Situational leadership

Situational Leadership is a theory that defines which leadership styles should be used in which circumstances.

It is thought that no one style of leadership is best and that each situation should be treated differently. The four leadership styles are

  1. Directing 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.
  2. Coaching 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.
  3. Supporting 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.
  4. Delegating 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.

Effective leaders are versatile in being able to move around the grid according to the situation, so there is no one right style.  However, we tend to have a preferred style, and in applying Situational Leadership you need to know which one that is for you so that you can consciously use other styles where appropriate.

What is it used for?

The Situational Leadership model is used to identify the best way to manage and lead any particular situation. It can be used for assessing the leadership styles that managers have and for considering how to manage groups.

How do I use it?

The most important first step is to effectively analyse the abilities and level of willingness of the person who is required to carry out the task. This developmental level of the person would dictate the style of leadership required, and it is up the the leader to adapt, not the person being tasked.

In situations where a person is less able and less willing to take on a task, the leader might use the Directing approach. This is where the manager explains what will be done, how it will be done, and and asks for it to be completed. The manager will probbaly also closely monitor and control output.

Where a person is not very able, but willing or over-confident with a task, the manager can use the Coaching leadership style. This approach is where the leader says what is going to be done, but this can be subject to change—the manager may present ideas and gain input from the person or team, but will make the final decision themselves. Note that the term coaching as used here is a more directive apporach than that advocated in the topic on Coaching.

When a person is able but is insecure about performing a task, the participating, or Supporting, style could be used. This will often allow the person or team to make some decisions, within reason, and will support the team when they are doing so.

The Delegating approach can be used when people or teams are mature, willing and able to perform tasks. In this instance, the manager will provide task information, but allow the team or person to decide how to perform the task, within limits.

What are its limitations?

Individuals will not necessarily all follow the same route of needing directing, then coaching, then support and finally being delegated to. It is important for managers to be able to use commonsense when judging how to handle any leadership situation.

Some leaders are more confident with particular styles and people tend to have a natural preference for one of the four styles. Sometimes it can be difficult to break away from the preferred style.

Other similar models