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Hersey-Blanchard Leadership Model

Written by Smith, Kevin

The Hollywood version of the grizzled veteran beat cop riding with a fresh-out-of-the wrapper rookie as his new trainee is well established.  It may still even be true in some cases.  But the vast majority of police departments are seeing a shift in their recruiting demographics that demands a more heuristic approach to field training. 

 

Older applicants are likely to be more educated and more mature. These kinds of people applying to become police officers, these “rookies,” require a different approach by their training officers during field training to optimize their acquisition as ready officers into the force.

 

Whatever your department field training program looks like, you can apply the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership II (SL II) Model to match experienced Field Training Officers (FTOs) to trainees based upon their competence and willingness.

 

According to an article by Purdue University professor Ron Goodnight, “You Are Responsible For Your Own Destiny,” the situational leadership model initially developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard and later expanded as the Situational Leadership II model by Blanchard, is a valid educational model designed using their principles.

 

A situational approach is used based upon the amount of control and direction (Directive Behavior) needed by the FTO compared to the amount of encouragement and support (Supportive Behavior) needed. The needs vary depending upon the specific quadrant in which the majority of the trainees lay. This is determined by their course content knowledge and skills (competence) or task maturity. Their commitment or confidence level is also a factor in determining readiness for assuming responsibility in directing their own learning experiences.

 

Quadrant Actions

Telling, Directing, Instructing, Training:  In quadrant S-l the trainees are generally insecure and lack competence even though they are usually highly committed. The FTO’s role is that of teaching or training requisite knowledge and skills. This is the foundation-laying situation where the instructor educates the students, imparts specific knowledge and provides close supervision and direction in projects. It can be summed up as “read a step, do a step, eat a banana.” This is the usual phase during the beginning of most training courses and is also common when new course content is introduced.

 

Selling, Coaching, Advising:  Quadrant S-2 requires more supportive behavior on behalf of the FTO. The trainees are now more self directive but they still lack sufficient competency or task maturity to fully function independently. The instructor's role is more of selling, advising and coaching. Most decisions are still largely the responsibility of the instructor who thoroughly explains them and provides for ample clarification. This is primarily a dialogue stage, initiated by the FTO, to assure more competence and understanding by the students.  This is where the trainee has their “Why?” questions answered.

 

Supporting, Participating, Consulting:  The third quadrant, S-3, is a much more involved situation. Here the trainees are more competent and mature so they assume the majority of the responsibility in conducting their own tasks, learning and decisions. The FTO functions as a resource, facilitates discussions, as needed, and shares ideas. Normally, the trainees are required to present their decisions and actions to the FTO and explain their reasoning processes. Further, trainees often must specify what they learned and how they can apply it outside the training environment.

 

Empowering, Delegating:  The S-4 fourth quadrant allows the trainees full responsibility and empowerment. They are expected to demonstrate their learning(s) in their police work-social role. This is truly self-learning as they experience the successes and difficulties in the situational applications of their police work.

 

Variations

This four quadrant approach has been successfully used two ways.  Evaluating the commitment and maturity level of the trainee will allow the FTO a better idea of where the trainee falls upon the developmental gradient.  Treating the trainee as an adult learner, even though their specific task level may be low for a particular task or skill, will enhance their ability to learn a task faster and retain it longer.  FTOs should be aware that a trainee is expected to move back and forth along this gradient as they face new situations they have not experienced. 

 

For example, a trainee can be at D/R4, able, willing, and confident after responding to their 15th traffic stop in field training, but that will not prepare them for their first response to a deceased victim—they will be right back at D/R1 for that situation.  So a foreseeing FTO will change their approach back along the quadrants to more of an S-1 style given this new situation.

 

The second way this model can be successful is by using it to craft the evaluation process trainees go through to become “fully qualified”.  A phased approach to field training fits precisely with the quadrant approach of the SL II model.  The purpose of a field training program should be to produce a “fully qualified”, if inexperienced, stand-alone police officer. 

 

Overall Concept

If a trainee is treated, and reacts, to situations like a trainee, and never reaches a fully confident, able, and willing patrol officer, they are a detriment to the force.  “Paying your dues”, as older police officers often lament, is just another way of saying gradually move from D/R1 to D/R4.  Evaluations should reflect expectations driven competencies both along the developmental gradient and the FTO style of leadership.  A disconnect should be a “red flag” of concern.

 

Trainees, especially non-traditional trainees, should be taught as adults. The idea that departments still take high school graduates directly into training is becoming more rare.  As the military continues to draw down, many departments have seen a dramatic increase in soldiers retraining to become police officers.  Following the adult learning guidelines as codified in the H-B SL II model will greatly enhance a trainees learning.

 

And this method of teaching is much more fun than the child oriented, lecture type method. Many techniques can be used, of which the Hershey-Blanchard situational leadership model is only one example.  Whatever method is used, however, trainers should remember that we are trying to produce a stand-alone police officer, not a proficient trainee.

 

The combined Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership II Model

 

Cpl. Kevin A. Smith of the Wilmington NC Police Department is currently the Deputy Public Information Officer, and has been a Patrol Officer, Juvenile Crimes Detective, and is a member of the department’s Crisis Negotiation Team.  Cpl Smith retired from the United States Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel after over 20 years of service. He may be reached at Kevin.smith@wilmingtonnc.gov.


Published in Law and Order, Jul 2013

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