Situational leadership: what is it? (4 Types and Samples)

A leader can use a variety of leadership philosophies to improve their effectiveness at work. Situational leadership is among these approaches, in which a leader modifies their leadership style to better suit a given circumstance or task.

Various leadership styles are needed for different degrees of skill. The same is true for many circumstances or tasks. A manager might delegate project management to a top performer. On the other hand, a crisis or high-profile project can require that management become more involved.

Managers must have a flexible and situational response to whatever arises in their fast-changing company environment nowadays.

  • Team
  • The Workplace
  • Company

That is what the Situational Leadership style aims to achieve.

In this post, we go over the meaning of situational leadership, the methods that leaders can use to practice it, and the benefits and drawbacks of this type of leadership.

Situational leadership: what is it?

A leader that uses situational leadership adapts their management style to the demands of their team or the workplace they are currently in. This leadership style is built on a leader’s capacity to adapt to the needs of a group or company in hopes of becoming a stronger and more efficient leader, rather than the talents of the leader.

Any effective leader is aware that there are numerous factors to take into account when working with a team. Every person has their own:

  • Background
  • Learning method
  • Personality
  • Experience
  • Motivators
  • Ego

We consider ourselves to be Situational Leadership leaders when we consider how we modify our approach in response to these factors.

Situational Leadership is the process of customizing your leadership approach to fit the demands of the team or individual team members.

This leadership approach was created by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey during the writing of the book Management of Organizational Behavior. It is also known as “Situational Leadership Theory” or even the “Situational Leadership Model.” A situational leader may employ any of the below leadership behavioral styles based on the scenario, claim Blanchard and Hersey:

  • Telling. This approach is used when a team needs frequent direction and close oversight. Decisions made by leaders that use a telling style may be communicated to the team after they have been made. When repetitive outcomes are required or when a team is inexperienced, the telling technique is most frequently used. When a team or a member of the team needs constant monitoring and direction, telling or directing is helpful. By exercising strong directive behavior and low supporting behavior for the work at hand, the leader makes decisions and controls the team or members of the team. This can entail instructing less skilled teammates or taking the lead in an emergency.
  • Selling. When a group or employee lacks the motivation to complete a task or fulfill an obligation, this style of leadership is frequently applied. When a team or group member is unwilling but able to complete the assignment, selling or convincing is helpful. To increase the team’s or individual team members’ involvement, the leader fosters two-way communication and rewards modest accomplishments. This kind of leadership can assist team members in learning new talents or honing existing ones. This approach may also help people buy into the bigger picture.
  • Participating. The participatory behavioral style of leadership is most frequently utilized when a team has the skills to carry out an assignment but lacks the motivation or assurance to finish it. When a team or group member is capable of performing the task but unsure or unwilling to do so, participating or sharing is helpful. To boost team confidence, leaders embrace a more democratic approach to management, allowing their employees to offer suggestions in their areas of competence.
  • Delegating. The delegating style of leadership is used when a team performs its tasks effectively and efficiently and needs little direction. When a team or group member possesses a high level of talent, confidence, and self-motivation, delegating is beneficial. Leaders who use this approach will:
    • Create a goal.
    • List the desired effects
    • Provide precise authority.

They will then adopt a more accommodating style, stepping aside and allowing their team handles the situation.

No one style is thought to be ideal for a leader. Instead, a leader who adopts a situational leadership style will employ the approach that is most appropriate for the given circumstance.

The Situational Leadership concept in plain language

Managers who use Situational Leadership may more easily adjust to their working settings and the people they supervise. Every prospective leader should gain the ability to adjust their leadership style as a component of the development process.

The Situational Leadership approach takes into account a worker’s level of Performance Readiness, or their capacity and eagerness to carry out a particular task. They can change depending on the performance areas and obstacles. It also takes into account how much guidance and assistance the leader is obliged to provide.

Its adaptability enables leaders to respond to each circumstance with a leadership approach that will inspire their staff and unleash the best in them.

Let’s examine a scenario where the Situational Leadership style might be used at work.

Let’s say you are mentoring a new staff for the organization. You conclude that the new hire lacks knowledge and experience. You respond by modifying your leadership style in line with this.

For instance, instead of giving them chores to complete, you slow down and demonstrate what’s required of them. To ensure they are heading in the proper direction, you should also keep an eye on them more. You’ll alter your leadership style to fit their new degree of Performance Readiness for that work after they learn skills and can complete it satisfactorily.

What are the responsibilities of situational leaders?

While using a situational leadership style, a leader will assess an institution or team and modify their approach to match the specific demands of the group or organization. A situational leader continually evaluates the circumstance to make sure they are managing most effectively and suitably. They also incorporate adaptation and adaptability into their leadership.

