Journal of Nursing Management, 2005, 13, 483–489

Situational leadership: a model for leading telecommuters
LEIGH ANN FARMER
RN, MSN, CCM

Clinical Resource Manager, VHA Inc., Greensboro, NC, USA

Correspondence Leigh Ann Farmer 3959 Katherine Way Jamestown NC 27282 USA E-mail: lfarmer@vha.com

F A R M E R L . A . (2005) Journal of Nursing Management 13, 483–489 Situational leadership: a model for leading telecommuters

Aim To describe a leadership model aimed at assisting health care leaders to incorporate situational leadership into their practice when leading telecommuters. Background Technological developments have grown in two areas, including medicine and communication, which have facilitated an enhanced information exchange in health care. These technological enhancements have allowed the health care arena to expand and improve its capabilities, including the delivery of health care and the information exchange among patients, providers and workers. Key issues Traditional leadership styles must be modified to respond to the needs of telecommuters. Situational leadership gives structured guidance to the nursing leader when managing telecommuters. Conclusions Situational leadership has been used in the traditional work setting and can be used in the virtual workplace. The strategies and techniques used have to be modified for the telecommuter and must focus on increasing communication. Keywords: leadership styles, models, situational leadership, telecommuter, teleworkers
Accepted for publication: 28 April 2005

Introduction
Technological developments have allowed health care and communication to work cooperatively together to better meet the demands of the employer, employee and ultimately the customer. The first telecommuter documented in history had a telephone line between his employer and his home. This first telecommuting activity occurred in 1877 and technology, including the World Wide Web, computers, video-conferencing and digital phones are currently allowing work to be done at remote locations in many areas of the workforce including health care (Gibson et al. 2002, p. 77). According to Gibson et al. (2002) 10% of the workforce in the United States telecommutes and the majority of those work from home. The percentage of the population that telecommutes will increase as employee demands for flexibility increase and technology improves.
ª 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

The management of telecommuters has become a reality to many organizations now and the number of telecommuters is predicted to continue growing. Telecommuting provides many advantages to both the employer and the employee such as increased productivity, enhanced satisfaction, employee retention and cost reduction (Manochehri & Pinkerton 2003). Despite these advantages, telecommuting presents many challenges to organizations and most directly to management.

Background
Situational leadership, a model developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1982, provides managers with a way to have open communication while helping staff with competence, commitment and independence and ultimately value and honour differences. This model defines three core competencies of a situational leader: 483

