An Introduction to Situational Leadership: Theory, Benefits, and How Leaders Can Use It

In the vast ocean of leadership theories and practices, situational leadership shines as a beacon for its versatile adaptability to the dynamic ebb and flow of organizational life. It’s not just about a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but rather a sophisticated method that flexes according to teams’ unique needs in various situations.

Situational Leadership

What is the Situational Leadership Theory?

The Situational Leadership Theory is a model that seeks to understand how leaders can use different styles of leadership effectively in different situations. It suggests that leaders must be aware of their environment, the task at hand and the individual or group's readiness level to make sound decisions.

It comprises two fundamental concepts - leadership style and individual or group's performance readiness level - which allow leaders to understand their environment and people within it, make sound decisions, and vary their leadership style accordingly.

The theory suggests that leaders should adapt their approach to match the situation they are in, and is based on the principle that no one style of leadership is universally effective. Instead, it focuses on how leaders can use various styles to best fit the situation.

How is situational leadership useful?

Leaders can use this theory to motivate and lead their employees by understanding their needs and adjusting their style accordingly. They should use intuition and experience when making decisions based on situational factors, as well as understand how different situations can motivate employees.

The Situational Leadership Theory can help leaders be more effective in complex environments with rapid changes, allowing them to identify cues from their environment and make decisions accordingly.

What are the benefits of using situational leadership for leaders?

Situational leadership can provide numerous benefits for organizations, such as improved employee motivation, engagement, and communication. Leaders should use situational leadership theory to motivate their employees in different situations for maximum success.

1. It provides a flexible approach to leadership

One of the biggest benefits of situational leadership is flexibility, as it provides a framework for leaders to select an approach or style of influence that is most appropriate for the situation at hand while staying in close communication with team members and building relationships with them. In turn, it creates a supportive work environment where employees feel valued, and it helps foster organizational resilience by allowing leaders to adapt to changing circumstances.

It is highly flexible and easy to adapt, making it an effective solution for leaders in various working environments. It encourages leaders to better understand their teams, adjust their approach accordingly, and be creative when dealing with unforeseen obstacles. It also boosts productivity, communication, and morale in teams by promoting collaboration and transparency.

2. It encourages successful collaboration among team members

Encouraging successful collaboration among team members is important because it eliminates redundancies and allows for better-quality output. By adopting a situational leadership style, team members can work together, share ideas, brainstorm solutions, and provide valuable feedback to each other. Furthermore, allowing team members to participate in decision-making processes helps them feel more valued and empowered. Through increased collaboration, teams can achieve better results with higher productivity and engagement levels.

3. It encourages socio-emotional support for subordinates

Socio-emotional support is important in a leadership context because it allows leaders to understand their subordinates and provide them with the necessary guidance and support they need to succeed. This type of support helps build trust between the leader and the team members, enabling them to have productive conversations that result in actionable plans. With this type of emotional understanding, leaders can better recognize how each team member works best and adjust their approach accordingly to ensure successful outcomes.

4. It encourages the provision of direction & guidance for subordinates

One of the benefits of situational leadership is that it enables leaders to adjust their behavior according to the development skill level of each subordinate. This allows them to tailor their approach, using a combination of directive and supportive behaviors, to best suit the needs and abilities of those they are leading. It also helps foster trust within teams by providing clear direction and support when needed.

This helps ensure that team members can be self-reliant, while also fostering trust among the team. With this approach, leaders can provide instructions and directions as well as supportive behaviors tailored for each subordinate's growth and development.

5. It assesses the maturity levels of people within the organization

Situational leadership allows leaders to better match their approach to the development and maturity level of their employees. With this information, the leader can use different leadership styles depending on the employee's strengths and weaknesses. This would allow situational leaders to use the Hersey-Blanchard model, which suggests that low-maturity staff should be told what to do while high-maturity staff should receive more autonomy. By assessing these levels, a leader is better able to understand how best to approach each employee or team for them to be successful in achieving goals.

6. It encourages adaptability to fit past, present & future situations

One benefit of using situational leadership is that it allows leaders to be flexible and easy to adapt, enabling them to better account for a variety of different working styles and personalities. It encourages transparency about goals amongst the team and boosts productivity, communication, and morale. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for creativity which can lead to better control over outcomes in the face of unforeseen challenges.

How does situational leadership improve team performance and productivity?

Situational leadership has been shown to improve team performance and productivity by allowing leaders to adjust their approach to the individual skills, motivations, and confidence of their team members. By offering flexible transformational leadership and providing employees with support and feedback from their superiors, employees become more committed to achieving goals leading to improved results. Additionally, when a leader is actively involved in making changes within the organization or process, it encourages team buy-in which further increases employee productivity.

Situational Leadership

4 Situational Leadership styles

There are four primary leadership styles: Telling, Coaching, Instructing, and Delegating.

1. Telling

The Telling leadership style is a directive and authoritative approach where the leader tells people what to do and how to do it. This style is most effective when team members need close supervision from the leader and have a low commitment to the task at hand.

The Telling leadership style is characterized by high levels of directive behavior and low levels of supportive behavior. This style is most effective when the team member requires close supervision by the leader, or when they are inexperienced or have a low commitment to the task at hand.

2. Coaching

The Coaching style in situational leadership is most effective for the enthusiastic beginner because you can observe and support them without close supervision. It's also effective for an inexperienced team member who is looking to gain task-related experience.

This style involves more back-and-forth between leaders and followers. When coaching, the level of directive behavior is high and so is the level of supportive behavior.

