Situational Leadership

What kind of leader are you? Are you the tough one who bosses people around? Or the thoughtful one who shares his wisdom and let people to decide what to do? Or the one who leads by example? Or the one who serves his team? If your answer is “a bit of all” then you can be called situational leader.

Situational leadership is a term first coined by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1970’s. What is the appropriate leadership style should be always defined by the people you lead and particular situation you find yourself in. You can look at your team or individual people and judge their maturity by their ability and attitude (or in a bit different words competence and commitment). Are they “unable and insecure” or “unable but willing” or “capable but unwilling” or “capable, willing and confident”? Each maturity level deserves a bit different leadership style. When Blanchard and Hersey looked at it they defined four basic styles.


The most basic one when you tell your team what to do and how to do it. It is essentially one way communication. I’m the boss and you do what I tell you to do.

This is a style you use with teams or individuals that have low competence on particular task and often even low motivation. You need to define and plan everything, show and teach them how to do the task and oversee every step to ensure completion.


In this style you as a leader still provide the “what to do” and “how to do it” but you are open to feedback and you want to get buy-in from the team. You want to sell them your idea in hopes of getting better performance and higher motivation.

You can use this style with more competent teams that just need to be pushed into action. The individuals needs to be persuaded and helped a bit in the effort. Leading by example may work here, creating a vision and explaining what is in it for them will work.


In this style you just provide the “what and why” and work together with the team to figure out “how”. This can be quite heavy on coaching.

You are a coach and a mentor who is here to help but not necessarily to say how things should be done. For this style you need pretty mature team that is motivated and competent enough for the task at hand. You are here just to provide support and help when asked for. The goal is not to dwarf any motivation and help the team to build up their skills.


In this style you just provide the “what and why” and often not even the “what” and step to the background letting the team decide how they want to accomplish the mission. You still expect some sort of feedback from the team so you can monitor whether the task was completed because you are ultimately accountable, but for all intents and purposes it is team’s responsibility.

This is a style to be used with people who essentially know what they are doing and are self-driven and motivated to do the task. The important part is to explain the big picture, what is the reason or vision for the outcome and provide necessary resources. The rest is on the team.


Blanchard and Hersey came up with four basic styles, but it was forty years ago. In the modern knowledge based economy and for leaders working with creative teams you want to add one more style that is an extension of delegation. Empowerment means you transition the ownership of the task. It is not merely delegated by you still being responsible for completion but you truly step back and the team is now accountable for the success of the initiative. You are here just to enable them and then go hide somewhere.

What does this all mean for you as a leader? Be flexible and always judge the situation case by case and behave appropriately. Don’t try to force the same leadership style to every single situation only because that is the one you are comfortable with. Since a lot depends on maturity of the team or individual it is your responsibility as a leader to focus on developing their competence and commitment. Only then you can use all the styles as required by the situation.


Do you have a preferred leadership style and how do you handle situations where it doesn’t work?

Photo: Shutterstock, Inc.

Categories: Leadership

Tags: , , ,

1 reply


  1. Micro-monitoring As A Leadership Style – The Geeky Leader

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: