Situational Leadership

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Situational leadership focuses on the level of direction and levelsof support that leaders provide to team members in any given situation.

What is situational leadership?

Developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey, the key idea underpinning situational leadership is that there is no one best leadership style that works for all situations. Effective leaders will instead adapt their leadership style to suit the situation.

A leader assesses the level of maturity of the team member - that is, their level of skill and willingness to take on a task - and adopts one of four leadership styles that best suits the team member in that situation. The more mature the team member is, the less direction and support they require.

Maturity level

Maturity is made up of two main factors:

  • Skill - The degree to which a follower (team member) has the skills and ability to perform a task. The more skilled an employee is, the less direction they require.
  • Will - The degree to which a follower (team member) is confident and willing to complete a task. The more confident and willing they are to complete a task, the less direction they require.

The combination of these two factors result in four levels of follower maturity which are used to determine the most appropriate leadership style to use.

Four levels of maturity

  1. Low skill / Low will - The team member lacks the skill to complete the task and/or is unwilling/lacks confidence to complete the task.
  2. Low skill / High will - The team member lacks the skill to complete the task but is willing to take it on. They are a novice, but enthusiastic.
  3. High skill / Low will - The team member has the skill to complete the task but is unwilling/lacks confidence to complete the task.
  4. High skill / High will - The team member is skilled and willing to take the task on.

Important: When considering the level of maturity of the team member it is important to think about the team member's level of maturity in relation to the specific task, not their general maturity. A team member that is highly skilled and confident in one area may be unskilled and lacking confidence in another.

What are the 4 situational leadership styles?

Leadership styles

  1. Directing (or Telling) – The leader provides specific instructions on what to do and how to do it.
  2. Coaching (or Selling) – The leader provides clear direction but there is two-way communication. The leader will explain or ”sell” the reasons for executing a task in a particular way instead of simply telling them what to do.
  3. Participating – The leader collaborates with their team members and seeks their input on what to do and how to do it. They provide less direction but are still supporting and building confidence.
  4. Delegating – The leader passes most of the responsibility to their team members and lets them decide what to do and how to do it. The leader stays involved to monitor progress.

Limitations of situational leadership

Situational leadership is really only concerned with the way in which a leader directs and supports the work of their team members. It doesn't consider other critical aspects of leadership such as building trust, inspiring and motivating others, rewarding and recognising efforts.

In order to be optimally effective, you should consider aspects of situational leadership as well as transactional and transformational leadership.

Learn more

Next: Leadership Styles - Transactional and transformational leadership