A Moment of Reflection on 50 Years

I started working at The Center for Leadership Studies (CLS) in June of 1983, and I was so very honored to do so! My job at CLS was well-defined. We had a packaged program (The Essentials of Situational Leadership®) that I was responsible for selling and, if need be, facilitating. There was no internet. Nobody Googled anything. There were no lists of training professionals you could purchase with up-to-date contact information for the person making leadership and management training decisions. You called a company’s main switchboard and said a silent prayer hoping you would get patched through to somebody that knew something about how the organization was training leaders. Quite often your prayers went unanswered.

And, it wasn’t that people in the early 1980s hadn’t heard of Situational Leadership®. Our founder, Dr. Paul Hersey, had seen to that. He started out in the world of academia in the late 1950s. He used one creative instructional technique after another to make sense of all that was “organizational behavior” for the students in his classes. In so doing, he wound up teaching a course at Ohio University in the late 1960s that everybody wanted to take. That course became a best-selling text book (“Management of Organizational Behavior”). That book introduced The Situational Leadership® Model and was the genesis for the launch of CLS in 1969.

Before I showed up, Dr. Hersey had traveled the world about 10 times over introducing the model to thousands of university students and corporate leaders. By 1983, there was certainly awareness and interest in developing leaders, but comparatively few organizations were ready to dive in, make it a priority and commit serious resources to the cause.

Then things changed — in a hurry! In the fall of 1983, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman published “In Search of Excellence.” It was really the first book on management, leadership and organizational culture that was universally embraced. Suddenly, there was expansive interest in all kinds of “soft-skills training.” In those days, you primarily positioned the merits of your model against others. Roughly 82% of a customer’s decision to purchase rested with their level of comfort with your content compared to the relatively few competitive options available.

In 1986, my wife, Maureen, and I left CLS and started a company called Performance Impact (PI). While still focused in the arena of organizational behavior and leadership development, the value proposition of PI was roughly 180 degrees from that of CLS. PI was a custom house that lived project to project for the better part of 25 years. Simply stated, PI became an extension of the training departments that hired us. We designed, developed and delivered over 200 programs during that period. We were also blessed to have customers that forced us to keep tabs on emerging technologies and principles of sophisticated learning design and measurement.

In 2011, PI and CLS formed a strategic partnership. The very first thing we did was sit down with a collection of long-term CLS customers. We asked them two questions:

  • What is CLS doing well?
  • What does CLS have to do differently?

Answers to the first questions were straightforward, emphatic and reassuring: “Whatever you do, don’t change the model!”

The Situational Leadership® Model sits on a rock-solid foundation of pioneering research in organizational behavior. Dr. Hersey’s genius was to integrate many of those seemingly disparate contributions into a practical, repeatable framework that (at a minimum) gives leaders a place to start:

  • What’s the task?
  • What’s the task-specific level of ability and willingness of the person performing it?
  • What approach should I use based on the answers to the first two questions?

From our admittedly biased vantage point these questions seem every bit as relevant for leaders at all levels today as they were five decades ago. Suffice to say, nobody will be doing anything creative with the model!

Answers to the second question have been the guiding light for our research and development efforts since 2011 and speak to the ever-expanding criteria customers consider when selecting a partner to help them build leaders. Because of those discussions (and many, many others), we now feature:

  • A core offering that is translated into 25 languages
  • A multitiered Situational Leadership®-based curriculum that tethers our model to coaching, Emotional Intelligence, DiSC®, power, leading teams and leading change
  • Content that is available in a classroom setting, online, in both blended and virtual formats
  • A customer-facing portal that houses our sustainment suite (The Four Moments of Truth™) and allows our microlearning and other content to be accessible by our customers any time, anywhere and on any device

On our 50th anniversary, as we reflect with pride on the reach and relevance of Situational leadership®, we say sincere thanks to all that have participated in any way during that journey. We are also very excited about all that awaits us moving forward!

APPLICATION CHALLENGE

  1. How did you first experience Situational Leadership®?
  2. What impact has it had on your life/career?
  3. What do you think the future of leadership development has in store for us all?