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You've just finished training the newest member of your team.
Now that he's ready to start working, you give him the data
that you need him to enter into the company's database, and
then you hurry off to a meeting.
When you return later that afternoon, you're disappointed to
find that he hasn't done anything. He didn't know what to
do, and he didn't have the confidence to ask for help. As a
result, hours have been lost, and now you have to rush to enter
the data on time. Although you may want to blame the
worker, the truth is that you're as much to blame as he is.
How can you avoid situations like this?
• What is situational leadership theory.
• Leadership behaviour and styles
• Motivational levels
• Development levels
• Why is it popular among managers
• Practical examples and application
What Is Situational Leadership?
• A theory of leadership that proposes that leaders
change their leadership styles based on who they are
• Situational leadership refers to when the leader or
manager of an organization must adjust his style to fit
the development level of the followers he is trying to
influence. With situational leadership, it is up to the
leader to change his style, not the follower to adapt to
the leader’s style. In situational leadership, the style
may change continually to meet the needs of others in
the organization based on the situation.
Created by professor and author Dr. Paul Hersey and author Ken
Blanchard, the Situational Leadership Model is a theory of business
leadership that promotes the benefits of combining a range of
managerial styles to cater to different people within the same
organization. This is opposed to the more traditional view of the
executive manager who may employ the same leadership tactics
across an entire organization, more than likely passing directives
down through subordinates and other intermediaries.
But by employing the strategies put forth in the Situational
Leadership Model, a manager would potentially have the capabilities
to deal with a wide range of people and thereby create a more
employee-centric and innovative organization through the level of
direct contact he or she has with members at all levels. Further, the
leader would be free to place more or less emphasis
on a particular task as well as more or less emphasis on relationships
with employees – enabling them to focus on the component most
needed to get the task accomplished successfully.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The core foundation of the Situational Leadership Model is the belief
that there is no single “best” approach to leadership. Instead, effective
leadership is viewed as task-relevant. Therefore, the most successful
leaders are the ones who are able to adapt their leadership styles across a
broad range of varying maturity levels readily present within the average
organization. Also factoring into the choice for leadership style are the
individual employees’ willingness and ability to take responsibility for
the task as well as their applicable education and experience.
Given the wide level of variance in these factors, choices surrounding
leadership are highly subjective in regard to the person or work group
that is being influenced as well as the specific job or function that has
been assigned – a situation some say lends itself perfectly to the
Situational Leadership Model.
Steps of situational leadership theory
• Make an overview per employee of his/her task.
• Assess the employee on each task(D1….D4)
• Decide on the leadership (management) style per
• Discuss the situation with the employee.
• Make a join plan
• Follow – up . Check and correct
Hersey and Blanchard characterized leadership style in
terms of the amount of task behaviour and relationship
behaviour that the leader provides to their followers. They
characterized all leadership styles into four behaviour
types, which they named S1 to S4 there is a clear
distinction between productivity and employee-
development, with the first two styles (telling and selling)
focused on accomplishing the task while styles three and
four (participating and delegating) are more concerned
with the personal development of team members.
• Within this style, a leader will specifically
instruct subordinates what to do and how to
do it. This style is used at length within the
law enforcement and military communities
as well as on manufacturing assembly
lines, providing a means of managing a
diverse group of people that span a wide
range of experience and maturity levels.
• Information and direction will still be provided by
the manger in this style of leadership but there’s also
more two-way communication with subordinates.
Within this role, leaders “sell” their message to get
employees on board, persuading them to work
toward the common goal. A perfect example of this
type of leadership is often found in an internship
situation, with the success of this approach
dependent upon whether the student or apprentice
learner is excited and self-motivated to be on the
• With participation, leaders can focus more on
relationships and less on direction. In doing
so, the Situational Leadership manager works
closely with the team and shares decision-
making responsibilities. This style is often
used by corporate leaders who are attempting
to influence a board of directors toward
developing a new policy for which there is no
proven history or established practice.
Although the leader will still monitor task- and
organizational-progress, he or she will pass much of the
responsibility for the execution and completion of the
established goals onto the individual subordinates or
dedicated work groups. By delegating, the leader is usually
less involved with decisions and is therefore able to focus
on the work and achievements of subordinates, as seen
commonly in the freedom given to tenured professors who
are allowed to teach in the manner they believe is most
effective while being monitored by a dean or department
Finding the right style
• Finding The right leadership style will
depend on the person or group being led.
The Hersey-Blanchard Situational
Leadership Theory identified four levels of
Maturity M1 through M4 that helps the
leaders in deciding what is the best one for
the present situation:
The right leadership style will depend on the person
or group being led. The Hersey-Blanchard
Situational Leadership Theory identified four levels
of Maturity M1 through M4:
M1 - Followers still lack the specific skills required
for the job in hand and are unable and unwilling to
do or to take responsibility for this job or task.
(According to Ken Blanchard "The honeymoon is
M2 - They are unable to take on
responsibility for the task being done;
however, they are willing to work at the
task. They are novice but enthusiastic.
M3 - They are experienced and able to
do the task but lack the confidence or
the willingness to take on responsibility.
M4 - They are experienced at the task, and
comfortable with their own ability to do it well.
They are able and willing to not only do the task, but
to take responsibility for the task.
