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What is Situational Leadership and How to Build It?

A leader can use different leadership styles to improve their effectiveness at work. Situational leadership is one of these approaches.
In this leadership approach, leaders modify their leadership style to best suit a given circumstance or task.
This article will discuss the following key points:
  • Definition of situational leadership
  • The situational leadership theories and models
  • The benefits and downsides of situational leadership style

Situational Leadership: What is it?

Adapting a leadership style to the demands of a team or the current work environment is known as situational leadership.
This leadership style is built on a leader's capacity to adapt to the needs of a team or organization to be a better and more effective leader, not on the leader's skills.
Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey, authors of the book Management of Organizational Behavior, created this leadership approach. It is also called "Situational Leadership Theory" or model.

Understanding The Situational Leadership Model

Situational leadership is adjusting your management approach to fit the demands of the team or individual team members in each particular situation or task. It adapts to the needs of the organization and the current working environment.
Situational leadership can help managers better adjust their working environment and leadership styles.
A situational model consists of employee competence and commitments. The levels vary in the challenge and performance. It also considers the complexity and extent to which leadership requires guidance and help.
This flexible approach helps leaders to adapt to each situation with a leadership style that empowers the employees to bring the best to each case.
There are two widely used models of situational leadership, one by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hershey and the other by Daniel Goleman.
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Goleman's Situational Leadership Theory

Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, describes six situational leadership styles.

1) Coaching Leaders

These leaders focus on a person's professional and personal growth. Employees who are aware of their limitations and willing to change respond well to this situational leadership style.

2) Pacesetting Leaders

Pacesetters have exceedingly high standards for their subordinates. This leadership style works well with highly motivated self-starters. This style is done by the leader modeling good examples. However, this approach is used cautiously because it can cause follower burnout.

3) Democratic Leaders

Democratic leaders are those that allow followers to vote on practically all decisions. Under ideal circumstances, it can help the group develop flexibility and accountability. However, this situational approach takes a lot of time, so it's not the most excellent choice if a deadline is approaching.

4) Authoritative Leaders

These are the leaders who excel in analyzing issues and spotting obstacles. This management style is beneficial for a company that is heading nowhere. This leader will provide their people the opportunity to contribute to problem-solving.

5) Affiliative Leaders

When morale is low, this approach is used. Affiliative leaders are those who prioritize their teams' members. The team's confidence is boosted by the leader using encouragement and assistance.
This technique may result in substandard performance when team building is taking place.

6) Coercive Leaders

Coercive leaders direct their subordinates' actions. They have a vision of the end goal and how to get there. This method is appropriate in disasters or when an organization requires a complete reorganization.

Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory

The next situational leadership model is based on Blanchard and Hersey's work. This theory was initially known as the "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership," but it was renamed in the mid-1970s.
Their philosophy is founded on two ideas: leadership and the developmental stage of the follower. Blanchard and Hersey created a matrix with four leadership styles:

Telling (S1)

When a team or a team member needs constant monitoring and direction, telling or directing is helpful.
The team or team members are directed to their roles by the leader, who also makes choices. This style can entail instructing less experienced team members or taking the lead in an emergency.

Selling (S2)

When a team or individual team member has some competency or is unmotivated, selling or convincing is effective. The team leader is open to suggestions and teamwork to increase team engagement.
This kind of leadership can assist team members in learning new talents or honing existing ones. This approach may also help people buy into the bigger picture.

Participating (S3)

When a team or a team member has the skills necessary to take part in planning and decision-making, participating or sharing is beneficial.
As they allow their staff to make decisions in their areas of competence, leaders embrace a more democratic leadership style. They then begin a task and work on the more significant project with other team members.

Delegating (S4)

When a group or a team member has substantial expertise and motivation, delegation can be helpful. Leaders who use this approach will:
  • Set a goal.
  • List the desired results.
  • Give precise authority.
Leaders will then adopt a more supportive behavior. They will step aside and let the team handle the situation.
No one style is thought to be the best for a leader. Instead, a leader who adopts a situational leadership style will apply the most appropriate approach for the given situation.
Become a better situational manager with B2B's help.

Employee Development Stages for Situational Leadership

Blanchard and Hersey identified four categories of employees' development levels. The situational leadership styles are most effective when associated with one of the four developmental levels of team members.

Low competence: High commitment (D1)

These are developing team members that may not yet have the exact skill set needed for a task, but they are dedicated.
This development level may require a more directive style (S1) in which the leader instructs the employee on what to do, how to do it, and when.

Some competence: Low commitment (D2)

These team members may have some abilities but not at the level required to complete a task successfully. At the same time, they are also unconcerned about the goal.
This situation often demands a leadership style in which the leader coaches and involves team members in problem-solving (S2).

