Matching Subordinate Maturity to Leadership Style

A few years back management experts Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard proposed what became known as the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory. The theory was really quite simple in that it set rules of engagement with direct reports based upon two scales. The first is maturity level of the led; the second, the leadership style of the leader. The theory is quite helpful and if you want to dig into the specifics of it, click the link below.

Wikipedia: Hersey-Blanchard Situational Theory

Based on this theory, I would remind us as leaders that many of the “proper” leadership actions that we are told will make us great leaders may need revisiting. There is no one right leadership style. In fact, leadership is a language that must be tailored to the hearer in much the same way that an adult speaks differently with their peers than with a kindergarten class. The language is common, but the vocabulary and complexity of information changes for the maturity level of the hearer.

If you have been in a position of leadership for long you will find that people generally fall into a number of groups. These groups, or maturity levels can be defined in terms of knowledge, skill set, confidence and the ability to think laterally. Depending upon where the individual is, the leader must match his/her leadership style accordingly.

As leaders we must define ourselves-and our style-as well. Our measures come in the form of our abilities to tell people what to do, coach them on how to do it, participating with them, supporting them, or delegating at various levels.

The “Aha” here is that when we match the leadership level with the maturity level production grows exponentially. If we fail, we will grow frustrated at the deficiency of our direct report. When that happens, we must remember that their deficiency is not theirs but ours. We have failed to match our style to their ability.

The Basics

The reality is that the scale is a sliding one, but the pairing runs along these lines.

The direct report whom we find at the bottom of the maturity scale, marked by a lack of knowledge, skills or confidence to work and think on their own, require a leadership style of Telling or Directing. In other words, they need to be told what to do and how to do it.

Those at the next level of maturity are marked by a willingness to engage in the work but their skill level is slightly beneath the task. The corresponding leadership style is one ofSelling or Coaching. The leader must provide information and direction as before, but there is far more “communication” and the ability to sell the bigger picture.

The third level of maturity is marked by the “ready and willing” individual. They are excited to the task and get the big picture but need input and direction to avoid progression is the wrong direction. They also may not be fully confident in their abilities. The leader must take a Participatory or Support role with these individuals, sharing the big picture but at the same time allowing the individual to give input into the decision making process.

The fourth level of maturity are those who have a strong skill set, confidence in the task, and are driven to proactivity. The leader must respond by Delegation and givingOwnership. The leader must stay in a position of oversight but allows this individual to grow, create, imagine and produce.

There is a warning—for the leader—associated with this final level of maturity. The micromanaging of this fourth level individual will backfire, resulting in less that optimal productivity. Giving ownership to this individual can lead to breakthrough results!