-discipline. Just as with parenting young children, followers who are insecure about doing something need specific instructions and close supervision. In other words, if the follower is unable and unwilling, the leader should use high-task and low-relationship behavior. This is called the "telling" style of leadership and is shown in quadrant S1 of the Situational Leadership Model below.
The second phase of parenthood is termed "The Coach" and involves high levels of both directive and supportive behavior. This is done by providing guidance and support, as well as encouraging the child's growth from direction to self-direction. Just as with parenting, people who are willing but unable to accomplish a task need specific instructions (because of their lack of ability) and also supportive behavior (to reinforce their willingness and enthusiasm). In other words, if the follower is unable but willing, the leader should use high-task and high-relationship behavior. This is the "selling" style of leadership and is shown in quadrant S2.
The third phase of parenthood usually occurs during the teen years and is called "The Counselor." This phase involves low levels of directive behavior combined with high levels of supportive behavior, with parents encouraging their child's growth from dependence to independence. Similarly, for people who have the ability, but lack self-confidence or enthusiasm, the leader supports the followers' efforts by engaging in active listening, sharing ideas and providing encouragement, without being overly directive. This helps the followers use the ability they already have. Thus if the follower is able but unwilling, the leader should use low-task and high-relationship behavior. This is the "participating" style of leadership and is shown in quadrant S3 of the model.
The fourth and final phase of parenthood, when children have grown up, has been called "The Consultant." During this phase, parents need to let go and provide low levels of both supportive and directive behavior. This phase is no longer one of proactive involvement, but of patient availability. Saying "let me know if I can help" affirms the parents' availability while showing respect for their child's independence. In the same way, if their followers are able and willing leaders should use low-task and low-relationship behavior. This is the "delegating" style of leadership and is shown in quadrant S4 of the model. The "delegating" style of leadership involves turning over responsibility for decisions and implementation, while casually monitoring performance.
Just as in leadership, the goal of parenting is to help develop the maturity of our children. Therefore, understanding and applying the concepts of Situational Leadership can help parents be more effective and their children be more productive and happy.
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Copyright © Steve Hemler. Steve Hemler has been involved in youth ministry, pro-life political activism and religious education. His articles have been published in America, Liguorian, Church, Modern Liturgy, Religion Teacher's Journal, Liturgical Catechesis, and National Review.