|Vol. 1- No 1(98)
Rethinking Popular Theories
Robert J. Schemel, Jr.
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RETHINKING POPULAR MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP THEORIES
Robert J. Schemel, Jr.
This article offers a framework that begins to address the conceptual and practical problems of the situational model and two-dimensional models of management/leadership. Most models of management narrow the scope of management and leadership to two dimensions: task and relationship, or people’s social needs. This framework accepts that social/relationship considerations are important, but focuses instead on two dimensions of task: employee willingness and employee ability.
While the literature frequently draws distinctions between management and leadership, there are areas of overlap. For example, for many years, studies have recognized that there are two general things that both good managers and good leaders have. These are: 1) a concern for getting the job done; and 2) a concern for people’s social needs.
There have been a number of models and theories of leadership and management that use these findings by narrowing the scope of management and leadership to two dimensions. One dimension relates to task, or getting the job done. The other dimension relates to relationship, or people’s social needs.
Managers, eager for practical guidelines on how to manage and lead, are attracted to the simplicity of these two-dimensional models. The popularity of the Managerial Grid is one example. According to the Managerial Grid, a good manager or leader ranks high on both the dimensions of task and social consideration. Another popular model is Situational Leadership. Situational Leadership allows flexibility because it offers a third dimension -- employee maturity. A leader (or manager) adjusts his or her concern for tasks and for an employee’s social needs depending on the employee’s maturity. Maturity is the employee’s willingness and ability to do a job. Depending on employee maturity, Situational Leadership suggests one of four basic leadership or management styles is appropriate.
First I shall discuss why these two-dimensional models need to be extended. I shall then explore how Situational Leadership fails in its attempt to extend the two dimensions of management/leadership. Finally, I shall offer a model which many managers and HR professionals tell me goes at least part way in addressing the problems resulting from these currently popular theories.
The two-dimensional models of management/leadership fail to adequately capture the complexity of good management or leadership. Basically, these theories indicate that leadership or management must be concerned with task and with social needs. But each of these two areas are complex aspects of management. Both task and social aspects of management are comprised of more than one dimension. For example, relationships are complex. Social/relationship factors need to consider many dimensions of personality and of setting, and their interactions. A single dimension -- social/relationship considerations or behaviors -- fails to capture this complexity. Perhaps their failure to capture the real life complexity of the social and relationship side of management/leadership is one reason why the two-dimensional models lack wide research support. Also, task considerations consist of at least two dimensions, not one.
The Situational Leadership Model
Situational Leadership is a three-dimensional model. Situational Leadership presents a dimension of task behaviors, relationship behaviors, and employee maturity. The model falls short first because, like the two-dimensional models, it fails to capture the complexity of relationship and task behaviors by presenting each as a single dimension. Second, Situational Leadership errs by defining the dimension of employee maturity as an employee’s willingness and ability to do a task. Willingness and ability are two separate things. They should not be mentioned on a single dimension, but separately as two dimensions -- a dimension of willingness and another of ability.
This leads to practical problems. For example, Situational Leadership calls for a manager/leader to use a low level of relationship behavior and a high level of task behavior with an employee who has low maturity. Why should social behaviors be low in such a case? Situational Leadership explains that role clarification is necessary for an employee to develop at least a moderately low level of maturity. Role clarification must be established to a reasonable degree before a manager should engage in social behaviors. The explanation makes no real sense to most managers with whom I have spoken. Managers explain that social behaviors may be an important aspect of establishing role clarity -- social relations are the context in which roles are clarified. Managers explain that they can engage in social and task behaviors at the same time with an employee who has low willingness and ability, and that doing so can be an important part of increasing employee willingness and ability to do a task.
A New Framework
I offer a new framework that begins to address the conceptual and practical problems of Situational Leadership and the two-dimensional models of management/leadership. The framework accepts that social/relationship considerations are important, but does not address them. Social/relationship factors need to be represented by many dimensions, and salient social/relationship factors often change in different situations.
We face an additional difficulty when trying to devise a framework that integrates these many dynamic social/relationship factors with task factors. We need to give more thought and conduct more research on how to achieve this integration of social/relationship dimensions and task dimensions.
