How To Develop Situational Leadership Skills


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The world is filled with diversity. And while it may be easier to use a one-size-fits-all approach in leadership, it’s not as effective as adapting a leadership style to fit the situation. This is where situational leadership comes in.

Key Takeaways

  • Situational leadership means changing your leadership style to best meet the needs of the business and team members.
  • The concept of situational leadership was developed by Paul Hersey in the 1960s.
  • Assessing the strengths, weaknesses, and maturity levels of your teammates is the first step in developing a situational leadership style.

What Is Situational Leadership?

Situational leadership involves adapting a leadership style to best motivate team members and meet the needs of the organization. This style is fluid, always changing as the environment dictates. It requires the leader to be able to assess the needs of his team and the business, and adjust his management style accordingly at any given time.

The paradigm of situational leadership was developed in the 1960s by management professor Paul Hersey at Ohio State University. He later teamed up with Ken Blanchard, author of the best-selling book The One-Minute Manager, to outline the leadership style in their 1969 book, Management of Organizational Behavior. The theory is based in behavioral psychology, taking into account leadership styles as well as the “maturity level,” which considers the level of ability and willingness of the team or individual member to complete a task. In their version, they have four leadership styles:

  1. Telling leaders: Give direct, specific guidance and expect it to be followed.
  2. Selling: Give direct, specific guidance, but are open to suggestions by team members. They try to gain buy-in of their ideas to encourage cooperation.
  3. Participating: Will share ideas, but leave the decisions up to the team.
  4. Delegating: Are available for guidance when asked for input, but they tend to let the team work independently.

They also have four levels of maturity:

  1. M1: Lacks knowledge, skills, and willingness to do the task.
  2. M2: Lacks ability, but is willing to do the task.
  3. M3: Have skills and ability, but are unwilling to be responsible for the task.
  4. M4: Are highly skilled and willing to do the task.

Later, Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, adapted the model to include six leadership styles:

  1. Coaching leaders: Help individual team members on their personal and career development skills.
  2. Pace-setting leaders: Have high expectations and tend to lead by example.
  3. Democratic leaders: Give team members a vote in decisions.
  4. Affiliative leaders: Boost moral by providing praise and support.
  5. Authoritative leaders: Identify issues and zero in on solutions when an organization lacks focus or direction.
  6. Coercive leaders: Dictate their vision and plans to reach it.

All the styles have their pros and cons, and ideal times when they’re needed. For example, styles that involve the leader dictating direction can be ideal when decisions need to be made quickly to avoid problems, or when a team or member has low maturity (M1, M2). However, over the long term, it can lead to resentment, low motivation, and reduced productivity by team members.

On the other end of the spectrum, leadership styles that include input from team members encourage cooperation and buy-in to ideas, but decision making can end up being a long process.

How To Develop Situational Leadership Skills

You can attend situational leadership trainings and workshops. But if you want to get a better sense of the leadership skills, you will need to become a situational leader. Here are a few tips:

  • Learn to assess the emotional states and maturity levels of those you lead. The biggest factor of situational leadership is adapting your style to best motivate and encourage the cooperation of your team. To do that, you must recognize what makes them tic.
  • Have a sense of what team members have to do to complete the job. To be a good leader you need to know which projects require high-task versus low-task involvement so you can have realistic expectations.
  • Develop your skills of persuasion. People who like to work independently don’t like being told what to do, so learning to present your ideas in a way that they can buy into is important.
  • Learn to be fluid in your leadership style based on your business needs and who you’re working with. You may want to be rigid in your expectations but this ultimately hurts the team.
  • Gain the trust of those you work with. People are more likely to heed your direction and accept your ideas if they trust you.
  • Keep your emotions neutral. Leaders should provide guidance and direction without adding their own emotional baggage. Workers are less likely to consider the ideas of a leader who appears to be operating from emotion only.
  • Develop your problem-solving skills. As a leader, you’re often involved in fixing or improving outcomes. You may also need to resolve conflicts between your team members.
  • Develop your coaching skills. Learn strategies that motivate your team to be productive and effective.

How Situational Leadership Benefits Home Business

Even as a solopreneur, there are benefits to adapting a situational leadership style. While you may be the only person in your business, chances are you have other people involved in helping you manage aspects of your business, such as your webmaster, virtual assistant, accountant, or other freelancers.

Some benefits to situational leadership in home business include:

  • It’s flexible.
  • It makes the most of any situation.
  • It encourages collaboration among team members.
  • It can boost motivation by allowing team members to feel a part of the process and have some ownership of it.
  • It can increase productivity.
  • It can counteract challenges such as uncertainty, negativity, and a lack of focus or clarity.
  • It can give you greater influence over outcomes by team members.
  • It can help team members gain skills and confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the qualities of situational leadership?

To adopt a situational leadership style, you should be flexible, become an expert at delegation, diagnose your teammates' respective strengths and weaknesses, and coach teammates differently according to their needs.

What are the different styles of leadership?

The different styles of leadership can be broken down into five categories:

  • Transformational, which is forward-looking and places an emphasis on making big changes in the organization.
  • Laissez-Faire or Delegative, which takes a hands-off approach and focuses on distributing tasks to team members.
  • Participative, which invites team members in on big decisions.
  • Transactional, which focuses on rewarding and punishing team members for their efforts on key tasks.
  • Authoritative or Visionary, which takes a "follow me" approach, serving as a mentor and guide for team members.
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The Balance 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.
  1. Center for Leadership Studies. "The Right Leadership, at The Right Time."

  2. Harvard Business Review. "Leadership That Gets Results."

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