Situational Leadership: What is situational leadership style?

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Situational leadership is a methodology of group leadership that is adaptive in nature. It’s a leadership strategy in which leaders evaluate their followers, gauge the diverse workplace variables, and then choose the group leadership method that best fits the organizational vision, goals, and prevailing circumstances. 

Positional “boss” power is defunct in modern dynamic marketplaces as Ken Blanchard observed.

Situational leadership is the top option for institutions, organizations, and businesses that seek to achieve:

  • Development of workgroup talents
  • Establishment of rapport to realize incredible performances
  • Usage of common leadership strategies 

Blanchard and Hersey stipulated the situational leadership theory based on two hypotheses. These hypotheses were pegged on the leader and also the follower’s developmental level.

Blanchard and Hersey’s matrix consists of four group leadership styles:

1.   Telling leaders = S1

S1 is the specific guidance/ close supervision level. It is here that group leaders make informed decisions and then communicate their stand to followers. They create objectives and give rules. They then expect followers to accept and adapt.  Communication is almost always directly from the leader to team members and never vice versa.

Though likely to be exploited by authoritarian group leaders, when emergency and tough situations arise, this is a choice leadership style.

2.   Selling leaders = S2

S2 is the explaining/ persuasive group leader

S2 situational leaders create roles, rules, and objectives for members, but will remain open for feedback, opinions, ideas, and suggestions. The S2 leaders “sell” conceptual ideas to gain cooperation from followers.

3.   Participating leaders = S3

S3 group leaders share/ facilitate

S3 group leaders leave key decisions for competitive followers to make. Even though S3 leaders do participate in the thought and brainstorming processes, they ultimately leave the final choices to be made by their followers.

4.   Delegating leaders = S4

S4 group leaders let group members do everything

S4 leaders are overall responsible for their teams. However, they are minimally involved in any processes, guidance, or help in any problem-solving challenges. They could be requested at times to offer participatory guidance in decision making, but that’s rare.

What are the follower or employee developmental stages in situational leadership?

Blanchard and Hersey stipulated four developmental types for employees in a situational leadership workplace environment:

  1. Low competence with high commitment
  2. Some form of competence with low commitment
  3. Very high competence but with variable commitment
  4. Very high competence with high commitment

What are the traits of the situational leadership method?

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  • Flexibility: Situational group leaders should always move seamlessly across different leadership strategies on demand.
  • Insight: As a situational leader, you must fully identify and understand every follower’s need. You then need to empathize as you meet each of the appropriate needs.
  • Coach: The situational group leader evaluates followers’ competence and maturity. You then need to implement every correct strategy that’ll enhance the members’ personal character.
  • Trust: Gain your team members’ trust.
  • Problem solving: Solve your followers’ problems fast. Use your intelligence to quickly analyze situations and offer prompt solutions to the followers.

What is an example of situational leadership?

     i.        Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower, U.S. President following WW2, had also doubled up as the Allied Commander in the war. He was a diplomacy expert of renown. He defeated the enemy by getting the united efforts of the allied leaders.

He could direct military exercises as trained military personnel, as well as be a statesman to run a presidential campaign and be in two terms of office. As a diplomatic statesman, he was able to keep the allied leaders’ strong personalities managed.

   ii.        Patricia Sue Summit

Pat Summit headed the Tennessee Lady Volunteers as the coach for 38 years. Periodically, she had to keep building completely new basketball teams. Such challenges didn’t deter her from achieving an incredible 1098-208 overall record in her basketball coach career. She even won a 1984 Olympics gold medal.

  iii.        John Wooden

John Wooden, in his pioneering eight years as the UCLA’s men’s basketball team coach, won up to three Pacific Coast championships. Periodically, a need could arise to develop altogether completely new teams of players. He won seven straight championships with the team. The first was the 1963-64.

What is the main principle of situational leadership?

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey stipulate that the nature of a task and the maturity and competence level of the group leader are the main principles of situational leadership.

i. Maturity levels principle

Blanchard and Hersey stipulated four maturity levels. Their maturity level model ran from M1 to M4.

The M4 employee could take full responsibility. M3 employees would be possessing adept experience and ability, but could rarely exercise full authority or responsibility. M2 followers have basic experience but they lack the ability for full authority and responsibility. M1 team members are entry-level employees. They lack experience and cannot take any full responsibility.

ii. Motivation cycle principle

Hersey and Blanchard drew a motivation principle model, too. It ran from D1-D4. D1 are the followers who have low motivation but also double up as lowly competent. D2 employees are those who were highly motivated but lacked competence. D3 followers are those whose competitiveness was high but their motivation low. D4 leaders were possessing a highly motivated attitude and coupled that with high competitiveness.

Final Thoughts

Blanchard and Hersey believed in no singular solution to leadership. They stipulated that different circumstances demanded group leadership approaches that best fitted them. No particular leadership style, without situational customization, could be applied in all circumstances regardless of the setting.  

Standard formulae couldn’t work for every organization every time. According to their model, applying a situational leadership approach is accommodating a better and more organic management strategy.

Hersey and Blanchard in the model of situational leadership teach us valuable lessons.  As a group leader, you must never be static. Lead by flexibility, insight, coaching, mentoring, and trustworthy, problem-solving demeanor.

Successful circumstantial leadership of your followers, and in diverse aspects of modern life, demands a keen adaptation of the current situation. It calls for the analysis of their skills, competence, and experience and a comparison of that to their levels of motivation. With the findings, you can then assign tasks and expect more predictable results.


  1. St Thomas University Online:
  2. Ken Blanchard, Situational Leadership II

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