policies and responsibilities that she has not learned because of inexperience. 2002). 2002. p. Technology has had much advancement and management and/or leadership styles have to respond in a similar manner. Situational leadership has been Ôhighly successfulÕ for many years and Ôseems equally applicable to telecommuters as it has been with traditional workersÕ (Gibson et al. According to Cascio (2000) there are many business reasons that exist that would argue for telecommuters. Over time Sue gains confidence. Sue. Each organization must evaluate the implementation of a telecommuting programme comparing benefits to the disadvantages along with the strategies to overcome those challenges. Telecommuting has become increasingly popular to both the employer and the employee. In health care. Sue’s manager has only ever managed one telecommuter before Sue and is finding difficulty in managing and training someone that is not in the office everyday. as it is the foundation for a strong telecommuting programme (Kistner 2002). 2002). 81). Management usually is more skilled in dealing with routine events and leadership is more appropriate in times of change. 483–489 Challenges of leading telecommuters Despite telecommuting’s advantages to both the employee and the employer there are many challenges 484 . Betty. This model has been used to manage on-site employees and this model also is effective with telecommuters (Gibson et al. but not exclusive to. 76) one or more days of the work week. analyse a case study and describe a leadership model to address those challenges. There are significant differences between management and leadership. Reduced real estate expenses and maintenance costs. there are still many processes. telecommuting can benefit organizations involved in. that must be overcome by the nursing leader. is an employee of an organization that offers the option of telecommuting and she works out of her home. Along with these benefits. case management. reduce costs related to workspace needed at the main office and an increase in employee production (Manochehri & Pinkerton 2003). the possible disadvantages are a loss of cost-efficiencies and less communication with staff. Betty ª 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Sue is still a new employee and does have some difficulty completing the tasks within her job. Journal of Nursing Management. Although this implementation process may be difficult and challenging. include authorizations for services. co-workers and customersÕ (Gibson et al.L. Telecommuting gives employees increased flexibility in scheduling and involves less commuting time. Sue’s responsibilities. increased productivity and access to global markets are reasons for telecommuters. Management is defined as the planning and organizing to achieve organizational goals. Farmer diagnosis. supervisors. A. 2002. The traditional methods of management and leadership may have to be altered when directly supervising a telecommuter. a registered nurse and case manager. discharge planning. Additional benefits of telecommuting are that it gives the employer the ability to attract employees. The increasing number of telecommuters in the general workforce and implementation programme for telecommuters is a change in the traditional setting resulting in the need for a modified leadership style. p. ss. making referrals as needed and coordinating any needed services. I3–I5). Senior leaders must take the initiative to implement an effective telecommuting programme (Kistner 2002). it is imperative. The purpose of this article is to describe the benefits and challenges related to telecommuting to both the employer and the employee. This type of leadership will make telecommuters feel ÔcomfortableÕ and connected which can be linked to job satisfaction and retention (Gibson et al. During those initial 3 months of employment Sue gained a basic knowledge of her job responsibilities. 81). Telecommuting For the purpose of this article telecommuting is defined as Ôinvolving working at one’s home or another location where employees use computers and communication technology to communicate with the main office. as a case manager. 13. whereas leadership is the influence on others that motivates or inspires people to achieve organizational goals (Gibson et al. Although she has a basic knowledge. consulting. transcription services and medical coding. p. Improved technology and increased utilization of telemedicine will continue to encourage many more industries to take advantage of telecommuting. A case study A case study will be used to examine telecommuting and strategies based on situational leadership that can be used to more effectively lead telecommuters. 2003. disease management. which is located over 500 miles away from her employer’s main office. flexibility and partnering for performance (Blanchard et al. 2002. commitment and knowledge and within 9 months from when she started telecommuting she can perform the tasks of her job description. Sue has worked at the organization for a time period of 3 months when she begins telecommuting.

Over time Sue gains confidence. Journal of Nursing Management. recognizing and encouraging. ÔDirective behaviour is characterized by the leader giving detailed rules and instructions while monitoring closely that they are followed. she feels comfortable with her ability to do the job and is ready for any tasks that her manager can assign. Situational leadership can be applied to any situation including both the traditional and telecommuting work setting. When situational leadership is used. It may be more appropriate to use different styles with the same follower when she/he is performing tasks. During the first few months she is excited to begin. Sue is feeling better about herself and her ability to perform the essential functions of her job. other ideas must be incorporated in order to lead a worker that does not work in the same location as the leader.This model is based on matching the leadership style to the developmental level of the subordinate. 1–1). Core competencies of a situational leader One of the first core competencies of a Situational Leader is diagnosis. Directive and supportive behaviour is described by Irgens (1995) as the following. Betty. commitment and knowledge and within 6 months from when she started telecommuting she can independently perform the tasks of her job description. The challenge occurs after the diagnosis of developmental level and selection of leadership style has been completed. it is inferred from behaviorÕ (Blanchard et al. From this description. to be flexible and to partner for performance. It is also important to remember that a person can regress as well as progress through the four stages. an appropriate leadership style can be applied. 2)Õ. 2003. but is hesitant about where to start and what to do because she is so far away. 13. Later on. This is because the follower’s qualifications may be more appropriate for some tasks than others may. 3–3). at Sue’s 1 year anniversary with the company. Competence is acquired over time and is Ôa person’s demonstrated task-specific and transferable knowledge and skills on a given goal or taskÕ and commitment is a Ômeasure of an individual’s motivation and confidence in relation to a specific task or goal. As Sue’s level of competence increases over time her developmental level also changes resulting in different types of leadership styles needing to be used. During these first 9 months of Sue’s telecommuting experience. competence and commitment of others. In order to diagnose. After a few months of telecommuting. the appropriate style is based on the subordinate and the task. ss. Situational leadership is a model that Sue’s manager. 483–489 . Sue gains knowledge and skills resulting in less direct supervision needed. Once the developmental level is diagnosed. the leader must know how to diagnose the performance. the worker progressed from having a low level of confidence and competence to a much higher level. In order for a leader to know what leadership style is more appropriate. as the traditional work setting is much different from a virtual workplace 485 Situational leadership Situational leadership is based on the following principles: there is not one leadership style that works in all situations. During this time she struggles again with her confidence level and this affects her performance. several key characteristics from the case study will be discussed that will help to determine Sue’s developmental level. During those first 6 months of telecommuting. 3–2. 2003. Supportive behaviour is characterized by the leader listening. (2003) explained that the core competencies of situational leadership are the ability to diagnose. Soon after that. The leader decides what is to be done. and the leadership styles all have varying levels of directive and supportive behaviour (Blanchard et al. Different strategies and techniques are used to effectively apply situational leadership. The follower’s maturity is the basis for the choice of leadership (s. understanding and openness and close human contact and warmth.Situational leadership struggles with communicating with Sue and being able to determine the best method of explaining processes for completing tasks. how it is to be done and when. but is feeling unmotivated. communicating. Sue encounters a situation that she has never encountered before and this causes her to doubt herself and her ability to do her job. Table 1 describes the four different developmental levels. can use to guide her in leading telecommuters. It is [also] a way for leaders to help the people they work with grow and become self-reliant achieversÕ (Blanchard et al. respect and trust. 2003). ss. The behaviour rests on mutual ª 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. It is a model for Ôdeveloping people and talent. There are four developmental levels that a person can progress through over time. Blanchard et al. This case study is an example of a situation that a leader can encounter when managing telecommuting employees. Sue goes through many phases as she develops into her role.

