Situational Leadership in Hospitality

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Situational Leadership in Hospitality

If one look at the nature of the hospitality industry, it is serviced-base, it is labor-intensive, it is renowned for its high staff turnover and labor diversity in term of age, culture, and background; one may conclude that the industry is all about people. When people become the most valuable asset of an organization, simply managing them is no longer sufficient to compete in today’s challenging business world. Leadership has become the new key operative word, (Testa, 2001) and is seen as critical to organizational long-term wellbeing (Whitelaw and Morda, 2004). Among all leadership theories, methods or styles, situational leadership is one of the most widely known and used techniques (Blank et al, 1990). The question raise in this paper is where situational leadership applies in a hospitality organization.

To understand situational leadership, one should first define leadership. A common view that all leadership definitions share is that leadership is a process of influencing others. (Vroom & Jago 2007) The word ‘process’ is most crucial, as leadership is not something possessed by a leader, but something a leader attempt to do. Furthermore, in an organizational environment, leadership become the ability to influence and motivate staff to contribute towards organizational goals (House et al, 2004)

For instance, in hospitality industry, leadership can be a general manager trying to lead all hotel staff to provide better customer service, or a banquet supervisor trying to lead food and beverage attendants to host a dinner party, or an experienced staff trying to lead a new comer towards better working performance. Leadership lies in everyone, and can be practiced in all organizational level, not necessarily only by those who are in the senior positions.

There are three schools of thought about leadership, the trait, the behavior and the situational approach (Cole, 2005). In early research, the role of situation or context in leadership was largely overlooked, where acknowledgement was made over time along with new approaches introduced. (Vroom & Jago, 2007)

All situational theories of leadership hold one crucial assumption: ‘variables can be found moderating the relationship between leadership and organizational and individual outcomes’. (Brown, 1996, p52) That is, changing leadership style can eventually change organizational outcome. Although different leaders do have different way of doing things, which leads to their major preferred leading style, situational theories believe that an effective leader can lead under any circumstances, given that he or she can manage all leadership styles, and would put different style in use accordingly. (Cole, 2005)

There are quite a few leadership theories under the situational approach (Cole, K 2005; Miller et al, 2007), situational leadership is however widely referred as the Hersey and Blanchard’s theory, which was first introduced in 1969, based on a curvilinear relationship rather than a simple linear relationship, between directive behavior and relationship behavior. (Graeff, 1997)Over years of modification, which includes both decorative and substantive changes, the followings are established:

There are four styles of leadership, with variable degree of directive and relationship behavior of a leader, namely telling (S1), explaining (S2), participating (S3), and delegating (S4). There are also four levels of task-readiness, with variable degree of competency and willingness of a follower towards one task. They are low competency and willingness level (R1), growing competency and willingness level (R2), satisfactory competency but low willingness level (R3), and high competency and willingness level. Leaders should vary leadership style in match of developmental need of the followers, that is, S1 in match of R1, S2 in match of R2, and so forth. (Cole, K 2005; Ralph, 2004)

Moreover, readiness level is only...
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