Situational Leadership

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Adopting different leadership styles depending on the situation. Explanation of the leadership model of Blanchard and Hersey. ('68)

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What is Situational Leadership (SL)? Description

The Situational Leadership method from Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey holds that managers must use different leadership styles depending on the situation. The model allows you to analyze the needs of the situation you're in, and then use the most appropriate leadership style. Depending on employees' competences in their task areas and commitment to their tasks, your leadership style should vary from one person to another. You may even lead the same person one way sometimes, and another way at other times.

Blanchard and Hersey characterized leadership style in terms of the amount of direction and of support that the leader gives to his or her followers, and so created a simple matrix (figure).


Leadership Behavior of the Leader

  • S1 - Telling / Directing - High task focus, low relationship focus - leaders define the roles and tasks of the 'follower', and supervise them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way. For people who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed. They need direction and supervision to get them started.
  • S2 - Selling / Coaching - High task focus, high relationship focus - leaders still define roles and tasks, but seeks ideas and suggestions from the follower. Decisions remain the leader's prerogative, but communication is much more two-way. For people who have some competence but lack commitment. They need direction and supervision because they are still relatively inexperienced. They also need support and praise to build their self-esteem, and involvement in decision-making to restore their commitment.
  • S3 - Participating / Supporting - Low task focus, high relationship focus - leaders pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the follower. For people who have competence, but lack confidence or motivation. They do not need much direction because of their skills, but support is necessary to bolster their confidence and motivation.
  • S4 - Delegating - Low task focus, low relationship focus - leaders are still involved in decisions and problem-solving, but control is with the follower. The follower decides when and how the leader will be involved. For people who have both competence and commitment. They are able and willing to work on a project by themselves with little supervision or support.

Effective leaders are versatile in being able to move around the matrix according to the situation, so there is no style that is always right. However, we tend to have a preferred style, and in applying SL you need to know which one that is for you.


Likewise, the competence and commitment of the follower can also be distinguished in 4 quadrants.


Development Level of the Follower

  • D4 - High Competence, High Commitment - Experienced at the job, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. May even be more skilled than the leader.
  • D3 - High Competence, Variable Commitment - Experienced and capable, but may lack the confidence to go it alone, or the motivation to do it well / quickly.
  • D2 - Some Competence, Low Commitment - May have some relevant skills, but won't be able to do the job without help. The task or the situation may be new to them.
  • D1 - Low Competence, High Commitment - Generally lacking the specific skills required for the job in hand, but has the confidence and / or motivation to tackle it.

Similar to the leadership styles, the development levels are also situational. A person could be skilled, confident and motivated for one part of his his job, but could be less competent for another part of the job.


Blanchard and Hersey said that the Leadership Style (S1 - S4) of the leader must correspond to the Development level (D1 - D4) of the follower - and it's the leader who adapts. By adopting the right style to suit the follower's development level, work gets done, relationships are built up, and most importantly, the follower's development level will rise to D4, to everyone's benefit.


Steps in SL. Process

  1. Make an overview per employee of his/her tasks
  2. Assess the employee on each task (D1...D4)
  3. Decide on the leadership (management) style per task (S1...S4)
  4. Discuss the situation with the employee
  5. Make a joint plan
  6. Follow-up, check and correct

Strengths of the SL model. Benefits

  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to use

Limitations of the SL model. Disadvantages

  • Model fails to distinguish between leadership and management. What is called leadership style is really management style. Compare also: Leadership Pipeline
  • Leadership is not primarily about making decisions anyway - it is about inspiring people to change direction.
  • Leaders may indeed vary the way they inspire people to change. But this is when they have already decided on the need to change. Hence leadership style does not reduce to decision making style.
  • Focuses too exclusively on what the person in charge does.
  • Of course both leaders and managers have to behave differently in different situations. But that is just a trivial fact of life, rather than anything profound in terms of our basic understanding of what it means to lead or manage.

Assumptions of SL. Conditions

  • Leaders should adapt their style to follower 'maturity', based on how ready and willing the follower is to perform required tasks (that is, their competence and motivation).
  • There are four leadership styles that match the four combinations of high/low readiness and willingness.
  • The four styles suggest that leaders should put greater or less focus on the task in question and/or the relationship between the leader and the follower.
  • Presumes that leadership is about how the boss makes decisions.

Book: Paul Hersey, Kenneth H. Blanchard, Dewey E. Johnson - Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading -


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Compare with Blanchard and Hersey Situational Leadership:  Leadership Styles  |  Stages of Team Development  |  Leadership Pipeline  |  Leadership Continuum  |  Hagberg Model of Personal Power  |  Managerial Grid  |  Path-Goal Theory  |  Theory X Theory Y  |  Contingency Theory  |  Competing Values Framework  |  Expectancy Theory  |  Result Oriented Management  |  Bases of Social Power  |  Seven Surprises  |  Seven Habits  |  Results-Based Leadership  |  Level 5 Leadership  |  Servant-Leadership


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