Many people would assume that all good administrators have some secret weapon that they are born with that makes it possible for them to get even the most difficult teachers to comply with their every goal. While not all administrators will admit as much, leadership often takes years of practice, strategic planning, and the ability to humble oneself before their staff. In a perfect world an administrator would be able to sit in their office and utilize a strong top-down leadership approach where all their teachers did exactly what needed to be done perfectly every day. There would be no referrals, no parent teacher conferences, no fights, etc., but unfortunately there is no such thing as a perfect school, or world for that matter. Instead administrators function in environments where they must be flexible and willing to modify their needs related to the learning needs and goals of the students and staff under their direct supervision in order to provide motivation. The problem for administrators, is finding a balance between their own needs, the needs of their teachers, and the needs of the students.
Having a strong, flexible administrator that can find this balance is important because without it, student success cannot be met. In discussion of situational leadership style specifically, one controversial issue is whether or not it is the most effective method of leadership. On the one hand, a situational leadership style allows a leader the flexibility to adapt to situations and personnel in ever changing environments, therefore providing the opportunity to accomplish objectives regardless of the obstacles. On the other hand, followers contend that situational leadership style creates a lack of continuity in leadership, thus creating instability and inconsistency. At a school site, both are valid concerns when dealing with the volume of people involved with the expected results of accomplishing goals.
In order to fully understand the potential benefit of utilizing a situational leadership style in a school setting, a hypothetical presentation of a scenario built around a local school with a high percentage of students failing an initial course will be presented. To aid in the full presentation of the leadership style, an analysis of the results of the Situational Leadership Style Summary/Self –Assessment adapted from Hersey and Blanchard will be used to examine the positive use of a situational leadership style for the hypothetical scenario and the best way to communicate the necessary changes needed to effectively support student achievement in the initial course. The presentation of change for the hypothetical department at the school will conclude with an overview of the potential benefits and pitfalls associated with a situational leadership approach. Summary of Self-Assessment
While the Situational Leadership Style Summary/Self –Assessment adapted from Hersey and Blanchard conclude with the results showing a delegating / observing leadership style, it fell short in areas related to leadership styles, while still providing some accurate feedback about the areas of strength in relation to leadership practices. For example, the results showed a high level of delegating based on trust in follower abilities and competency, as well as a low focus on the building of relationships. Frequently lacking focus on relationship building is an issue as accurately identified by the assessment, however regardless of how reliable or competent the followers are, control always seems to be an issue in contrast to the stated results of the assessment. The issue of control, however, is supported by the assessment. The assessment did identify high competence, high commitment and motivation as strengths.
Furthermore, the assessment pointed out that followers at this level have less need for support and have less need for frequent praise. This is an accurate descriptive characteristic. Although, not all the descriptors of the assessment are 100% accurate, the preferred method of leadership still remains delegating / observing. Since the information from the assessment is somewhat mixed concerning the results of the leadership style, it seems more so in the best interest of the hypothetical scenario to utilize a situational leadership approach to identify the best way to communicate the necessary changes needed to effectively support student achievement because relationships will not be the key focus of the leader, whereas the task will be. Applying Leadership Style
The hypothetical school is seeing a high percentage of students failing an introductory course. In order to promote change and increase student achievement a situational leadership approach will be applied to address the concerns regarding ‘push back’ from staff about increased lesson planning and from students surrounding the need to purchase a new textbook. Both changes, lesson plans and textbook, revolve around the need to adapt the curriculum to engage students in a learning methodology that increases the rate of students passing the course. To that end, a method of backwards planning from a new assessment procedures, to interactive lessons, to student engagement, and expectations must be created and communicated to the teaching staff and students. Step one of the process involves creating a culture of collaboration and accountability among the core teachers of the course.
This starts by reviewing the data showing the percentage of students who are unsuccessful in the course and then building SMART goals to help the staff move students in a positive direction. SMART goals, as defined by Doran (1981), must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Once the goals are established, the goals will need to be communicated to the students as well. Having a goal that is relevant and attainable in a reasonable amount of time is more likely to motivate both teachers and students to accept the changes needed in the curriculum. This method will benefit the teachers in the S3 quadrant as a way to help persuade them into cooperating. There is plenty of room here to provide motivation and the leader can make the teachers have a renewed sense of self-confidence when they show positive results in the direction of their SMART goals after following their commitment. Step two supports the analysis of the Leadership Style Assessment Results as well as Doran’s (1981) belief that the school must “establish more teamwork.