A situational leader usually exhibits or is capable of exhibiting the following qualities in the workplace:

  • Direction. To be effective, some groups or companies need a substantial amount of direction. A situational leader is good at offering guidance and ongoing oversight.
  • Flexibility. Situational leaders must be adaptable and flexible since they regularly modify their style of leadership to fit the circumstances at hand.
  • Promote engagement. Situational leaders frequently encourage team members to take more responsibility for their actions by encouraging participation in decision-making.
  • Delegation. An effective situational leader must be able to assign duties to members of the team who can do them on their own. This is particularly the case as the leader’s team develops maturity under the leader’s direction.
  • Routine coaching. Situational leaders usually require being capable of mentoring their team to promote development and autonomy.
  • Honesty. Instead of leading in a way that is most beneficial to the leader, a situational leader has to be open and honest about a circumstance and change their leadership style to fit it.

A great situational leader can effectively evaluate their team and use different leadership philosophies to fulfill the needs of the group in each circumstance. To foster more efficiency and achievement, these leaders help their teams when necessary and boost team growth and autonomy.

The Benefits of Situational Leadership

Situational leadership has various advantages for the group or company as well as the leader. These are a few benefits of this kind of leadership:

  • Any leadership approach that a leader deems to be most appropriate for a particular circumstance may be used.
  • The only skill required for this kind of leadership style is the capacity to evaluate a situation and make necessary adjustments.
  • While the leadership style used will often match their demands, situational leadership can make the workplace more pleasant for the workers.
  • This style of leadership takes into account the different stages of employee growth and assists in addressing the requirements and performance levels of every employee.

The drawbacks of Situational leadership

The adoption of a situational leadership style inside an organization has advantages as well as potential drawbacks. While employing this leadership approach, disadvantages to take into account include:

  • Situational leadership may result in uncertainty inside an organization because a situational leader may frequently alter their strategy to meet the needs of different teams or individuals.
  • Situational leadership has a propensity to simply concentrate on short-term objectives, which may cause it to ignore long-term objectives.
  • Situational leadership frequently fails when it comes to carrying out repetitious duties since this kind of leadership is adaptable and many task-driven workplaces are not.
  • The ability of the leader to assess a staff’s maturity level is crucial for effective situational leadership. Because they are unable to accomplish this, some leaders may adopt a management approach that is inappropriate for a certain team or staff.
  • That might lead to misunderstanding. Situational leadership can be confusing for individuals and groups, based on how it is communicated. This occurs when followers believe the leader’s style of leadership is erratic.
  • Usually, it is concentrated on short-term objectives. Situational leaders are more likely to react to current events. This could make it difficult to see the big picture. Effective leaders will consider this and keep long-term objectives in mind even when dealing with immediate problems.
  • That can place the leader under undue pressure. The ability to recognize and evaluate what is required in any given circumstance is a prerequisite for Situational Leadership. The leader can then react appropriately as a result.

Leaders might not have all the information necessary to conduct a reliable assessment of every team member’s competency. They might even be misled, particularly if a worker attempts to come out as informed.

Leaders frequently conflate emotional competence as well as trust with skill based on experience.

Situational leadership examples

The following are instances of situational leadership in action at work from real-world situations:

Example 1: A bus accident has recently left a huge number of people in the emergency room who are seriously injured. The emergency department manager must use a “telling” leadership style because there are so many patients there, to manage the emergency room staff effectively. To make sure that all patients receive medical attention and are cared for promptly, this necessitates that the emergency room manager gives constant oversight and periodic instruction to all emergency room employees.

Example 2: A manager and his team are tasked with seeing a project through to completion. The manager’s team possesses the necessary experience to finish all of the project’s tasks, and they have proven to be confident and capable of taking ownership of their work. In light of this, the manager assigns responsibilities to each member of the team with little oversight during the project, employing a “delegating” leadership style.

What are some instances in which Situational Leadership might be most effective?

The Performance Readiness degree of the members of the team for carrying out the particular task must match for these Situational Leadership methods to be most effective.

Unable, uncertain, or unwilling 

These are budding staff members who do not yet possess the precise skill set needed for a task and who are hesitant or insecure. This may need the use of a more directive style, in which the boss instructs the subordinate regarding what to do, how to do it, as well as when to do it.

What is helpful? To enhance skill development, introduce them to colleagues who have more experience and provide them with guidance in tandem.

Unable but willing or confident

Some staff members may possess certain skills, but not the kind needed to complete a task successfully. Also, they aren’t giving the mission their all. This frequently necessitates a leadership style in which the leader participates and trains the team in problem-solving.

What is helpful? Recognize their unique contributions and assist in meeting their developmental requirements to demonstrate your dedication.

