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What’s Your Situational Leadership?

Situational Leadership

A few backs back, an ex-colleague of mine who runs a successful business and I discussed about the most effective strategies to manage talent within the organization. What is the ideal leadership style- Is it directive, task-oriented, or supportive? When is it safe to delegate? Are there any good mental models to provide a framework for good situational leadership?

I did not know of any models for this. So, I spent some time reviewing the available literature, particularly the ideas postulated by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard on Situational Leadership, which I found enlightening.

Situational Leadership

The idea of situational leadership is that we must constantly adapt our leadership and management style to the ever-changing operating environment.

In their book theory of Situational Leadership, Hersey and Blanchard suggest that leaders and managers need to be aware of the performance readiness of individuals within the team. Often, the preparedness of any team member varies based on the task. Someone may be ready to graduate into a leadership task, while someone else may not be ready. Also, there is a factor of motivation and ability to perform different tasks.

Leaders need to recognize that situations change along with the readiness of the team members. Therefore, to be effective, leaders need to bring different operating styles depending upon the individuals being managed. 

I have summarised the different styles in the form of a model that juxtaposes leadership styles with individual readiness across the dimensions of competency and motivation.

One can explain the four key styles in the model in this way.


This is for those who need a lot of hand-holding to complete a task. “John, here’s what I’d like you to do, step by step, and I want you to complete this task by Wednesday.” Directing is a one-way communication model, with little or no input from the team member.


This approach is for those who require a higher level of guidance to complete the task, Coaching is for people who both want and need to learn. Coaching involves a two-way conversation where the intention is to guide and motivate the other person. “John, these were some of the situations I encountered, and this is what worked and what did not. What approach do you think will work?”


This approach is for team members who are very competent to do the task but may lack the confidence to complete the job independently. “John, I know you are well placed to complete this task. Why don’t you share your plans with me and let me see how I can help you.” 


Delegation works with team members who score high on motivation, ability, and confidence. They are clear about what and how to do something and can do it independently. ‘John, I have full confidence that you can do this independently. If you need me to support you in any, just ask. Otherwise, you just go ahead”.

I have found that if a specific style works in one situation with one particular individual, we tend to adopt that same style for all people and situations. We tend to be blind to our own patterns of dealing with people and situations. “If the other person can do it, why can’t you?” we think. 

The situational leadership model provides a good framework for anyone wanting to become better at leading and managing people with awareness.

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