3. Instructing

The Instructing situational leadership style is a method of leadership that emphasizes collaboration between the leader and the team. It is most effective when there is a team member who can do the task but needs help regaining confidence or motivation. A 1:1 meeting with this individual can be used for them to regain their self-belief, or have new ideas and decisions suggested.

4. Delegating

It is appropriate to delegate authority to others when team members are confident in their abilities and share the same organizational goals. Delegation is the best leadership style for this situation because it allows team members to be self-reliant achievers and promotes trust among teams. When delegated authority is used correctly, it can help team members achieve goals more efficiently while fostering trust and freedom. Leaders should share more about organizational goals so that team members can make informed decisions.

Examples of Situational Leadership

Sports Team Managers/Coaches

One example of a leader who uses situational leadership is a sports team coach. Coaches must be able to adapt their leadership style to the situation at hand to best motivate and lead their team. For example, a coach may need to be more directive with a young and inexperienced team (hence the telling style) but may need to take on more coaching or supporting roles with a more experienced team (hence the instructing style).

Phil Jackson is arguably the most successful coach in NBA history, with 11 championships won. The teams he has led include that of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. Since he was coaching extremely talented athletes, the different leadership approaches he adopted give team members the autonomy they need while still making decisions that drive success. Ultimately, Jackson was supportive of players while still giving them clear directives. 

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway exhibits the delegating leadership style. Employees of his company possess the skills required for their job and require little instruction. He delegates and trusts his employees to perform their duties well. As their CEO, he provides organizational goals to employees and trusts them to do their job in line with those goals. 

Situational Leadership


What is situational leadership?

Situational leadership is a leadership style that involves adapting one's approach and communication depending on the specific situation at hand. This style of leadership recognizes that different tasks, people, and environments require a varied approach and empowers leaders to adjust their methods accordingly.

What are the benefits of situational leadership?

The benefits of situational leadership are numerous and include increased control over outcomes, improved communication between leaders and subordinates, increased efficiency, greater employee satisfaction, improved morale in teams and a more tailored approach to each individual or group. Furthermore, the model measures employee performance using tasks and efficiency rather than traditional metrics such as salary or tenure. This allows leaders to provide employees with specific constructive criticism that can lead to further development of skills and higher levels of productivity. Ultimately, situational leadership can enable companies to grow by empowering their employees through an effective leadership strategy.

How can leaders use situational leadership?

Situational leadership is a style of leadership that involves adjusting communication and actions to fit the situation and needs of the team. Leaders must be highly self-aware to use situational leadership effectively as they need to be flexible and adapt their strategies based on the current situation. Situational leadership can help leaders manage emergencies, war, everyday life or any other unpredictable scenarios by allowing them to adjust their actions based on the needs of the individual or team they're working with.

What is the history of situational leadership?

The history of situational leadership can be traced back to the early 1970s when Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the Situational Leadership Theory. Since then, the theory has been widely used by leaders in a variety of organizations to improve their effectiveness. The benefits of situational leadership are well-documented, and the theory is an effective tool for leaders at all levels. The model has since been further refined, most recently by Hersey in 1985.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of situational leadership?

Situational leadership has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it can help to focus on the task at hand and improve team productivity. On the other hand, it can lead to confusion and inconsistency, lack of overall strategy, uncertain decision-making, as well as a misunderstanding between emotional maturity and competence. Leaders should assess their teams carefully before implementing situational leadership to maximize its benefits while minimizing any potential drawbacks.

What are some of the challenges of situational leadership?

One of the challenges of situational leadership is that it can cause confusion and inconsistency, as well as put too much responsibility on the leader. Leaders must have a good understanding of what is needed in any given situation to make sound decisions, however, they can be misled if they are unaware of the challenges posed by situational leadership. Additionally, leaders need a range of skills to be effective in different situations and should be able to stretch themselves and remain open-minded. Lastly, it’s usually only effective for flexible situations, rather than strict environments that are task or deadline-driven.

What are the situational leadership needs of different types of teams?

Different types of teams have different situational leadership needs that vary depending on the situation, team members, and desired outcome. For example, when team members lack the knowledge or skills to complete a task at hand, the Telling leadership style is likely ideal. This type of leadership involves close supervision from the leader and is the most common approach. On the other hand, if team members have sufficient knowledge and skills but not necessarily motivation or willingness to follow through with tasks then the Coaching style may be more beneficial. In addition to these two approaches, there are two other styles: Instructing and Delegating which are best suited for different situations and teams accordingly.

What are some tips for using situational leadership?

Leaders should take the time to assess their employees’ competencies and commitment levels before choosing a leadership style. They should also keep in mind that they might have to adapt their style depending on the situation. To ensure success, leaders should supervise their team closely while providing support whenever necessary. Regularly evaluating one’s leadership style can help leaders become more flexible with different types of situations, as well as better control outcomes by effectively building relationships with others. By taking these steps, leaders will be able to create an environment of trust and respect that will help improve team morale and productivity.

Why is situational leadership effective?

Situational leadership is highly beneficial for organizational success. This style of leadership is flexible and easily adapts to changing circumstances, which helps boost collaboration, communication, productivity, and morale in teams. It is also straightforward and intuitive, allowing leaders to be transparent about their goals while encouraging creativity and building relationships. Additionally, situational leadership enables leaders to better control outcomes and nurture their subordinates which can result in increased productivity and job satisfaction. As this type of leadership depends on the individual rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, it helps everyone in an organization work together towards a shared vision.