Competent but uncertain or unwilling

These staff members are very competent, and in certain cases, they are more knowledgeable than the authority in their industry. Nonetheless, they might be feeling unsure of themselves or uneasy about taking on certain work by themselves for the first time.

Here, a supportive and risk-taking leadership approach is the most effective approach to take. The team’s abilities and knowledge can be put to use on the current task.

What is helpful? Use a team member’s need for influence and sense of purpose or significance to your advantage.

Able, secure, and confident 

These highly competent team members frequently possess greater skill sets than the team’s leader. They also exhibit a great deal of dedication and confidence. Delegation is the type of leadership that helps this circumstance the best. The team’s leader gives each member the freedom to work on their own to accomplish set objectives.

What is helpful? Provide additional information about the organization’s objectives so that the team may decide more wisely.

What traits define a situational leader?

Leaders may naturally lean more towards a certain leadership style or have a “comfort zone” for it. Likewise, the company might. The ability to fully acquire the breadth necessary to be a situational leader can be difficult as a result.

Yet leaders must stretch in this direction. To get optimum results in various circumstances, multiple leadership philosophies are needed. To cope with the difficulties of today’s evolving work environment, we need a variety of leadership techniques, just as we need various tools to construct a house. To improve these skills, one must constantly take action.

But, the finest situational leaders all have a few commonalities at their heart. The following Situational Leadership abilities are those that every great leader must cultivate:

1. Versatility

The shifting demands of the team, work, and organization are carefully observed by a situational leader. To foster the greatest potential in their team members and assure positive outcomes, they modify their leadership style as necessary.

2. Attentive listener

A situational leader needs to use their active listening abilities to comprehend what is happening and to address the requirements of their team. They must remain patient and give themselves the necessary opportunity to become familiar with their team inside and out.

3. A strong sense of orientation

Situational leaders must be capable of giving the team members the degree of assistance and guidance they require. They must be aware of the team’s destination and the best course of action to get there.

4. The capacity to foster engagement

Situational leaders exhibit actions that foster a sense of security. They give team members the chance to communicate their ideas, insights, and experiences. Also, they possess the abilities needed to successfully assign responsibility to team members as needed.

5. Coaching expertise

Situational leaders must master the art of coaching at a variety of growth levels if they are to be most effective. With the help of this ability, they can assist team members in reaching where they must go by meeting them at their current location.

What makes Situational Leadership so powerful?

The Situational Leadership approach offers a structure for leaders to evaluate, modify, and tailor their leadership style to their team members aptitude and eagerness to execute tasks. To accomplish and promote success, leaders must match the appropriate style of leadership with the Performance Readiness degree of each team member’s given task.

Situational leaders frequently maintain close contact with their teams. They can forge enduring bonds with the team as a result. As a consequence, it improves the working atmosphere and gives employees a sense of individual worth.


Do you have any examples of Situational Leadership from your professional experience?

If you can, you likely felt respected and supported by this kind of leader. A leader who is adaptable and performs well in a multidisciplinary group may possess the capacity to adjust to various people and circumstances.

But, that doesn’t imply that different styles of leadership can’t be effective. Every member of the team and every leader is unique. Each leader has a unique approach, set of advantages, and disadvantages.

Knowing about the various leadership philosophies might occasionally help a leader become more self-aware. To hone their leadership abilities, they can even take cues from each type.

Your team, organization, and career can all benefit from developing your leadership skills. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Situational leadership

  • What Does Situational Leadership Look Like in Practice?

A team member on a high-profile project with a short deadline is collaborating with a member of the leader’s team who possesses a strong talent and a natural tendency to influence others using a participatory or collaborative method. Nevertheless, this strategy has been rather unproductive.

The team leader carefully considers the assignment that has been provided to this team member and divides it into manageable steps. The team leader also considers the prior task-specific knowledge and ability this member of the team has shown for this kind of work and finds it to be low. With these presumptions, the leader steps outside of their specific leadership comfort zone and adopts a much more systematic approach, which ultimately results in the project moving forward as needed and being much more well-liked by the follower.

  • What are the three situational leadership concepts?

Diagnose, adaptability, and communication are the three abilities required to use situational leadership successfully. Leaders must have the ability to assess the situation, make necessary adjustments, and convey their expectations to the team.

  • What are situational leadership’s two defining characteristics?

The leadership style and the person’s or team’s performance readiness level—also known as maturity level or development level—are the two core ideas of the Situational Leadership Model.

  • What are the six situational leadership styles?

Authoritative, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Coercive are the six emotional leadership styles, according to Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Each leadership style has a distinctive impact on the emotions of the followers you are guiding.

  • What makes situational leadership so powerful?

The best leadership style is situational leadership since it takes into consideration team members’ varying abilities and confidence levels. Hence, situational leaders can provide just the correct amount of guidance and assistance.