One of our most important responsibilities as residence life staff members is staff supervision. Whether you have hired or “inherited” a RA staff from a previous supervisor, the needs of the your staff are as varied as the individual team members that you are supervising. Differences can range from whether they are new or returning, as well as their motivation for going through the RA selection process.
Understanding and putting into practice the fundamentals of situational leadership can make you a more effective and successful supervisor. Situational leadership is a concept that was developed in the 1960’s by Paul Hersey. Hersey believes that leaders must have the personal flexibility and range of skills necessary to vary their own behavior.
Situational leadership places the emphasis on the leader in relationship to the follower. Situational leadership is defined as the ability of a leader to adapt one’s style, depending on the situation, to meet the needs of his/her staff. One’s leadership style consists of task and relationship behavior. Which leadership style a person should use depends on the readiness of the people the leader is attempting to influence. Leadership is a function of the leader, follower and the situation.
There are three factors that influence situational leadership: the amount of guidance and direction (known as task behavior) a leader gives; the amount of support (known as relationship behavior) a leader gives and the readiness level that staff members exhibit.
Task behavior can be characterized by one-way communication from the leader to the follower. These behaviors can include telling people what to do and how to do it. Relationship behavior is characterized by two-way communication between the leader and the follower. Supportive behaviors may include listening and facilitating.
Readiness is how “ready” a person is to complete a task; it is not a personal characteristic. Readiness includes ability and willingness. Ability is the experience and skill/s that a person brings to the task. Willingness is the commitment and motivation that one has to complete the desired task.
There are four levels of follower readiness:
R1 – Unable or insecure
R2 – Unable but willing or confident
R3 – Able but unwilling or insecure
R4 – Able and willing or confident
It is important to note that a person’s readiness may vary from task to task. For example, a RA may be at R1 for a particular task such as confronting an alcohol policy violation their first day as a RA while at R4 for completing a task such as creating door tags and an informative bulletin board.
As a supervisor, I think that it is safe to say that our most challenging staff members may be those who are at R3 (able but unwilling), because they are able to complete the task, but are unwilling or unmotivated to do so. While it may be challenging for us to work with someone who is R1 (unable and insecure), it is important to keep in mind that each of us were at that point once, and many of our staff members, particularly at the beginning of RA training are at that stage. Keeping in mind the concept of situational leadership will help us to best work with that staff member to meet their needs and the common goal that you share.
As we supervise our RA staffs it is important to provide them with the appropriate amount of challenge, while balancing it with the appropriate amount of support. This can be achieved by tailoring the amount of your task and relationship behaviors to meet the needs of your staff. Hersey believes that leaders must have the personal flexibility and range of skills necessary to vary their own behavior in order to meet the needs of those whom they lead.
There are times, such as RA training, and at the beginning of the year that high amounts of task behavior are appropriate. As the year progresses and we become more confident with our staff members knowledge and readiness levels, we as supervisors can begin to engage in more relationship behavior with our staff members by empowering them to complete tasks with our encouragement and support.
As supervisors, we must keep in mind that we have the responsibility, based on our knowledge and experience, to adapt our style to meet the individual needs of our staff.
Five steps to becoming a situational leader:
1. Determine what responsibility/task you want to focus on with the person or group
2. Specify the level of performance that you want this person to accomplish in this task
3. Determine the developmental level of the person in that task.
This will consist of:
Ability – does the individual/group have the necessary knowledge/skill to perform at the desired level
Motivation – does the individual have the necessary confidence and willingness to perform at the desired level
4. Give the individual/group the appropriate combination of directive and supportive behavior
- Directive – the leader spells out the followers role, tells the follower how to do it and closely monitors performance
Supportive – the leader listens, provides support and encouragement and involves the follower in decision making
5 Learn what your personal leadership style is. There are four styles:
S1 – Telling – High directive, Low support
S2 – Consulting – High directive, High support
S3 – Participating – High supportive, Low directive
S4 – Delegating – Low supportive, Low directive
I do not believe that we can be successful supervisors until we are able to master the skills of situational leadership. According to Hersey, there is no “one best way” to influence and lead others”. Situational leadership requires us to invest time, effort and energy into those that we lead. While you may consider yourself to be a S2 – Consulting leader, you must be willing and able to be a S1 – Telling or S4 – Delegating leader depending on the situation, and the needs of your staff.
As leaders, we tend to make decisions on one’s leadership style based on how we like to be led, instead of how the person needs to be led. We need to challenge ourselves to sometimes changing the way that we do things, so that our staff member will be successful in their positions.
There are a number of benefits of employing situational leadership in our roles as residence life staff members. If applied correctly, it can improve motivation, growth and development among staff members and increase the likelihood of success and happiness.
• Hersey, P., Blanchard, K.H., & Johnson, D.E. (1996). Management of organizational behavior (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Submitted by Jennifer DuBrava, Resident Director, Rochester Institute of Technology