Situational Leadership is a leadership style developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. It posits that there exists no single “best” style of leadership. Instead, effective leadership is contingent upon the situation and the maturity level of the followers. The model suggests that leaders should adapt their style to the development level of their team members. Keep reading to learn more about this leadership methodology.

What are the Four Styles of Situational Leadership?

You can use situational leadership to manage tasks and develop your teams’ skills, confidence, and autonomy by transitioning them from needing direction to becoming self-reliant. With this you can enhance team performance, foster growth and development, and create a more dynamic and adaptable team environment.

The Situational Leadership Model identifies four distinct leadership styles that leaders can employ based on the development level and needs of their team members.

  1. Directing (Telling): The leader provides clear instructions and specific direction. They define roles and tasks, and closely supervise team members.
    • When to Use: For inexperienced team members with high commitment but low competence. They need clear guidance and close supervision to complete tasks correctly.
    • Characteristics: High task and low relationship behavior; Leader makes decisions and closely monitors progress.
  2. Coaching (Selling): The leader provides guidance and encouragement to develop competence and build confidence and motivation. They explain decisions, solicit suggestions, and support progress.
    • When to Use: For team members who have some competence but still lack commitment or confidence. They need direction but also encouragement and involvement in decision-making.
    • Characteristics: High task and high relationship behavior; the leader explains decisions and engages in two-way communication.
  3. Supporting (Participating): The leader supports and facilitates team members’ efforts with feedback and support to build confidence. They share decision-making responsibilities and encourage team members to take the lead on tasks.
    • When to Use: For team members with high competence who lack confidence or motivation (variable commitment). They need support and recognition to enhance confidence and commitment.
    • Characteristics: Low task and high relationship behavior; the leader collaborates and supports team members’ efforts.
  4. Delegating: The leader entrusts team members with responsibility and decision-making with minimal supervision. Team members are given autonomy to complete tasks and make decisions.
    • When to Use: For highly competent and highly committed team members. They need little direction or support and are capable of working independently.
    • Characteristics: Low task and low relationship behavior; the leader delegates authority and responsibility to team members

How to Use Situational Leadership?

As the concept defines, applying the appropriate leadership style depends on your team’s specific needs which requires understanding the competence and commitment levels of your team members. Start by assessing team member development levels, and as team competence and commitment evolve, adjust your approach accordingly. Provide guidance, feedback, and support with open communication, and continuously monitor team progress while providing timely feedback to ensure positive results. Use situational leadership to manage tasks and develop skills, confidence, and autonomy in a way that transitions people from needing direction to achieving self-reliance.

By understanding and applying the principles of Situational Leadership, leaders can create a more dynamic, responsive, and effective team environment. What does this look like in real life? Here are some practical examples.

  • New Employee Onboarding
    • Situation: A new employee joins the team with little experience.
    • Response: Use the Directing style (#1) to provide detailed instructions and close supervision until the employee gains confidence and competence.
  • Project Management
    • Situation: A team is working on a complex project with tight deadlines.
    • Response: Use the Coaching style (#2) to guide the team, clarify goals, and encourage communication and collaboration.
  • Skill Development
    • Situation: An employee has the skills but lacks confidence in their new role.
    • Response: Use the Supporting style (#3) to offer encouragement and involve them in decision-making to build their confidence.
  • High-Performing Team
    • Situation: A team of experienced employees is working on a familiar task.
    • Response: Use the Delegating style (#4) to allow the team to operate independently, providing minimal oversight and trusting them to deliver results.

Executing Situational Leadership takes practice and finesse. It’s important for leaders to be patient, compassionate, and responsive to team needs and growth throughout the process. A good leader adapts to environments to offer calm, collected and accurate guidance teams can depend on, and a good team is a capable team who trusts, respects and believes in themselves and their leadership authentically.

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