Being adaptable in the workplace is an incredibly valuable skill in today’s competitive markets. Recruiters are increasingly looking out for skills like adaptability, agility, and flexibility in potential employees. However, also leaders are asking themselves the question: Is good leadership situational? We have the answer! Explore your individual leadership style with our free test, and find out how to develop a situational leadership style.
Spoiler alert: Situational leadership has proven to be one of the most effective and successful ways to lead a team. Why? Adaptable leaders increasingly focus on matching the way they lead to the actual situation at hand. The advantage? As an adaptable leader, you have a much more agile approach to decision-making and are less easily stuck when your team faces difficulties. However, like most good things, this leadership style also comes with its disadvantages. Curious? Then keep on reading, and find out more about your personal leadership style! Take me straight to the test!
Situational leadership definition
Let’s break it down: Situational leadership is an approach that emphasizes the need to adapt one’s leadership style to the situation at hand. It is based on the premise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and that the most effective leaders are those who are able to assess the needs of their teams and adjust their leadership style accordingly.
At the heart of situational leadership is the idea that different people have different needs at different times, and that effective leaders are able to identify these needs and provide the appropriate level of support, guidance, and direction. This means that a situational manager must know their team members very well, understand their level of competence and commitment, and tailor their leadership approach accordingly. By doing so, they are able to build stronger relationships with their employees, inspire greater levels of performance, and achieve better outcomes for their teams and organizations.
Leadership Style Test
Before we go any further, aren’t you interested how your unique leadership style looks like? With this 14-question leadership style test, you get a glimpse of your very own leadership approach.
Key concepts of situational leadership
- Situational leadership is based on the idea that different team members have different needs, and that effective leaders are able to adapt their leadership style to meet these needs.
- Effective situational leadership involves matching the appropriate leadership style to the development level of the team members, and being able to adjust one’s style as the follower’s development level changes over time.
- Situational leadership requires leaders to be able to know about the needs and development of their team.
- By using a situational leadership approach, leaders can build stronger relationships with their teams, inspire greater levels of performance, and achieve better outcomes for their teams and organizations.
No matter what your personal leadership style is, your main goal should always be to inspire and excite people about their tasks, projects and the vision of the company. We have the necessary tools, methods and knowledge to support you and your team on that journey. Check out our leadership workshop to learn more.
Why is situational leadership important?
The importance of situational leadership seems quite obvious now, right? If not, let us give you some additional reasons why it is.
#1 It recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and that effective leaders are those who are able to adapt their leadership style to meet the needs of their team. By doing so, leaders are able to build stronger relationships with their employees, inspire greater levels of performance, and achieve better outcomes for their teams and organizations. This holds especially true when working in a cross-functional team.
#2 Situational leadership helps leaders to better understand the needs and abilities of their “followers”. By assessing the development level of each team member, leaders can identify the appropriate leadership style to use in each situation. This not only helps to build stronger relationships within the team, but also helps to develop skills and abilities, ultimately contributing to the success of the team and the organization.
#3 Situational leadership is important because it recognizes that employees may have different needs at different times. For example, a team member who is new to a task may require more direction and guidance, while a more experienced employee strives for more autonomy and delegation. By using a situational leadership approach, leaders are able to meet the changing needs of their followers over time better, which can lead to increased engagement, motivation, and satisfaction among team members.
#4 Situational leadership is important because it emphasizes the importance of flexibility and adaptability in leadership. By being able to adjust one’s leadership style to meet the needs of the situation, leaders are better able to respond to changing circumstances and achieve better outcomes for their team and organization. In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing workplace, the ability to be flexible and adaptable is more important than ever, making situational leadership a critical skill for effective leaders.
Hersey Blanchard situational leadership model
Situational leadership theory is a leadership model that proposes that effective leaders should be able to adjust their leadership style to meet the needs of their followers in different situations. Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the theory posits that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and that the most effective leaders are those who are able to adapt their leadership style to the situation at hand.
The four basic leadership styles
According to the Hersey Blanchard situational leadership theory, there are four basic leadership styles, each of which is appropriate for different levels of follower development. The effectiveness of each leadership style depends on the development level of the followers, which is determined by their competence and commitment to the task at hand. By using a situational leadership approach, leaders can adjust their style to match the development level of their followers, which can lead to increased engagement, motivation, and satisfaction among team members. It is important to note, that situational leadership and the connected styles are not only helpful when working in-person, but also when managing virtual teams.