Bring in one person’s strengths to help others. . . . We must get away from the idea that everyone must be good in every aspect of every stage of his job” (p. 36). Using the situational leadership style allows the leader to make accommodations based on the strengths and weaknesses of the teachers. Situational Leadership “stresses that leadership is composed of both a directive and a supportive dimension, and that each has to be applied appropriately in a given situation. To determine what is needed in a particular situation, a leader must evaluate her or his employees and assess how competent and committed they are to perform a given task” (Northouse, 2013, p. 99). One weakness that has been identified of situational leadership theory according to Northouse (2013) is “that it fails to account for how certain demographic characteristics (e.g., education, experience, age, and gender) influence the leader–subordinate prescriptions of the model” (p. 108). Knowing this is a criticism of the leadership approach and that relationship building is not a strength of this leader, the leader can utilize other members of the group to help support their weaknesses.
Also, based on the analysis of the assessment results, the leader in charge of change for the scenario will need to delegate responsibilities to strong followers in the S3 and S4 categories to help balance the short-comings of the leader. Step three is to identify and address the specific concerns of the staff. Lencioni (2002) believes that “organizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls, which [he] call[s] the five dysfunctions of a team” (p. 187). In this book, Lencioni encourages teams to engage in conflict, commit to decisions, and hold one another accountable. By allowing the team of teachers to address their concerns up front and then work through them, gives them a voice and helps to establish motivation. This particular strategy will work for the employees in the S2 and S3 quadrants who seek more coaching and relationship building. In this case the leader is taking the time to listen to the teachers and then in turn will potentially have the opportunity to provide feedback in the way of coaching.
The leader thus spends time listening and advising. Finally, it is not enough to just have the teachers work together to create new lesson plans and curriculum, they must also be passionate about the change and believe in what they are changing. According to DuFour et al., DuFour, Eaker, and Many (2006) “collaboration is not a virtue itself, and building a collaborative culture is simply a means to an end, not the end itself. The purpose of collaboration – to help more students achieve a t higher levels – can only be accomplished if the professionals engaged in collaboration are focused on the right work” (p.119). Therefore, the teachers must be actively involved in creating the final assessments used for collecting the data used in determining student success and passing of the course. Benefits and Challenges
The benefits of the situational leadership approach are that the administrator or leader at the school can address the teachers and students regarding the situation and then adapt their leadership style and activities for student success around the needs of the team. These adaptations can be structured on different approaches including directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating the follower’s based on their competence and commitment to the task. Furthermore, the leader is able to modify their style to nurture relationships, whether personally or through the assistance of strategically identified support staff, in order to increase the confidence, trust, motivation, and commitment level of the teachers and students to the overall success of the learning environment.
Finally, situational leadership style can be used in any situation by any leader. The challenges surrounding the situational leadership style do not directly acknowledge the ability levels of all teachers and students involved in the reorganization process for the curriculum. Also, this style relies on the ability of the leader to be able to read their followers and anticipate their needs. According to Northouse (2013) “In brief, the essence of situational leadership demands that leaders match their style to the competence and commitment of the subordinate” (p. 99). This means the leader must put aside all of their own needs and working preferences in order to accommodate their followers, thus potentially causing undue stress and extra pressure at the work environment for the leader themselves. Summary
The benefits of using a situational leadership style outweigh the challenges. This style of leadership allows the leader the flexibility to move and grow with their staff in order to make the changes needed to most effectively achieve goals. Since situational leadership does not force a leader into one style of leadership, they are able to utilize several tools and other members of their staff in order to accommodate needs, circumvent potential pitfalls, build relationships as needed, and trouble shoot on the spot. While it is not without its challenges and criticisms, it still remains the most effective style for use within a school that is filled with educators of differing ages, cultural backgrounds, levels of maturity, education, and experience.
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