Maturity levels are also task-specific. A person
might be generally skilled, confident and motivated
in their job, but would still have a maturity level M1
when asked to perform a task requiring skills they
Maturity Level Most Appropriate Leadership Style
M1: Low maturity S1: Telling/directing
M2: Medium maturity, limited skills S2: Selling/coaching
M3: Medium maturity, higher skills but lacking
M4: High maturity S4: Delegating
Hersey-Blanchard model maps each leadership style to
each maturity level, as shown below. To use this model,
reflect on the maturity of individuals within your team. The
table above then shows which leadership style Hersey and
Blanchard consider the most effective for people with that
level of maturity.
M1 = S1
If the employee has a low level of skills, knowledge and
competence, it is probably advantageous to make use of the
leadership style S1. This could possibly be the case when a new
and untrained employee joins the organization, or if tasks of trained
personnel change radically.
M2 = S2
In this stage, the follower is more familiar with his/her tasks, but is
perhaps beginning to lose motivation. In this situation S2 might be
the right leadership style, where leaders should try to convince
followers about the importance of the tasks, and why the followers
should try to develop the required skills.
M3 = S3
In this stage, where the competence followers is high, leaders
could use the S3 leadership style. Leaders could act as consultants
advising the followers on how to get the job done.
Likewise, followers with this high level of maturity may get
motivated by being involved in decision making and by being
enabled to shape the content of his/her tasks.
M4 = S4
In this last stage of maturity, the employee can perform his duties
independently, and is very committed in accomplishing tasks. In
this situation leaders could feasibly adopt the S4 leadership
style, where followers are allowed to conduct and accomplish tasks
independently, and without much supervision by leaders.
By using the situational leadership model, leaders
can therefore flexibly conduct differentiated
leadership, which will support different followers
with different capabilities and job related needs.
Finally, by honouring the different needs of
individuals, leaders may increase the learning
curve of followers, and get a more skilled and
motivated workforce in return.
You're about to leave for an extended
holiday, and your tasks will be handled by an
experienced colleague. He's very familiar with
your responsibilities, and he's excited to do the
Instead of trusting his knowledge and skills to do
the work, you spend hours creating a detailed list
of tasks for which he'll be responsible, and
instructions on how to do them.
• Your work gets done, but you've damaged
the relationship with your colleague by
your lack of trust. He was an M4 in
maturity, and yet you used an S1
leadership style instead of an S4, which
would have been more appropriate.
• You've just been put in charge of leading a new
team. It's your first time working with these
people. As far as you can tell, they have some
of the necessary skills to reach the
department's goals, but not all of them. The
good news is that they're excited and willing to
do the work.
• You estimate they're at an M3 maturity
level, so you use the matching S3
leadership style. You coach them through
the project's goals, pushing and teaching
where necessary, but largely leaving them
to make their own decisions. As a
result, their relationship with you is
strengthened, and the team's efforts are a
• Similar to the leadership styles, the development levels
are also situational. A person should be skilled, confident
and motivated for one part of his job but could be less
competent for any other part of the job.
• According to Blanchard and Hersey the leadership styles
(S1-S4) of the leader must correspond to the development
level of the follower and it’s the leader who adapts. By
adopting the right style to suit the follower’s development
level, work gets done, relationships are built up, and most
importantly, the follower’s development level will rise to
D4 to everyone’s benefit
D4 - High Competence, High
Experienced at the job, and
comfortable with their own ability to
do it well. May even be more skilled
than the leader.
D3 - High Competence, Variable
Experienced and capable, but may
lack the confidence to go it alone, or
the motivation to do it well and
D2 - Some Competence, Low
May have some relevant skills, but
won't be able to do the job without
help. The task or the situation may
be new to them.
D1 - Low Competence, High
Generally lacking the specific skills
required for the job in hand, but has the
confidence to tackle the situation.
Example: New Employee
A new person joins your team and you are asked to
help them through the first few days.
You sit them in front of a PC, tell them they need
to create login accounts on various tools, and push
off to a meeting. They are at level D1 and you have
Everyone loses because the new person feels
helpless and unmotivated, and they don’t complete
• Leave detailed instructions and a
checklist for the new person, and
they’ll thank you for it.
• Leadership Style – S1: Development
Style – D1
You are handing over to an experienced colleague
before you leave for a holiday.
You have listed all the task that need to be done, and
a set of a instructions on how to carry out each one.
They are at level D4, and you have adopted S1. The
work will probably get done, but not the way you
expected, and your colleague despises you for
treating them like an idiot.
• Give a quick chat and a few notes before you
go on holiday, and everything will be fine.
• Leadership Style – S4 : Development Level –
• Model fails to distinguish between leadership and
management. What is called leadership style is
really management style. Leadership is not primarily
about making decisions anyway - it is about
inspiring people to change direction.
• Leaders may indeed vary the way they inspire
people to change. But this is when they have already
decided on the need to change. Hence leadership
style does not reduce to decision making style.
• Of course both leaders and managers have to behave
differently in different situations. But that is just a
trivial fact of life, rather than anything profound in
terms of our basic understanding of what it means to
lead or manage.
Assumptions of Situational Leadership
• Leaders should adapt their style to follower's 'maturity',
based on how ready and willing the follower is to perform
required tasks (that is, their competence and motivation).
• There are four leadership styles that match the four
combinations of high/low readiness and willingness.
• The four styles suggest that leaders should put greater or
less focus on the task in question and the relationship
between the leader and the follower.