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 Situational Leadership


The Situational Leadership Model, developed by the Center for Leadership Studies (172), can help anyone who wants to be a more effective leader. It identifies styles of leadership and levels of readiness of followers. It then matches the most appropriate leadership style that will positively influence followers at the various readiness levels. The focus is on the leader to modify behavior, depending on the followers.

Situational Leadership starts by identifying leadership styles by the amount of task behavior (guidance and direction) and relationship behavior (support and interpersonal skills) present. Effective leader behavior is in four quadrants in the model:


High Relationship

And Low Task


High Task and

High Relationship



Low Relationship

And Low Task


High Task and

Low Relationship


Source: Adapted from Paul Hersey, Management of Organizational Behavior (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001), p. 174.


The definition of readiness of followers is "the extent to which a follower demonstrates the ability and willingness to accomplish a specific task" (175). Different people will have varying degrees of readiness depending on how prepared they are to do something in a particular situation. Readiness is a function of ability (experience, skills and knowledge) and willingness (confidence, commitment and motivation). The model charts follower readiness as:


            High                         Moderate                             Low



Able and willing

Or confident


Able but unwilling

Or insecure


Unable but willing

Or confident


Unable and

Unwilling or insecure


Source: Adapted from Paul Hersey, Management of Organizational Behavior (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001), p. 177.

The beauty of the Situational Leadership Model is in matching which leadership style is most effective with each readiness level. For instance, at lower levels of readiness a leader may be more effective by providing specific direction with little or no emphasis on relationship building. At the highest levels of readiness, the leader may be able to turn the employee lose without worrying about task or relationship because the leader has faith that the employee is capable and willing. A complete graphic combining leader behavior and follower readiness is on page 182 in Management of Organizational Behavior.

Application of the Situational Leadership Model requires managers to accurately assess the readiness level of employees. They must then adapt their own style to fit the situation effectively so the desired behavior results. Although I was not familiar with Situational Leadership at the time, I applied the concept in my project thesis. The thesis dealt with communication issues at my employer. The leadership style of the executive director and other senior managers had inadvertently damaged the flow of information within the agency. They used an S3 style with an issue where the staff had a low readiness level. The thesis recommends increasing that readiness level through training. It also recommends modifying the leadership style of management to higher task in the short run. This should bring their readiness level and the leadership style of management into synch.

Eileen Tremblay (TNU 2005)

Hersey, Paul, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001.




Situational Leadership

By David Kidd, (TNU 2008)

Situational Leadership refers to different styles of leadership for varied situations. There are four leadership styles according to this model. Those styles are telling, selling, participating, and delegating. The most appropriate style for a leader to use depends on the situation at hand (Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson, 268). The leadership style should adapt to meet the willingness, confidence, and competency of the subordinate. By using a Leader Behavior Analysis, one can identify much about their leadership. In addition, a good understanding of Situational Leadership can explain much about our leaders.

From my own work experience, I can identify my own leadership styles. My primary leadership style is the participating style. This style is the most appropriate when the subordinate is able but not confident. However, my assertion of the subordinate’s knowledge level may be inaccurate. I have learned that it is important to better understand the knowledge level of subordinate employees. This is why it is important to ask technical questions. My secondary leadership style is delegating. This style is best when the follower has the sufficient knowledge and motivation. It probably is the most simple leadership style to use. It involves assigning a task to an employee. Delegation assumes the other person is capable and willing to accomplish the task.

From my leadership analysis, I should be more aware of when to use the other two leadership styles. The styles that I least use are telling and selling. Telling is appropriate when the other person is unable and unwilling. This requires the leader to tell them how to accomplish their task. Additionally, this means the other person has little to no motivation. This could be a result of a larger issue than the required task. Selling is most appropriate when the other person is willing but unable. This leadership style requires considerable interaction from the leader. This requires the leader to help the other person gain competency. This may require providing them with education and direction.

We can become more effective as leaders through knowledge. The Situational Leadership model is a very useful guide in the workplace. We all have our favorite tools that we use when leading others. Situational Leadership can help us determine the most appropriate tool for the job. Using the related Leader Behavior Analysis tool can help us determine which tools we need to use more often.