but may lack the confidence to go it alone. May even be more skilled than the leaderÕ ÔExperienced and capable. virtual demonstrations of processes. direct and personal communication is necessary with a D1 and should also be continued with a D2. that can serve as mentor. Journal of Nursing Management. The major needs of a D1 as stated by Blanchard et al. 2003). Strategies used to further develop a worker at this level include biweekly meetings between supervisor and worker. initially Sue is excited about her new role but is also hesitant because she is so far away and realizes that there are many aspects of her job that she does not know. clearly communicating standards of communication among team members. Farmer Table 1 Developmental levels (Famous Models 2004) Developmental level Level 4 Level 3 Level 2 Level 1 Level of competence and commitment High competence and high commitment High competence and variable commitment Some competence and low commitment Low competence and low commitment Description ÔExperienced at the job and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. Tables 1 and 2 can be referred to for more information on the development levels and leadership styles. hands-on training. A. 2003). Developmental level 2 Two more developmental levels must be obtained before moving to the level of a D4. 13. providing encouragement and promoting involvement in team activities (Blanchard et al. a leader needs to provide more encouragement and support to the worker (Gibson et al. voice mail. 2002). Table 2 describes the four different types of leadership styles and their characteristics. involvement in problem-solving and decision-making and coaching. Continuous. Support is always provided. frequent feedback. opportunities to practice. Sue goes through this stage when she is feeling better about her ability to do her job but is unmotivated. All of these strategies can be used by the Situational Leader to better meet the needs of the D1 who is also a telecommuter. The needs of a D2 are clear goals. When leading a DI. providing adequate resources and helping to eliminate roadblocks (Cascio 2000). opportunities to discuss concerns or feelings. The task or the situation may be new to themÕ ÔGenerally lacking the specific skills required for the job in hand. Many managers have to learn different types of communication skills so that telecommuters will feel less isolated. video-conferencing and face-to-face communicationsÕ (Cascio 2000. (2002) a D1 needs a leader who can provide lots of communication in the form of instruction. According to Gibson et al. 2003) Style Style Style Style Style 4 3 2 1 Level of direction and support Low directive and low supportive behaviour Low directive and high supportive behaviour High directive and high supportive behaviour High directive and low supportive behaviour Description Delegating Supporting Coaching Directing (Blanchard et al. which is one-way communication. providing frequent feedback on progress. This level requires a more supportive and directive style of leadership. This developmental level can be referred to as a level 1. Managers must Ônot solely rely on e-mail. (2003) are recognition of enthusiasm.L. p. or the motivation to do it well/quicklyÕ ÔMay have some relevant skills. Managers should learn how to conduct effective audio meetings and to balance e-mail. but won't be able to do the job without help. and lacks any confidence and/or motivation to tackle itÕ Table 2 Leadership styles (Blanchard et al. At this point. The style 2 (S2) or coaching leadership style is most appropriate. Strategies for leading a telecommuting D1 must be modified as those used in a traditional work setting may not be successful. 483–489 Principles applicable to the case study Developmental level 1 In this case study Sue progresses from a developmental level 1 (D1) to a developmental level 4 (D4) and must have a leadership style that is most appropriate for the level. A developmental level 2 (D2) is characterized by having some skills but is often frustrated and unmotivated. the style 1 (S1) or directing style is most appropriate and this style can be applied to the initial few months that Sue begins to telecommute. During this stage the telecommuter has learned many of the fundamentals of the job but still lacks experiences to be independent. clear goals and expectations. The D1 level is characterized by interest and enthusiasm while lacking skills and experience (Blanchard et al. According to the case study. Strategies include regularly scheduled weekly meetings. pairing the telecommuter with another telecommuter 486 . but at this level a much lower level of support is needed. ª 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. frequent feedback and one of the most important is goal and limit setting. 2003). 8).

