Reflections of relational, situational and change leadership

bschmove – Flickr


Throughout my tenure as heading up an independent sports media organization (, I have constantly had to adjust my notion of thinking of how to lead an organization. The readings (specifically Creating Leaderful Organizations by Joseph A. Raelin and Exploring Leadership by Susan Komives, Nance Lucas and Timothy McMahon) I have done have not necessarily changed my concept of leadership, but they have strengthened my ideas and given me additional ideas to build upon.

Prior to entering those readings, I was of the mindset that the situational model was the best form of leadership to follow. Several other valued aspects of leadership that I have learned is the idea of power being shared back and forth; the value in employees/colleagues feeling as of they are a part of the company and the decision process therein; the value of creating “intradepenence,” as opposed to interdependence; and knowing and understanding the five phases of positive response to change.

One primary form of leadership that Exploring Leadership relies on is relational leadership.


One aspect of relational leadership is the absence of authoritarian power; power is given to the leader by his or her colleagues. There are many different types of power, ranging from expert to legitimate, but the theory holds that all types of effective leadership can be drawn to one effective tool: the colleagues “assigning” power to the leader.

Some very salient points are brought up in this manner, but the model glosses over too quickly on legitimate leadership. Whether or not a dissatisfied colleague likes it or not, he or she either has to follow the lead of the boss or quit. To be sure, if too many competent employees quit, the onus is on the boss to change course or to be fired.

Nonetheless, for the most part, legitimate leadership is a motivating tool in corporate America that I daresay is a large reason for how leaders are created. There are certainly born leaders, but there are also created leaders, and most created leaders who then go on to be viewed as a model for leadership were assigned legitimate leadership at first and then learned what it means to be a leader; what tactics to take and not take, what tone of voice in what situation to use… essentially, the created leader succeeds because of adaptability.

The relational model is a good one to follow, reasoning that the more power you give away, the more you will get – your own voice will be increased in value if the listeners feel they have increased power as well. They are more comfortable in speaking out; they are more willing to listen. But it disregards the benefit of legitimate leadership altogether, and sometimes people need power to transform themselves. The popular notion is that power is corruption, but it can also be a means towards leadership.


I am a proponent of situational leadership. As Raelin says, “since the multifaceted, dynamic organizations of the modern era require nimble and behaviorally complex managers, leaderful managers are needed to perform a variety of leadership functions and vary them with the situations that they encounter.”

Prior to the Raelin book, I had learned and experienced situational leadership, but I had not been able to put it so succinctly into words that Raelin has been able to. Exploring Leadership has documented that situational contingency leadership was popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. Since then, leadership has evolved to influence, reciprocal and the current chaos leadership. Reading over the major assumptions and criticism for situational, influence, reciprocal and chaos makes me question whether or not we really have moved on from situational and the following iterations are just situational leadership in different packaging.

Take the major criticism of situational leadership: “Most contingency theories are ambiguous, making it difficult to formulate specific, testable proportions. Theories lack accurate measures.”

I fail to see how this is a major criticism when it is the very foundation that situational leadership is built on. Of course it’s ambiguous! It varies from person to person and there is no set rule of how to act or set tenet to follow. It’s meant to be ambiguous and flexible, molding a person into a leader that can effectively work with multi-varied personalities.

Take the assumptions of the influence, reciprocal and chaos approaches, respectively: “Leadership is an influence or social exchange process, Leadership is a shared process, Attempts to describe leadership within a context of a complex, rapidly changing world.”

What of these couldn’t apply to situational leadership? None.


In a business, change occurs rapidly, both foreseen and unforeseen. The Social Change Model in Exploring Leadership introduces key elements of both positive and negative change in an ability to reflect and react to the stages that people go through.

Negative change starts with stability, the status quo. Negative change is then implemented, which is greeted with shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and finally, acceptance – the latter of which may convert the person into believing it is positive change but at the very least allows the person a form of stability to rely on.

Positive change occurs with uninformed optimism, informed pessimism, hopeful realism, informed optimism and completion. I will now briefly run through each stage as it correlated with the new platform and my feelings which is slated to launch October 15, the phases of change which I could remarkably identify with:

  • Uninformed optimism causes excitement in a new project, one that sounds fantastic and could be game-changing. When the concept of MVN’s new iteration was broached, there was widespread excitement without having gone into the nitty-gritty of it.
  • Informed pessimism came in the focus of the preliminary discussions and budget concerns. Amid rising prices, hard realities and new concepts (which evoked its own subset of positive and negative change), the platform had to be tweaked and while there was still excitement in the project, it was tempered.
  • Hopeful realism came about on the building of the project and all the positives that could be derived from the project. It quickly became abundantly clear that even if consumers did not respond with as much enthusiasm as we “in the know” did, it was an improvement on the current MVN regardless, which made the project worth it.
  • Informed optimism occurred not too long ago. The project looks excellent, people who have seen the new platform are stoked and we are ready to catch the world by storm.
  • Completion is the final stage of positive change, and we are in the final stages of preparing for launch; making sure everyone is on the same page, making sure the Web site is prepared for the launch.


One of my favorite tools to evaluate my leadership is to conduct surveys, often anonymous, with people who can offer feedback on my leadership skills and strategies.  Garnering feedback from those with constant contact with myself can be invaluable and also a form of sharing power with employees (or colleagues, as I prefer to put it) who then feel that they can help shape my leadership and my actions therein to sustain a positive environment for all.

My personal model of leadership can best be described as situational leadership, but borrowing from many other tenets of leadership. There is not just one form of leadership that should be the end-all, be-all. Leadership is constantly changing, permeable and malleable and to allow oneself to conform to one model of leadership is to limit one’s abilities to be a successful leader.

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