Situational Leadership

     Organizations use a variety of leadership practices to educate and prepare employees to accomplish the day's activities.   Situational leadership theories presume that different styles are better in different situations.  Leaders must be flexible enough to adapt their style to each situation.  Ken Blanchard focused mainly on the relationship between managers and immediate subordinates and established four different leadership styles to use:

S3 High Relationship and Low Task

Participating, Encouraging, Collaborating, Committing

·          Shared/participative decision-making

·          Role of leader being to facilitate and communicate

·          High support and low direction

·          Used when people are able but are perhaps unwilling or insecure


S2 High Task & High Relationship

Selling, Explaining, Clarifying, Persuading

·          Sometimes known as a ‘coaching’ approach

·          People are willing and motivated but lack the required maturity or ability

·          This style does not work for people with a lot of experience

·          Many times people start a new job or task and it is more difficult than expected, so they simply stop or do not perform. They need encouragement and support through a tough time

S4 Low Relationship and Low Task

Delegating, Observing, Monitoring & Fulfilling

·          The leader still identifies the problem or issue

·          High degree of competence and maturity

·          People know what to do, and are motivated to do it

S1 High Task and Low Relationship

Telling, Guiding, Directing, Establishing

·          The directing style is for new hires or inexperienced people

·          Sometimes used when an important decision has to be made very quickly

·          Involves giving people a great deal of direction and attention to definite goals and roles


Situations in organization change frequently, as does the employee’s knowledge base and readiness level


High             R4



                 R1               Low

Able, willing & Confident

 Employees have high skill sets and are excited about what they are doing.

Able but unwilling or insecure


Employees have some to few skills and are not very excited about what they are doing.

Unable but willing or confident

Employees have low skill sets, but are very excited about what they are doing.

Unable, unwilling, insecure

Employees have low skills and are not excited about what they are doing.


Donna Steinkamp, TNU 2004

Hersey, Paul, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001.


         Situational leadership stresses objectivity in its style of leadership.  With this model of leadership, employees soon learn the cause and effect of their environment.  As long as they are producing agreed-upon, appropriate behavior, management will support and trust their behavior.  If they do not produce appropriate behavior, their supervisor will likely observe them more closely.  This type of leadership is a tool to improve communication of expected outcomes between employees and their managers.  Depending on the situation, management may increase or decrease their direction or involvement.  The situational leadership model helps others to visualize and understand the complexity of different styles of management.  This diagram helps determine one’s primary style of leadership.  The model defines the leadership approach one chooses to use to influence the behavior of others.  The quadrant shaped model offers four basic styles of leadership.  The model measures the amount of flexibility a manager uses to obtain a desired behavior.  The drive and approach of their behavior and tools used determines the individual's management style.   

            Labeled counterclockwise the first quadrant is in the bottom right corner.  This area is characterized by leader-made decisions.  Management provides specific instructions and closely supervises the performance of the employee.  The behaviors of management most often seen are guiding, telling, and establishing direction.  This relationship stresses high task completion and low relationship value.  The employee has very little input and contribution outside of the assigned task and instructions.

            The next quadrant, located in the upper right corner, stresses both high task and high relationship value.  Based on leader-made decisions, this leadership offers more employee/employer communication.  The behaviors often seen are explaining, selling, clarifying, and persuading. 

            The upper left quadrant describes the leader and follower-made decision.  This encourages high relationship value by cohesive communication and has a lower amount of supervisor guidance.  This style management requires encouraging, participating, and problem solving.

            The last quadrant encourages follower-made decisions.  This type atmosphere allows for a low guidance management style, but also a low relationship level.  Behaviors include delegating, observing/monitoring when needed, and fulfilling.


Janet Williams (TNU 2006)


Hersey, Paul., Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.




Typical Names for these styles of leadership.

From this slide we see how a new team or employee may enter our management jurisdiction.  Our style may, and probably should, change with the maturity level of the team or employee.  Which brings us back to the evolutionary maturity level of people.

The two slides above connect us back to Chris Argyis' research.

Chris Argyris, “The Individual and Organization: Some Problems of Mutual Adjustment” The Great Writings In Management and Organizational Behavior, 2nd Edition, pg........ 139,Boone Bowen, McGraw Hill, 1987



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