Analysis of an Opinion on Situational Leadership


This paper analyzes the opinion of Edward E. Lawler on “situational leadership” in his article entitled: “Leading A Virtuous-Spiral Organization” (Spring 2004).


The objectives of this paper are: (a) to compare and contrast Lawler’s views in the abovementioned article in relation to management theories on “situational” and “contingency” leadership; and (b) to present this student’s own views on Lawler’s article.

Theory overviews

In any study of “leadership” various theories of “motivation” go along with it. And in any study of leadership and motivation, the prime subject is always the human being—the leader and the led; the actor who is either the hero or the villain (see Scholtes, 1998). Koontz, O’Donnel and Weihrich (1980) provide an array of theories of motivation and leadership for students of business administration and management. Motivation is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act … implies an emotion or desire operating on the will and causing it to act … [as an]

INCENTIVE applies to an external influence (as an expected reward) inciting to action … [as an] INDUCEMENT suggests a motive prompted by the deliberate enticements or allurements of another” (2004). Motive and motivation are seen as explanations to what drives a human being into an action—and this action that is seen or observed is what is called “human behavior” in the field of psychology (Atkinson, Atkinson, & Hilgard, 1983). Man has realized long time ago that he cannot achieve many of the things that he need so that he has learned to cooperate with his fellow humans either in “informal” (“communal”) or “formal” (a business enterprise) organization. Koontz, et. al. (1980) cites Barnard—a respected executive of one of north America’s successful corporations, thus:

“If all those who may be considered potential contributors to an organization are arranged in order of willingness to serve it, the scale gradually descends from possibly intense willingness through neutral or zero willingness to intense unwillingness or opposition or hatred. The preponderance of persons in a modern society always lies on the negative side with reference to any existing or potential organization” (pp. 631-632).

In a business organization setting, employees of any level of the organization are seen as feeling entities. These feelings are termed feelings of “satisfaction” and “dissatisfaction.” In the existence of “company policy and administration, supervision, working conditions, interpersonal relations, salary, status, job security, and personal life,” employees feel “satisfaction” or satisfied; the absence of these factors render employees feeling the opposite—that is, feelings of “dissatisfaction.”

These feelings affect the “morale” or the “productivity” of individual employees in an organization. But these are not motivators; but rather termed as “hygiene” or “maintenance” factors. What really motives people in the organization is the “job contents”—because they have the “real potential of yielding a sense of satisfaction,” write Koontz, et. al. of Herzberg’s “motivator-hygiene approach to motivation” (1980, p. 638).

In McLelland’s “Needs” theory of motivation, there are three classifications of needs that move a person into action, namely: (a) need for power (n/PWR), (b) need for affiliation (n/AFF), and (c) need for achievement (n/ACH). In this theory, four kinds of people are cited: the entrepreneur, the CEO, the managers, and the subordinate managers. Entrepreneurs are high on power and achievement needs; while CEOs are high on power and affiliation—but not much with achievement, since they already have achieved much being the CEOs but they need to get in touch with the lower ranks in an affiliative manner; senior managers are high on achievement and power since they need to be the next CEOs and less on affiliation (see Koontz, et. al., 1980, pp. 643-644).

On the other hand, “leadership” is a very important organizational function because it involves handling of a very delicate organizational resource—the human being. In a “Situational” approach to leadership, the prime focus is on a given “situation” in which leaders are believed to be “the product of a situation.” This theory produced these persons in the past decades: Germany’s “Hitler,” Italy’s “Mussolini,” and America’s “F.D. Roosevelt” (Koontz, et. al., 1980, p. 666). Read about components of staffing

The Fiedler’s “Contingency” approach to leadership “implies that leadership is any process in which the ability of a leader to exercise influence depends upon the group task situation and the degree to which the leader’s style, personality, and approach fit the group….In other words … people become leaders not only because of the attributes of  their personality but also because of various situation factors and the interaction between the leaders and the situation” (Koontz, et. al., 1980, p. 667).

Article review

The graphical representation of the “virtuous-spiral organization” of Lawler (2004) has five components, namely: strategy, organization design, staffing, performance, and rewards geared toward an upward spiral direction. The dynamics of Lawler’s organization starts from “strategy.” The significance of “strategy” in Lawler’s viewpoint is that it requires a “visionary” leadership across the organization that is expected to create an “environment” for all the members of the organization. This organizational “environment” is the playing field of all the enterprise’s stakeholders—it can “develop” to career heights or stagnate to career decay each stakeholder. Lawler writers: “A virtuous spiral begins when an organization’s leaders take intelligent, strategy driven, conscious actions to attract, retain, motivate, develop, and effectively organize committed, talented individuals.”

In discussing the leadership component of his model organization, Lawler, writes of a “leadership brand” that “needs to [be] appl[ied] across the entire organization and at all times.” Lawler, however, does not acknowledge or recommend the adoption of the “situational leadership” principle or theory as presented in various management literatures.

Instead, Lawler proposes a “leadership brand” that is “based on general principles and characteristics that are universally applicable to all managers and all leadership situations.” Lawler, specifically cites the ‘Four E’s’ of leadership practiced by GE and later adopted by Motorola, however, adding one more “E” which stands for “Ethics.” The “Four E’s” are: Energy (in welcoming and dealing with inevitable change); ability to create an atmosphere that Energizes others; the Edge to make difficult decisions; and the ability to Execute plans.

Lawler’s viewpoint of leadership is closer to the “contingency approach to leadership” and totally deviates from the “situational approach to leadership” mentioned above. As the “virtuous spiral” model of Lawler shows, an organization’s leaders are required to have all the requisite qualifications of a leader (that “branded leader” or organizational culture); if it is not there yet, the person must be “developed” in order to be capable of effectively addressing every organization-related problem that come along.

This is what Lawler writes about as a: “clearly identified leadership style … a powerful factor in attracting, retaining, and motivating the right employees.” Lawler does not allow any chance factor in a “virtuous-spiral organization” which is characteristic of a “situational approach to leadership”—in that a leader may pop out from nowhere after the emergence of problem in a given situation. No, that is not the leader of a Lawler.

Student’s conclusive view on Lawler’s article As shown in the two theories of leadership above—that is, the “situational approach to leadership” and the “contingency approach to leadership”—along with a couple of “motivation” theories, this student finds the viewpoints of Lawler, particularly on leadership, having so much merits to be considered in today’s “globalized” organizations. In not recommending “situational leadership,” Lawler’s viewpoint or opinion is obvious because he proposes an organization (that is, a “virtuous-spiral organization”) that has a “branded leadership.”

This “branded” leadership is an organizational culture that needs to be shared with, absorbed and practiced by all members of an organization. There is no room for managers who have their own individual agenda in leading people under their command. A culture is a culture; it is the trademark of an organization and it has to be worn by each stakeholders.

I wish I could work in one of the “virtuous-spiral organizations,” like, GE, Motorola, Microsoft, among other, after finishing my college degree.


  1. Atkinson, R. L., Atkinson, R. C., ; Hilgard, E. R. (1983). Introduction to Psychology (8th). New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
  2. Koontz, Harold, O’Donnell, Cyril ; Weihrich, Heinz. (1980). Management (7th). Tokyo, Japan: McGraw-Hill.
  3. Lawler, E. E. (Spring 2006). Leading A Virtuous-Spiral Organization. Leader to Leader, No. 32. (February 3, 2007).
  4. Merriam-Webster (2004). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (11th) Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.
  5. Scholtes, P.R. (1998) The Leader’s Handbook Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done. New York, McGraw-Hill.

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