The directing leadership style, also known as the telling style, is a leadership approach where the leader is very involved in the decision-making process and closely supervises their team. In this style, the leader gives clear and specific instructions to their team members, telling them what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and when it needs to be done.
This style is particularly useful in situations where team members are new to a task or project, or when they lack experience or confidence. By providing clear instructions and close supervision, the leader helps their team members build the necessary skills and confidence to complete the task successfully.
However, it’s important to note that this leadership style can also have its downsides. If a leader is too directive or micromanaging, it can lead to team members feeling demotivated, disengaged, or disempowered. Therefore, it’s essential for leaders to balance their directing style with other leadership styles, such as coaching, supporting, or delegating, depending on the situation and the needs of their team members.
One example of a famous person with a directional leadership style is Steve Jobs, the co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc. Jobs was known for his strong vision and determination in pursuing his goals. He had a clear idea of where he wanted the company to go and what products he wanted to create, and he was unwavering in his pursuit of those objectives.
Jobs was also known for being highly demanding of his employees and expecting nothing less than excellence from them. He was not afraid to make tough decisions, such as cutting products that were not performing well or firing employees who did not meet his standards.
Despite his sometimes harsh management style, Jobs was able to inspire his team to create some of the most innovative and successful products of the modern era, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. His strong sense of direction and ability to focus on the big picture were key factors in his success as a leader.
The coaching leadership style is focused on developing employees’ skills and abilities, as well as fostering a growth mindset within the team. As a coach, the leader provides guidance, feedback, and support to help their team members achieve their goals. This leadership style is particularly effective when dealing with employees who are motivated to learn and grow, and it helps to create a positive and productive work environment.
The coaching leader works closely with their team members, helping them to identify their strengths and weaknesses and providing them with opportunities for growth and development. The leader also sets clear expectations and provides regular feedback on performance, helping employees to improve and reach their full potential. This style of leadership encourages employees to take ownership of their work and to strive for continuous improvement. As leaders with a coaching style prefer working very closely together with their team, they may struggle when switching to a remote setting. Read more in our article on remote teams management.
One example of a famous person with a coaching leadership style is Bill Campbell, who was a renowned Silicon Valley executive and mentor to many successful tech CEOs, including Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Jeff Bezos.
Campbell was known for his ability to build strong relationships with the people he worked with and for his coaching approach to leadership. He believed in empowering his team members and helping them to develop their skills and talents, rather than micromanaging or telling them what to do.
Campbell also emphasized the importance of building a strong culture of trust and collaboration within the companies he worked with. He was a strong advocate for open communication, transparency, and constructive feedback, and he encouraged his team members to take risks and learn from their failures.
Through his coaching approach, Campbell was able to help many successful leaders grow and thrive in their roles. He was widely respected for his wisdom, kindness, and ability to bring out the best in others, and his coaching leadership style continues to inspire leaders today.
The supporting leadership style is one of the four styles in situational leadership theory. It is also known as the “participating” style because leaders using this approach actively involve their team members in decision-making processes.
The supporting style is most effective when team members have moderate to high competence but low commitment. The leader using this approach provides support, guidance, and encouragement to help team members achieve their goals. The focus is on building a positive relationship between the leader and team members to increase their motivation and engagement.
Leaders using the supporting style use praise and recognition to reinforce positive behaviors and encourage their team members to take ownership of their work. They also provide opportunities for growth and development to help team members build their skills and increase their confidence.
An example of a famous person with a supporting leadership style is Oprah Winfrey, who is an American media executive, talk show host, actress, and philanthropist. Winfrey is known for her empathetic and nurturing leadership approach, which has helped her to build a loyal following of fans and employees over the years.
Winfrey has often spoken about the importance of supporting and empowering others, and she has been involved in many philanthropic endeavors aimed at improving the lives of people around the world. She has also mentored many young people, particularly women and girls, and has encouraged them to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential.