However, by itself, task is a simpler matter. Two dimensions capture most of what managers and leaders need to be concerned about. One is an employee’s willingness to do a job. The other is an employee’s ability to do a job. It is a mistake to combine these two factors into one dimension rather than to recognize that willingness and ability are two separate dimensions.
An employee will approach any task with a degree of willingness, that is, motivation to perform well. As well, an employee will approach a task with a certain level of ability, that is, the skill and experience necessary to perform the task. An employee’s willingness is separate from an employee’s ability. A high or low willingness tells us nothing about whether an employee has a high or low ability.
There are four general situations that can occur when an employee approaches a task:
1. An employee has a low willingness and low ability to perform the task.
2. An employee has a low willingness and high ability to perform the task.
3. An employee has a high willingness and low ability to perform the task.
4. An employee has a high willingness and high ability to perform the task.
There are two foundational principles to keep in mind: 1) the lower the willingness, the more managers/leaders have to motivate; 2) the lower the ability, the more managers/leaders have to educate. These two principles allow the simplicity of working with only four different styles while acknowledging that there are degrees of willingness and ability between highs and lows. I have found that managers are quite capable of working with this framework, appreciate its simplicity and, at the same time, understand that the two foundational principles allow a tailoring and fine tuning of the model.
The four general situations call for four basic management/leadership styles:
1. Directing: when the employee has low willingness and low ability.
2. Motivating: when the employee has low willingness and high ability.
3. Instructing: when an employee has high willingness and low ability.
4. Clarifying: when an employee has high willingness and high ability.
A person’s willingness and ability may change from situation to situation. An employee may be very able in some areas of the job, but not well skilled in others. Similarly, an employee may be very willing in some areas of the job, but have a low willingness in other areas. The model thus needs to be applied on a task by task basis.
Management/Leadership Style Guidelines
My work with managers and the literature suggests certain guidelines that might be useful to managers when following these four different styles.
Appropriate when employee has low willingness and low ability.
1. Explain importance of the project.
2. Clearly describe the ultimate goal of the project.
3. Clearly describe how to achieve the goal, step by step.
4. Set dates for frequent checks with employee on progress.
5. Provide extra help if needed, but only if needed.
6. Explain how the employee will benefit from doing well on the project.
Appropriate when employee has low willingness and high ability.
1. Explain the importance of the project.
2. Clearly describe the ultimate goal of the project.
3. Tell the employee that you will publicize his or her positive performance on the project.
4. Explain how the employee will benefit from doing well on the project.
5. Come to agreement with the employee on how to achieve the project’s goals.
6. Set dates for frequent checks with employee on progress.
Appropriate when employee has high willingness and low ability.
1. Clearly describe the ultimate goal of the project.
2. Clearly describe how to achieve the goal, step by step.
3. Set dates for checks with employee on progress.
4. Allow time for learning the task and provide extra help if needed.
Appropriate when employee has high willingness and high ability.
1. Clearly describe the ultimate goal of the project and agree on time frames.
2. Ask the employee how to achieve the goal and come to agreement.
3. Check with the employee on progress as needed.
These points are offered as guidelines not as strict formulas. The approaches will be mitigated by context. The framework and guidelines are intended to offer guidance on how to approach task considerations and behaviors.
By separating task and social concerns we can better clarify our thinking on the important dimensions that make up both aspects of management. Then we may be in a better position to devise frameworks that integrate the significant dimensions of these two areas of management, and provide managers with better practical guidelines on how to improve their managing and leadership.
Blank, W., Weitzel, J. R. and Green, S.G. (1990). A test of the situational leadership theory. Personnel Psychology, Autumn, 579-97.
Blake, R. R., and Mouton, J. S. (1964). The Managerial Grid, Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.
Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K. H. (1988). Management of Organizational Behavior, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Schemel, B. (1997). Management Training: From Theory to Practice, Ankara, Turkey: Turkish Psychological Association.
Bob Schemel received his doctorate in adult education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1992. He is an Assistant Professor in the Management Department at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. His interests include organizational development, management skills training and organizational culture.