E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Situational Leadership in the Era of Open Business

Gran Canaria - Charca de MaspalomasOne of the things that I got to appreciate quite a bit during the course of the summer vacation I took earlier on this month was having the opportunity for doing plenty of reflective thinking and one of the recurring themes that came up over and over again was that one of Leadership and how the role leadership itself is being transformed, in a now more complex than ever (business) world, thanks to the significant impact of digital technologies. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while would remember how much of a big fan I am of concepts like Servant Leadership, but there is one type out there that’s been there for a while now  and which I am finding rather inspiring in terms of describing the emergence of a different kind of leader: Situational Leadership® (Paul Hersey).

Inspired by Kathy Sierra (Who by the way is now back into the Social Web as serious pony with some stunning blogging coming along as well) I put together, what today, still remains as one of the most popular blog entries over here in this blog: Social Business – Where Bosses and Managers Become Servant Leaders, where I reflected on the changing role of management into leadership in today’s complex world. Fast forward to 2013 and that assessment is probably even now more accurate than ever. I am not sure what you folks would feel about it, but I am starting to think we are witnessing perhaps one the most profound, deep and impactful crisis in Leadership in our entire human history.

If you look into the world today, not just the business world, by the way, but the world in general, you would see how there is a massive crisis in terms of both Management and Leadership. Look around you and see where we are with today’s financial econoclypse, the various different unjustifiable war conflicts, the abundance of corruption and fraud (All the way to the top spheres and across the board!), lack of morals and ethics, the so-called NSA protocol, you name it. If anything, you would probably be able to say that we don’t have much of a world leadership going on at the moment. Quite the contrary. I’m starting to think that we got stuck in that 20th century model of tailorism / management (The Hierarchy) in a world that has clearly demonstrated it cannot longer by managed. It never was. If anything, it can only be facilitated and lead accordingly (The Wirearchy).

Steve Denning all along has been talking about how the business world needs to make that leap of faith and push forward for that transformation of today’s workplace with Radical Management. According to him, we are nowadays experiencing the Golden Age of Management. To me, this is bigger. Much bigger. We are probably witnessing, in the flesh, the perfect storm of how Management is going to transition into Leadership provoked, more than anything else, by that massive disruption of knowledge stocks no longer cutting it and instead transitioning into knowledge flows in order to survive into the 21st century. The scarcity of information for better decision making that used to be in the hands of the few is now transitioning into that massive free flow of information and knowledge that’s helping inspire a new generation of leaders: situational leaders®.

Interestingly enough, situational leadership is not a new concept. It’s been with us for 30 / 40 years already and I am finding it rather intriguing how it’s now making the rounds 30 years later, and well into the 21st century, to describe not only the role of the leader, but also the role of the follower(s). In case you may not be familiar with the concept, here’s a short description of what it is like, taken out from Wikipedia:

The fundamental underpinning of the situational leadership theory is that there is no single “best” style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those that adapt their leadership style to the maturity (“the capacity to set high but attainable goals, willingness and ability to take responsibility for the task, and relevant education and/or experience of an individual or a group for the task”) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. Effective leadership varies, not only with the person or group that is being influenced, but it also depends on the task, job or function that needs to be accomplished

I am pretty sure that after you have read that excerpt the first thought that may have come to your mind would probably have been this one: “Oh, yes, I, too, can certainly be a situational leader (at times)”. In fact, you may as well have been all along a few times without not noticing, right? Whereas if you think about Management the whole equation changes quite a bit. All of us can certainly be situational leaders at some point in time, in a specific context and scenario, but if I were to ask you whether you could be a manager the answer would probably vary. Naturally.

That’s why I am finding all of these conversations around Leadership in today’s interconnected, hyperconnected, smarter world than ever, through digital technologies, more fascinating than anything else. Specially, from the perspective of how every single person out there seems to have an opinion about what leadership should be really all about. So, to that extent, while I was going through that thinking time, I decided that from here onwards I am going to start talking over here, in this blog, about some of my favourite reflections around leadership, that others may have shared across already, and its key paramount role in today’s complex (business) world that I have bumped into over the course of time.

Essentially, what I will try to aim at is to eventually hint, perhaps, a new kind of Leadership. That one that would thrive in an Open Business world. Yes, indeed, you know where I am heading. Just like I have made the transition, earlier in the year, from Social Business into Open Business, from here onwards I will move along with a follow-up transition from Leadership into Open Leadership, where I will try to decipher and reflect, every now and then, how both Servant Leadership and Situational Leadership fit in together in terms of how we need to keep pushing, by challenging the status quo, the traditional hierarchy, understanding that while there may well still be a role for traditional (senior / executive) management  out there in today’s corporate environment, we may have run out of steam with it altogether, because as Don Tapscott quoted a while ago: “Business can’t succeed in a world that’s failing“. And we are failing pretty badly right now.