As a leader, Winfrey is known for being approachable, supportive, and encouraging. She takes the time to listen to her team members and to understand their perspectives, and she provides them with the resources and support they need to succeed. She is also known for her positive and optimistic outlook, which has helped her to inspire and motivate others to achieve great things.
Overall, Oprah Winfrey is a great example of a leader who uses a supporting leadership style to bring out the best in others and to make a positive impact on the world.
Delegating leadership style is when the leader assigns tasks to their team members and gives them the authority to make decisions on their own. This leadership style is appropriate when the team members have high levels of competence and commitment. Delegating leadership allows team members to take on responsibilities and make decisions, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and motivation.
In delegating leadership, the leader provides the team with a clear understanding of the desired outcome and sets the parameters for the task, such as budget and timeline. The team members are then given the freedom to use their skills and knowledge to complete the task. The leader is available for guidance and support if needed, but the team members are ultimately responsible for the success of the task.
While delegating leadership can be effective in increasing team members’ autonomy and responsibility, it can also lead to potential challenges. If team members are not given enough direction, they may not know what is expected of them, which can lead to confusion and mistakes. Additionally, if the team members do not have the necessary skills or experience to complete the task, delegating leadership may not be appropriate.
One example of a famous person with a delegating leadership style is Warren Buffett. As the CEO and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett is known for delegating many of the day-to-day management responsibilities to his team members, while still providing guidance and strategic direction from a high level. He trusts his team to make decisions and run their own departments without constant oversight or micromanagement. This allows his team members to feel empowered and take ownership of their work, while also giving Buffett the freedom to focus on big-picture thinking and investment decisions. His delegating leadership style has contributed to the success of Berkshire Hathaway, which has become one of the largest and most successful companies in the world under his leadership.
Development level of team members
Great, so now you know all the important facts about the different styles associated with situational leadership. However, as mentioned above, the development level of your team members also plays a crucial role. The different development levels are a key component of the Situational Leadership model because they help leaders determine the appropriate leadership style and management tools to use in a given situation.
According to the model, there are four development levels that individuals go through as they gain knowledge and skills in a particular area:
- The Enthusiastic Beginner: Individuals at this level are new to the task and have little to no experience. They are enthusiastic, eager to learn, and require a high level of direction and support.
- The Disillusioned Learner: Individuals at this level have gained some experience and knowledge, but may lack confidence or be unsure of their abilities. They require a supportive and directive leadership style to help them build their skills and confidence.
- The Capable But Cautious Performer: Individuals at this level have gained a solid understanding of the task and are capable of completing it with limited direction. They require a more delegating leadership style that allows them to take ownership of their work.
- The Self-Reliant Achiever: Individuals at this level have gained a high level of skill and experience in the task and can work independently with minimal direction. They require a supportive leadership style that provides occasional guidance and feedback.
The situational leadership style is determined by the development level of the individual or team being led. Effective leaders are able to identify the development level of their team members and adjust their leadership style accordingly to provide the appropriate level of direction and support.
Not only your leadership style is crucial for efficient work, but also knowing about the unique personalities within your team. Test your teams working styles with our insightful free personality test for teams!
Situational leadership: examples
Here are some examples of how different companies have applied the principles of a situational approach to leadership in their strategies.
Example #1: IBM
IBM has a well-established culture of situational leadership, where leaders at different levels of the organization are expected to adapt their leadership style to the situation and the development level of their team members. For example, IBM’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, is known for using a coaching leadership style to support and develop his top executives, while empowering them to take ownership of their work and make decisions.
In a specific case, when IBM was undergoing a major transformation in the early 2010s, the company implemented a situational leadership program to help its leaders navigate the changes and guide their teams effectively. The program emphasized the importance of adapting leadership styles to the changing needs of employees during times of change, and provided tools and training to help managers identify the appropriate leadership style for different situations.
As part of this program, IBM’s managers were trained to assess their team members’ development levels and adapt their leadership style accordingly. For example, during the transformation, some employees were struggling with the changes and needed more direction and support. In such cases, their managers would use a directing leadership style to provide clear instructions and guidance on how to handle the changes.
Example #2: Delta Airlines
Another example of situational leadership in action is how Delta Air Lines implemented this approach in their company culture. Delta recognized that their employees had different levels of experience and skill, and they needed a leadership style that could adapt to these different needs. They implemented a training program that taught managers how to use situational leadership to effectively lead their teams.
