Alternate Experience Theories in Action

Hersey and Blanchard’s Supportive Leadership Style

This summer I worked with the Child Life department at Memorial Sloan Kettering, which consists of approximately 10 full-time child life specialists. The department is comparatively smaller than other cancer centers of similar size. For example, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has a team of 19 full-time child life specialists. Throughout my internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering, it was clear that the office environment was impacted by the smaller size of the department. Furthermore, I think the leader/follower relationship between the interns and staff in the Child Life department can be evaluated and described through Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory.

Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory (1969) states that leadership styles are the relationship between the person and the situation. Therefore, it examines if a person is task-oriented or relational and if the situation is willing and able. Hersey and Blanchard describe 4 leadership styles: delegating, supporting, coaching, and directing. These leadership styles describe a different combination of directive and supportive behavior. Based on Hersey and Blanchard’s theory, the Child Life department at Memorial Sloan Kettering followed a supporting (S2) leadership style.

As previously mentioned, the Child Life department is very close because of their size. There is a small office that the 10 specialists use throughout the day to complete administrative work. The department recently hired a child life supervisor, which has been very helpful for communicating and advocating for the program, but before that there was only a program manager. This is one of the reasons that I believe there is a supporting leadership style approach. They are constantly running around to handle the expected and unexpected throughout the day. Therefore, I would constantly see child life specialists ask the interns or other specialists to help with patients, projects, etc. It was also clear that if there was an outstanding task to complete, whoever had a moment to spare would accomplish it. I would not consider this delegating because it was not a request, but rather a supportive measure to ensure the day is running smoothly. As interns, we often followed this same style of work and expectations.

Hersey and Blanchard’s supporting leadership style can also be described as sharing ideas and facilitating in decision-making. One of our roles was to create new segments for the virtual programming. The specialists were extremely eager to let us take control but were always willing to help in decision-making and facilitate execution. They were extremely helpful and supportive, but also did not give many direct requests. This further demonstrates the leadership style of the office.