April 13, 2024

Styles Of Leadership

Try Styles Of Leadership You Like It

Situational Leadership Theory

6 min read

Situational leadership theory suggests that no single leadership style is best. Instead, it depends on which type of leadership and strategies are best suited to the task.

According to this theory, the most effective leaders are those that are able to adapt their style to the situation and look at cues such as the type of task, the nature of the group, and other factors that might contribute to getting the job done.

Situational Leadership Theory

Situational leadership theory is often referred to as the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory, after its developers, Dr. Paul Hersey, author of “The Situational Leader,” and Kenneth Blanchard, author of “One-Minute Manager.”

Leadership Styles

Hersey and Blanchard suggested that there are four primary leadership styles:

  • Telling (S1): In this leadership style, the leader tells people what to do and how to do it.
  • Selling (S2): This style involves more back-and-forth between leaders and followers. Leaders “sell” their ideas and message to get group members to buy into the process.
  • Participating (S3): In this approach, the leader offers less direction and allows members of the group to take a more active role in coming up with ideas and making decisions.
  • Delegating (S4): This style is characterized by a less involved, hands-off approach to leadership. Group members tend to make most of the decisions and take most of the responsibility for what happens.

Maturity Levels

The right style of leadership depends greatly on the maturity level (i.e., the level of knowledge and competence) of the individuals or group.

Hersey and Blanchard’s theory identifies four different levels of maturity, including:

  • M1: Group members lack the knowledge, skills, and willingness to complete the task.
  • M2: Group members are willing and enthusiastic, but lack the ability.
  • M3: Group members have the skills and capability to complete the task, but are unwilling to take responsibility.
  • M4: Group members are highly skilled and willing to complete the task.

Matching Styles and Levels

Leadership styles may be matched with maturity levels. The Hersey-Blanchard model suggests that the following leadership styles are the most appropriate for these maturity levels:

  • Low Maturity (M1)—Telling (S1)
  • Medium Maturity (M2)—Selling (S2)
  • Medium Maturity (M3)—Participating (S3)
  • High Maturity (M4)—Delegating (S4)

How It Works

A more “telling” style may be necessary at the beginning of a project when followers lack the responsibility or knowledge to work on their own. As subordinates become more experienced and knowledgeable, however, the leader may want to shift into a more delegating approach.

This situational model of leadership focuses on flexibility so that leaders are able to adapt according to the needs of their followers and the demands of the situation.

The situational approach to leadership also avoids the pitfalls of the single-style approach by recognizing that there are many different ways of dealing with a problem and that leaders need to be able to assess a situation and the maturity levels of subordinates in order to determine what approach will be the most effective at any given moment.

Situational theories, therefore, give greater consideration to the complexity of dynamic social situations and the many individuals acting in different roles who will ultimately contribute to the outcome.

Situational Leadership II

The Situational Leadership II (or SLII model) was developed by Kenneth Blanchard and builds on Blanchard and Hersey’s original theory. According to the revised version of the theory, effective leaders must base their behavior on the developmental level of group members for specific tasks.

Competence and Commitment

The developmental level is determined by each individual’s level of competence and commitment. These levels include:

  • Enthusiastic beginner (D1): High commitment, low competence
  • Disillusioned learner (D2): Some competence, but setbacks have led to low commitment
  • Capable but cautious performer (D3): Competence is growing, but the level of commitment varies
  • Self-reliant achiever (D4): High competence and commitment

SLII Leadership Styles

SLII also suggests that effective leadership is dependent on two key behaviors: supporting and directing. Directing behaviors include giving specific directions and instructions and attempting to control the behavior of group members. Supporting behaviors include actions such as encouraging subordinates, listening, and offering recognition and feedback.

The theory identifies four situational leadership styles:

  • Directing (S1): High on directing behaviors, low on supporting behaviors
  • Coaching (S2): High on both directing and supporting behaviors
  • Supporting (S3): Low on directing behavior and high on supporting behaviors
  • Delegating (S4): Low on both directing and supporting behaviors

The main point of SLII theory is that not one of these four leadership styles is best. Instead, an effective leader will match their behavior to the developmental skill of each subordinate for the task at hand.

Elements of Situational Leadership Theory

Experts suggest that there are four key contextual factors that leaders must be aware of when making an assessment of the situation.

Consider the Relationship

Leaders need to consider the relationship between the leaders and the members of the group. Social and interpersonal factors can play a role in determining which approach is best.

For example, a group that lacks efficiency and productivity might benefit from a style that emphasizes order, rules, and clearly defined roles. A productive group of highly skilled workers, on the other hand, might benefit from a more democratic style that allows group members to work independently and have input in organizational decisions.

Consider the Task

The leader needs to consider the task itself. Tasks can range from simple to complex, but the leader needs to have a clear idea of exactly what the task entails in order to determine if it has been successfully and competently accomplished.

Consider the Level of Authority

The level of authority the leader has over group members should also be considered. Some leaders have power conferred by the position itself, such as the capacity to fire, hire, reward, or reprimand subordinates. Other leaders gain power through relationships with employees, often by gaining respect from them, offering support to them, and helping them feel included in the decision-making process.

Consider the Level of Maturity

As the Hersey-Blanchard model suggests, leaders need to consider the level of maturity of each individual group member. The maturity level is a measure of an individual’s ability to complete a task, as well as their willingness to complete the task. Assigning a job to a member who is willing but lacks the ability is a recipe for failure.

Being able to pinpoint each employee’s level of maturity allows the leader to choose the best leadership approach to help employees accomplish their goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is an example of situational leadership theory?

    An example of situational leadership would be a leader adapting their approach based on the needs of their team members. One team member might be less experienced and require more oversight, while another might be more knowledgable and capable of working independently.

  • What are the three skills of situational leadership?

    In order to lead effectively, the three skills needed to utilize situational leadership are diagnosis, flexibility, and communication. Leaders must be able to evaluate the situation, adapt as needed, and communicate their expectations with members of the group.

  • What are the key elements of situational leadership theory?

    Important elements of situational leadership theory are the styles of leadership that are used, the developmental level of team members, the adaptability of the leader, communication with group members, and the attainment of the group’s goals.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • DuBrin AJ. Leadership: Research, Findings, Practice, and Skills. Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning; 2013.
  • Gill R. Theory and Practice of Leadership. London: Sage Publications; 2011.
  • Hersey P, Blanchard KH. Management of Organizational BehaviorUtilizing Human Resources. New Jersey/Prentice Hall; 1969.
  • Hersey P, Blanchard KH. Life Cycle Theory of Leadership. Training and Development Journal. 1969;23(5):26–34.
  • Nevarez C, Wood JL, Penrose R. Leadership Theory and the Community College: Applying Theory to Practice. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing; 2013.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the “Everything Psychology Book.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © All rights reserved. | Newsphere by AF themes.