High competence: Variable commitment (D3)

These specialized team members are highly skilled and, sometimes, have greater competence than the field's leader. However, they may lack motivation or confidence in doing a specific task.
The best leadership style to utilize in this situation is to motivate and support team members (S3). You can rely on the team's abilities and knowledge to solve the problem.

High competence: High commitment (D4)

These developed team members are incredibly proficient, frequently more so than the leader, and they are highly motivated and committed.
Delegation is the most effective leadership strategy for this situation (S4). The leader allows team members to work independently to achieve agreed-upon goals.

What Makes Situational Leadership Different From Other Leadership Styles?

Situational leadership employs a variety of approaches compared to other leadership styles. The chosen situational leadership style depends on the organization's setting as well as the competency and dedication of its followers.

The Qualities of a Situational Leader?

A leader is naturally inclined to a particular management method. It may be challenging to develop a comprehensive set of skills required to be a successful situational leader.
However, leadership should stretch in that direction. Different situations require different types of leadership for the best results. Developing this knowledge requires conscious effort.
The best situational leaders possess several key characteristics. A great leader should cultivate the following situational leadership skills:

A Strong Sense of Direction

Situational leaders must be capable of delivering the level of assistance and guidance that team members require. They must understand where the team must go and what the best next step is to get there.


A situational leader is keenly aware of the changing necessities around him, such as modifications to the need of the team, projects, and organization.
Situational leaders modify their leadership style to ensure success for their team members.

Active Listening

An excellent situational leader must use active listening skills to understand and address the team's concerns. Patience and dedication are needed to understand and know the subordinates thoroughly.


A situational leader must be truthful about a circumstance. He should adjust his leadership style to fit a situation rather than leading most favorably for himself.

Coaching Skills

Situational leaders must develop their capability to coach at various developmental levels to be most effective. This ability enables them to see eye-to-eye with team members and help them reach where they need to go.
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Encouraging and Motivating

Situational leaders exhibit psychological safety-creating behaviors. They let team members communicate their ideas, experiences, and suggestions. They also can distribute authority to team members as needed.
True situational leaders can effectively assess their team. They can use different leadership approaches to fulfill the group's needs in every situation. They also promote growth and autonomy within the team.

Pros and Cons of Situational Leadership

All leadership styles have advantages and drawbacks. Understanding both can aid your development to become a better leader and prevent potential difficulties.


  • Leaders can use any leadership style they feel is most appropriate in a situation.
  • This kind of leadership style is straightforward. It only needs the ability to assess a situation and adjust it.
  • Employees will feel more at ease in a situational leadership setting since the leadership style often matches their demands.
  • This form of leadership considers employees' various degrees of growth and helps meet each employee's skill level and needs.


  • Situational leaders tend to concentrate on short-term objectives, which may cause them to ignore long-term goals.
  • A situational leader may frequently alter their approach to meet the demands of each team or individual, which could create confusion inside an organization.
  • The ability of the leader to assess an employee's maturity level is crucial for effective situational leadership.
    Some leaders may adopt an inappropriate management approach for a specific team or employee if they cannot accomplish this.
  • Since situational leadership is flexible and many task-driven organizations are not, this style frequently does not perform well when recurring tasks need to be completed.

Situational Leadership Examples

Blanchard and his partners produced thorough case studies involving businesses and government agencies. Check out these leaders.

Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the United States' 44th President and the Allied Commander during World War II. He was well-known for his diplomacy and ability to unite ally leaders to combat the Nazi war machine.
His success in his roles is credited to his ability to employ various leadership styles in each setting.

John Wooden

John Wooden has been chosen as head coach of the UCLA men's basketball team. He won three Pacific Coast titles in his first eight years. Additionally, his team won seven consecutive championships beginning in 1963-64.
UCLA's 88-game winning streak and championship run ended in 1974. "When you're through learning, you're through," he says in one of his quotes, reflecting his adaptable and Situational Leadership approach.

Pat Summitt

Patricia Sue Summitt led the Lady Volunteer basketball team at the University of Tennessee for 38 years.
She had to start from scratch with a new basketball roster every few years. Despite this, her team won eight national championships.
She was also selected as head coach of the USA Women's Basketball National Team, which won gold at the 1984 Olympics.
If you want to learn to be more like them, the B2B Leaders Academy can help you enhance your leadership skills!

Bottom Line

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
An adaptable leader who performs well in a diverse team may be able to adjust to various individuals and situations.
However, that doesn't imply that different leadership styles are ineffective. Every team member and every leader is unique. Each leader has a unique approach, set of advantages, and disadvantages.
Knowing the various leadership theories might occasionally help a leader become more self-aware. They can even take cues from each type to hone their leadership abilities.
Your team, organization, and career can all benefit from developing your leadership abilities.
© 2023 B2B Leaders Academy. All Rights Reserved.
© 2023 B2B Leaders Academy. All Rights Reserved.