Sunday, October 14, 2012

Experiencing Situational Leadership

One of my new responsibilities this year in my graduate assistantship is advising FLEX, a Freshmen Leadership Experience sponsored by the Student Government Association (SGA).    
Freshmen Leadership Experience logo for 2012 Recruitment

Historically, FLEX has never struggled with recruitment, retention, or participant satisfaction, but it has dealt with members engaging in inappropriate behavior. Last year, those involved in FLEX made a pretty negative name for themselves after seven of the fifteen women in the program accepted a bid to one sorority and multiple infractions of underage drinking, hazing allegations, and policy violations were discovered.  Sadly enough, a majority of these acts were prompted, encouraged, or overlooked by the student directors.  As such, SGA officers called for a retirement of the program, unless proper oversight could be guaranteed – and that’s where I come in.  I have been given instructions to “turn the program around” and restructure it to accomplish its mission.  Fortunately, I have been blessed with two phenomenal student directors of the organization that care deeply about the success of the program.  
Me with the FLEX directors and the SGA Executive Branch

As I looked more into FLEX, I noticed that the program has strayed from its purpose of leadership, and has evolved into a highly social organization, with few professional undertones.  For freshmen new to a big campus, this social community has been a wonderful experience for them, but I feel that the members are not being challenged enough and are not using the significant amount of potential and resources available to them.  My mission this year is to inject leadership back into the program.  The theories I’m learning about in this class have been a wonderful stimulus for me as I envision what this new program will look like.  I wanted to share some of the approaches to leadership with my two student directors, but I hadn’t found one yet that makes sense in the context that we’re working in until I read about the Situational Approach to leadership (Northouse, 2013). 

Situational Leadership II graph.
FLEX is a yearlong program, and it makes sense that our freshmen members enter the organization low in confidence and high in commitment (D1).  They are so excited to just be involved in something, but so new to college life and what it means to be a leader on this campus.  As the semester goes on, they may start to feel more comfortable in school and in the program as they make connections, but the stress of their first set of finals might prompt a decrease in commitment (D2) as they’re ready to go home for the holidays.  When they return to school after a month-long break, their commitment is likely to be lessened, but hopefully by the end of the year, members exit the program on an emotional high, having made their best friends, and excited to move into other leadership positions on campus.  These four stages of development, being so prescriptive, were very easy for my student directors to understand.  This approach essentially outlines how they should behave and structure activities throughout the year.  For example, in the spring, it may be more important to have a retreat or social event to increase motivation and support (S3) the members as they start to take control of the organization’s programs and direction.  

Ken Blanchard, one of the researchers behind the Situational Leadership theory, clarified the role between the leader and follower, stating that it should be transparent.  He mentions that the leader should explain his/her approach so followers understand the reasons behind his/her efforts; however, in the context of FLEX, I think I disagree with his statement.  For the freshmen in the program, this is an experience, and I think that being forthcoming with each member would take away from the relationship; it would feel more like a teacher/manager than a mentor/friend.  My goal for FLEX is for the freshmen and my student directors to learn and grow together.  I think it might be beneficial for me to articulate my approach to each student director with them, but for the freshmen, we want them to feel like the program is effortless, spontaneous, and completely driven and moved by them.  This ties into Blanchard's final thoughts about leading with rather than leading at; having developmental conversations and programs that achieve the goals of the follower, which is was the Freshmen Leadership Experience is all about. 


Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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