And talking about Don himself, I thought I would go ahead and share over here a short video interview he did recently around “A New Model of Leadership” where he doesn’t quote situational leadership per se, but he gets to describe it pretty well on what it would look like in today’s business world dominated by the Social Web:

And, finally, I thought I would finish this initial blog post on the topic of Open Leadership pointing out another video clip that I bumped into earlier on this year, and that, although a couple of years old already, it provides a very good entry point in terms of what would be the main differences between Managers and Leaders. The video was put together by Scott Williams and lasts for a bit over 5 minutes. It’s totally worth it and I can certainly recommend you go through it to understand how and where the shift needs to start happening, if not already, as we move onwards and transition into a brave new world of uncertainty, perseverance, resilience, coherence and, finally, complexity. Essentially, a more human world:

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  1. I believe you are a bit confused as to what Situational Leadership is. It is a behavioral model developed by Dr. Paul Hersey with help from Dr. Ken Blanchard. The term is trademarked, the model, copyrighted. Your use of the term here is confusing to readers. May I suggest you visit http://www.situational.com?

    Best regards,


    1. Hi Randy, thanks a lot for taking the time to drop by and share that very helpful feedback comment. I was not aware that the term was trademarked and copyrighted. I should have double checked that one, versus just quoting it, and glad you have pointed me in the right direction to reference the right resources, add the copyright and set the record straight. I very much appreciate it.

      I have now taken a look into the original blog post and have corrected the paragraphs themselves adding the references and the copyrights accordingly. Please do have a look and let me know if you think it’d still be confusing for readers and I’ll be more than happy to re-adjust it again, or perhaps remove the reference altogether.

      Thanks again for the feedback. Again, much appreciated.

  2. Luis, I am happy to have met you and glad I helped out a little. Situational Leadership is an amazing model of how best to meet the needs o the people you lead. I find it amazing that it seems more relevant today that ever before. Your blog is great. I wish you great success!

    1. Hi Randy, oh, thank you!. I really appreciate you taking the time to drop by and help me update the blog post more accurately to describe Situational Leadership. I first got exposed to it earlier in the year at a conference in Prague and glad I now got the full context of where it fits in, specially, in today’s more complex world than ever.

      One of my favourite key concepts about it is Adaptability not just to the environment, but also to the various different complex interactions, as you well expressed above in terms of helping leaders best meet the needs of the people they lead.

      In the world of social networking in a business context, that’s just huge!! So very glad you pointed me in the right direction and I very much appreciate that.

      Thanks ever so much and have a good one as well!

  3. Nice post Luis.. I agree 100% That the key skill is adaptability from the leader in question. If For example they don’t understand the basic concepts of hyper connectedness and learning at the speed of need, that Might mean Leaders will not be able to be fully involved with their direct reports lives, Therefore missing out on opportunities to remove obstacles and help people grow. One approach to that is what I like to call “in the moment communication”Therefore be present when needed not just physically but to be effective in supporting others. And One key ActionView that can make or break this breakthrough in leadership is resilience, because understanding the new notion of work or what we now call “the future of work” is not easy, And people sometimes easily give up on trying to understand that notion or simply don’t turn to others for help fearing of being Judged. And I can also add that having a high emotional and social quotient does help the leader adapt to every situation they face when called to support

    The shift in leadership approach is very gradual and the rhythm of change is not the same for every leader in question. Thanks again for sharing this post…

    1. Hi Ralph, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the great comments and glad you brought into the mix the concept of resilience, because along with adaptability we are well on our way to help shift the traditional role of management into that one of leadership. Really nice!

      Also, very interesting to notice from your commentary the need for leaders to be closer to their constituents exercising on something that most people take for granted, but that, on its own, it has got huge power: listening AND acting accordingly, from the perspective of that closer contact with knowledge workers to understand better their work, but also to identify how they could get additional help when and where needed.

      Alas, feeling that far too many managers and leaders nowadays, all the way to the top, spend too little time and too badly to be where their employees are attentive of what’s happening and to act where it may be relevant, and it shows, obviously, in terms of the % of disengaged employees in the corporate environment at the moment.

      Lots of hard work still ahead if we would want to shift gears and help leaders adapt to a new wave of thinking, connecting, and leading their teams!

      Thanks again for dropping by and for the feedback! Much appreciated, as usual.

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