situational leadership

Situational Leadership

Situational Leadership Model

Effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the development level of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. In their leadership model, Hersey & Blanchard describe development level in terms of the follower’s competence (ability) and commitment (willingness).

In simple terms, the Situational Leadership Model recognises that ‘one size does NOT fit all’. A situational leader is one who can adopt different leadership styles depending on the situation.  Most of us do this instinctively when managing teams with varying levels of ability, different needs, skills, goals and willingness or commitment levels.

Hersey & Blanchard identify four development levels, D1 – D4, and suggest that leaders should match these with four corresponding styles of leadership, S1 – S4.

Situational Leadership® Model is based on the relationship between leaders and followers and allows us to analyse each situation based on:

  • The amount of guidance and direction (task behaviour) a leader gives
  • The amount of support (relationship behaviour) a leader provides
  • The readiness or willingness level that followers exhibit in performing a specific task, function, or objective

The model also helps us to understand the importance of matching our style to the specific development needs of the individuals in our team.

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 which makes it difficult to adapt our style for the person being led – not what suits us.

S1: Directing Style (structure, control and supervise)
High level of direction required from leader for people who currently have low competence but high commitment. Leader defines role & tasks with close supervision.  Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way

S2: Coaching Style (direct and support)
Medium to high level of direction from leader for people who currently have some competence and some commitment. Leader still defines the role and tasks but seeks ideas and suggestions.  Decisions still remain with the leader but communication is more two-way.

S3: Supporting Style (praise, listen and facilitate)
Medium to low level of direction from leader for people who have high competence and variable commitment.  Leader passes over responsibility for day-to-day decisions, task allocation and processes.  The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the individual

S4: Delegating Style (empowering day to day decision making)
Low level of direction required from leader for people who have high competence and high commitment.  Leaders are involved in decisions and problem-solving, but control is with the individual.  The individual decides when and how the leader is involved.

The Situational Leadership Model then extends to include the development needs of the individual.  Our leadership style should be driven by the competence and commitment of the individual based on the following four levels:

  • D1 – Low competence and high commitment
  • D2 – Low competence and low commitment
  • D3 – High competence and low/variable commitment
  • D4 – High competence and high commitment

By adopting the right style to suit the individual’s development level, work gets done, relationships are built, and most importantly, the individual’s development level will rise to D4, and everyone will benefit.

To Learn More

Situational Leadership ® is a registered trademark of the Center for Leadership Studies.  Visit their website to learn more


[1] Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources. Authors: Paul Hersey Kenneth H. Blanchard Dewey E. Johnson Publisher: Pearson; 10 edition (18 July 2012). ISBN-10: 0132556405

[1] One Minute Manager, Author:  Kenneth Blanchard  Publisher: Harper; New edition (1 Sept. 2011) ISBN-10: 0007107927

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