For example, a new hire would require a more directive leadership style as they are still learning the ropes, whereas a more experienced employee would benefit from a delegating leadership style. Delta’s managers were taught to assess each employee’s development level and adapt their leadership style accordingly. This not only helped to improve employee engagement and productivity, but also contributed to a positive company culture.
Delta’s use of situational leadership has resulted in a culture that values adaptability and effective communication. It has helped to foster a sense of trust and respect between employees and managers, as employees feel supported and valued regardless of their experience level. This has resulted in increased job satisfaction and employee retention, as employees feel invested in and supported by their organization. Overall, Delta’s use of situational leadership has been a significant contributor to their success as a company.
Advantages and Limitations of Situational Leadership
Situational leadership offers several advantages to organizations and leaders, including:
- Flexibility: Situational leadership provides leaders with a flexible framework that they can adapt to the specific needs of their team members. This allows leaders to tailor their approach based on each individual’s unique situation and development level, leading to better outcomes.
- Improved Communication: The situational leadership model emphasizes the importance of effective communication leadership skills. By clearly communicating expectations, goals, and feedback, leaders can build trust and foster positive relationships with their team members.
- Enhanced Motivation: Situational leadership can increase motivation by providing team members with the support and guidance they need to succeed. This can help team members feel more confident in their abilities, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and a greater sense of accomplishment.
However, situational leadership also has some limitations, including:
- Complexity: The situational leadership model can be complex and difficult to implement in practice. It requires leaders to assess the development level of each team member and adjust their leadership style accordingly, which can be time-consuming and challenging.
- Lack of Clarity: The situational leadership model can sometimes lack clarity, as it relies on subjective assessments of individual development levels. This can make it difficult for leaders to know when and how to adjust their leadership style.
- Over-reliance on the Leader: Situational leadership can sometimes place too much emphasis on the leader, rather than empowering team members to take ownership of their own development. This can create a dependence on the leader and limit team members’ ability to grow and develop independently.
Despite these limitations, situational leadership remains a valuable leadership model that can help organizations and leaders achieve better results by tailoring their leadership style to the unique needs of each team member.
Characteristics of situational leaders
Being a situational leader is anything but easy. It’s a real skill that needs to be honed and achieved over time. Developing situational leadership skills involves several steps that can help individuals become more effective in their leadership roles. Some ways to develop situational leadership skills include:
- Self-awareness: The first step to becoming a situational leader is to understand your own leadership style and how it affects your team. Leaders should assess their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their team’s needs and capabilities.
- Flexibility: Being able to adjust your leadership style based on the situation, vision and the needs of your team is key to situational leadership. Leaders should be adaptable and open to changing their approach based on the situation at hand.
- Active Listening: To be an effective situational leader, you need to be able to actively listen to your team members and understand their needs and concerns. This involves asking questions, seeking feedback, and truly listening to what they have to say.
- Empathy: Situational leaders need to be able to put themselves in their team members’ shoes and understand their perspectives. This involves being compassionate and showing empathy towards team members, particularly during challenging times.
- Coaching and Mentoring: A key aspect of situational leadership is the ability to coach and mentor team members to help the team develop its skills and reach its full potential. Leaders should be able to provide constructive feedback, set clear expectations, and provide support and guidance to team members.
- Continuous Learning: Situational leadership is not a one-time skill, but rather an ongoing process of learning and growth. Leaders should continuously seek out opportunities for competency development, whether it be through training programs, coaching, or mentoring.
By focusing on these steps, individuals can develop their situational leadership skills and become more effective leaders who can adapt to different situations and lead their teams to success.
Choose a spot and schedule a free 30-minute Session with one of our Trainers.
VIDEO: Situational Leadership Overview with Dr. Paul Hersey
FAQs Situational Leadership
When was situational leadership developed?
The term situational leadership was first coined in 1969. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the situational leadership model and presented it in their book “Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Ressources”.
When is situational leadership effective?
If you work with an agile approach, situational leadership can really work in your favor. It allows you to adapt your leadership style to the situation at hand, which can lead to a quicker and more fruitful outcome.