motivated and ready to take on new projects that her manager assigns. requirements for the frequency of visits to the telecommuter’s remote worksite or to the office must be communicated and followed through. praise and removing obstacles. Sue is over 500 miles away. 2002). Developmental level 4 A D4 is described by Blanchard et al. (2002) further explained that relationship management is much more difficult to do virtually. (2002) continued to explain that face-to-face meetings are still important. Ways to promote involvement include allowing the telecommuter to lead discussions and encouraging them to serve as a mentor to other newer telecommuters. Diagnosing can be more difficult as the evaluation has to take place virtually rather than in person. (2003) as a selfreliant achiever who needs a variety of challenges. (2002) describe techniques such as scheduled chat rooms. the style 3 (S3) or supporting leadership style is most appropriate at this time. Performance management requires the manager to do three things: define. daily e-mail contact. Strategies that a leader can use when leading a D3 include regular meetings. facilitate and 487 . Gibson et al. As it is much easier to communicate with someone in the traditional work setting. so different actions must be completed to ensure that the model is implemented effectively. Ôpersonal meeting time is essential [and] any company with dispersed employees has to be willing and able to take on the overhead and the downtime that result from face-to-face meetingsÕ (p. autonomy and opportunities to share knowledge and skill with others. Performance management Cascio (2000) stated that performance management is often the most difficult for a manager to provide to a telecommuter. Regular monthly meetings should still be done as well as allowing and encouraging the telecommuter to stay involved in the team. Although frequent visits may not occur.Situational leadership Cascio (2000) further explained that e-mail can be used for reports and computer-based chat rooms can be implemented so a team can discuss issues and problem solve. Sue can be classified as a D4 at her 1 year anniversary when she feels confident. Gibson et al. Developmental level 3 Blanchard et al. Clear goals and expectations have to be set and must be consistent whether the employee is in the office or at another location. In this case study. when providing little daily direction or assistance. This worker needs very little daily assistance. the telecommuter can feel isolated and disconnected. As personal communication is necessary. the worker begins at the first developmental level. Set schedules for visits can help along with initial training in the office. Gibson et al. Postdiagnosis After diagnosis is complete a leader must demonstrate flexibility and partner with the telecommuter for performance (Blanchard et al. excited. Sue can be classified as a D3 when she feels more competent with her responsibilities but encounters a situation that she has never been in before and this causes her to doubt herself. Because communication primarily occurs over e-mail or the telephone. a leader who is a mentor. When virtual meetings are scheduled attendance must be enforced so that telecommuters can interact with the team. ª 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. face-to-face visits should occur as often as permitted as this contact promotes communication between the worker and the leader (Gibson et al. A telecommuter that is diagnosed to be a D3 still needs direction and support but at a different level. When keeping this in mind it emphasizes that it is task-specific and that usually when someone is given a new task. The leader must implement communication techniques resulting in less isolation. This style is more of a participating style in which the leader becomes a facilitator while encouraging the worker to be independent. the leader must be attentive to vocal inflections and also keeping notes about someone’s personal life can help the leader maintain a personal relationship. weekly phone calls and video or audio staff meetings as effective ways for communication. the leader has to take some extra steps to provide that feedback and encouragement. (2002) explained that the essential job of a leader is to assess the readiness level or developmental level of the worker in respect to a specific task. 83). but is worth it as it enhances the developmental level of the worker. 483–489 On the contrary. 2003). This leadership style is classified as style 4 (S4) or delegating. (2003) describes a person at the developmental level 3 (D3) as the capable but cautious performer that has some additional needs resulting in improved performance. Ways to partner with the worker have been discussed previously. opportunities to express ideas. Gibson et al. providing feedback within a preset time frame and offering encouragement. Some of those needs include: an approachable mentor. so coming into the office frequently is not a likely possibility. Journal of Nursing Management. 13. This developmental level needs a leader who provides a low level of direction and support.

The Ken Blanchard’s Companies. the follower’s development level will rise to D4.. work gets done. The basic principles of situational leadership can be used in both a traditional and a virtual work setting. CA. The Situational Leader should work cooperatively with the telecommuter to best meet their different needs. organizations and leaders can feel unprepared when leading telecommuters.. Cascio W. Communication is an imperative step that the leader must take resulting in improved performance (United States Office of Personnel Management.L.com/ net. s. accessed on 21 July 2004. Evaluating the effectiveness of situational leadership The key to the effective use of situational leadership is to periodically monitor the efficacy of the model.htm. (2003) Situational Leadership II. accessed on 11 August 2004. The Academy of Management Executive 14 (3). issues and a leadership model which will work. Blanchard K. ª 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Davis D. ability to meet deadlines and quantity of work completed (Davis 2000). Managers that are most successful in managing telecommuters recognize two main responsibilities: eliminating obstacles and providing adequate resources (Cascio 2000.html. Also Davis (2000) continued to explain that clear expectations have to be communicated to telecommuters and suggested that telecommuters work in the office for at least 6 months prior to telecommuting. USA.com/sitleader. Conclusions Although technology has opened the doors for communication and information transfer. There are several methods that the nursing leader can use to evaluate this model.nwfusion. etc.worker/columnists/2002/0603kistner. Leadership and Organizational Development Journal 16 (2). When used in a virtual setting. The author continued to explain that these principles are important in a traditional work setting and is even more important in the virtual setting. When evaluating telecommuters the same methods must be used as for in-office workers. 36–42. the adaptability of the leader has been shown to be higher than leaders that do 488 References Famous Models (2004) Situational Leadership. Available at: http://techrepublic.html. The main objective in this case study was to more effectively lead the telecommuter by applying situational leadership. so it is important for supervisors to make conscious efforts to give different forms of feedback. The Journal of Leadership Studies 8 (4). (2002) What’s Behind the Telework Slump? Net Worker. Gibson J. Farmer encourage performance. Nursing leaders should continually reassess telecommuters while focusing on the three core competencies of a Situational Leader including: diagnosis. customer satisfaction. An instrument that has been used in research studies to determine the effectiveness of leadership styles includes the Leadership Effectiveness and Adaptability Description (LEAD) instrument (Silverthorne & Wang 2001).com/5100–6314– 1033682. & Demerath N. Managers and other team members need to be available by e-mail to promote effective communication and guidelines have to be set regarding response times to e-mail. productivity and the progress towards the overall goal of the telecommuter and leader. not use situational leadership (Silverthorne & Wang 2001). and most importantly. San Diego. (1995) Situational leadership: a modification of Hersey and Blanchard. (2000) Tracking the Productivity of your Telecommuters. turnover rates. Kistner T. 8). p.M. Irgens O. 75–86. ÔBy adopting the right style to suit the follower’s development level.. Zigarmi P. increased connection with the organization. relationships are built up. When situational leadership is used effectively. 81–90. team and co-workers. accessed on 15 July 2004.com. Available at: http://www. Methods include an assessment performed by the leader and the follower and the evaluation of job satisfaction levels. Blackwell C. This instrument can be completed by both the leader and the follower to determine if the leader and the follower rate the leader as being more adaptable prior to the implementation of situational leadership. Available at: http://www. the nursing leader must use different techniques resulting in enhanced communication. In order for employees to maintain performance and improve. feedback must be communicated by the leader. A. 13.F. 483–489 . absenteeism. units produced and quality of work (Silverthorne & Wang 2001). Journal of Nursing Management. 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