What Is Situational Leadership?

June 18, 2024 by Rebecca Ahn

Situational Leadership is a versatile and adaptive leadership model developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. It centers on the idea that effective leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, leaders should adjust their style based on the specific context and the readiness or developmental level of their team members.

This approach recognizes that the best leadership style varies depending on the situation and the needs of the followers. In this article, we’ll explore the history of Situational Leadership theory and how you can get Situational Leadership training for your organization.

History of Situational Leadership

The history of Situational Leadership theory traces back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when it was first developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. Both were academics and management experts who sought to create a leadership model that emphasized flexibility and adaptability in leadership behavior.

Origins and Development

Paul Hersey, a professor and author with a background in management, collaborated with Ken Blanchard, a prominent leadership expert and motivational speaker, to create a practical leadership model that could be easily applied in various organizational settings. Their work culminated in the creation of the Situational Leadership® Theory (SLT), which was first introduced in their 1969 book Management of Organizational Behavior.

The original model was grounded in the concept that effective leadership requires varying one’s leadership style based on the maturity or development level of followers. The maturity levels referred to both the ability and willingness of followers to perform specific tasks. Hersey and Blanchard believed that leaders need to adapt their approach to fit the development stage of their team members, ensuring that leadership is responsive to the changing dynamics of the workplace.

Evolution of the Model

Over the years, Situational Leadership evolved into two primary models: Situational Leadership® Model (SLM) by Paul Hersey and Situational Leadership® II (SLII) by Ken Blanchard.

  1. Situational Leadership® Model (SLM): Paul Hersey continued to refine and promote the original model through his Center for Leadership Studies. This version maintained the core principles of adapting leadership styles (e.g., Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating) based on the followers’ maturity levels.
  2. Situational Leadership® II (SLII): Ken Blanchard developed his version, Situational Leadership® II, which included some modifications and enhancements. SLII introduced a more detailed approach to diagnosing the development levels of followers, emphasizing the specific needs for competence and commitment. This model also incorporated more structured training and development programs to help leaders apply the principles effectively.

Impact and Influence

The Situational Leadership theory and model has had a significant impact on the field of management and leadership training. It has been widely adopted across various industries, from corporate settings to educational institutions and the military. The model’s emphasis on adaptability and responsiveness to followers’ needs has made it a valuable tool for leaders aiming to enhance team performance and foster employee development.

Today, both Hersey’s and Blanchard’s versions of Situational Leadership continue to be taught and applied worldwide. The core idea that leadership effectiveness is contingent on situational factors remains relevant. The model’s adaptability makes it particularly suited for modern leadership challenges, where the ability to pivot and respond to varying circumstances is crucial.

Our tailored Careerminds leadership coaching programs are designed to help you utilize these leadership models to address your specific needs, empowering employees at every level to enhance essential skills, transform habits, boost productivity and accountability, and elevate effectiveness for themselves and their teams. Click below to speak with our experts and learn more.

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What Are the 4 Styles of Situational Leadership?

The four styles of Situational Leadership are Telling, Selling, Participating, and Delegating. Each of these styles is designed to match the specific developmental needs of followers, ensuring that leadership is tailored to promote growth, confidence, and effective task completion. Here’s a closer look at each style:

Telling (S1)

  • Characteristics: High task focus, low relationship focus.
  • Behavior: The leader provides clear, specific instructions and closely supervises task completion. The leader makes decisions unilaterally and expects followers to follow directions.
  • Application: This style is used when followers are at a low development level (D1), meaning they have low competence but high commitment. They are enthusiastic beginners who need guidance and specific instructions to perform tasks effectively.

Selling (S2)

  • Characteristics: High task focus, high relationship focus.
  • Behavior: The leader still provides direction and closely monitors task completion, but also explains decisions, encourages two-way communication, and supports followers. The leader sells their ideas and seeks input from followers.
  • Application: This style is appropriate for followers at a slightly higher development level (D2), where they have some competence but low commitment. These followers need both direction and support to build their skills and confidence.

Participating (S3)

  • Characteristics: Low task focus, high relationship focus.
  • Behavior: The leader facilitates and supports followers’ efforts toward task completion, shares decision-making responsibilities, and focuses on building relationships and encouraging team members. The leader provides less direction, but remains available for guidance.
  • Application: This style fits followers at a moderate development level (D3), who have moderate to high competence but variable commitment. These followers are capable, but may lack confidence or motivation and would benefit from supportive and participative leadership.

Delegating (S4)

  • Characteristics: Low task focus, low relationship focus.
  • Behavior: The leader assigns tasks and decision-making responsibilities to followers, providing minimal supervision. The leader trusts followers to complete tasks independently and intervenes only when necessary.
  • Application: This style is best for followers at the highest development level (D4), who have high competence and high commitment. These followers are self-reliant achievers who require little oversight and are capable of handling tasks on their own.

What Is a Good Example of a Situational Leader?

A good Situational Leadership example is Dwight D. Eisenhower during his tenure as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II. By understanding and responding to the unique demands of his diverse team and the dynamic wartime environment, Eisenhower was able to lead the Allied forces to victory. His leadership style showcased many qualities of Situational Leadership, adapting to the needs of different contexts and his diverse team.

Context and Challenges

During World War II, Eisenhower faced a complex and dynamic environment with numerous challenges:

  • Coordinating a multinational coalition with forces from the United States, Britain, France, and other Allied nations.
  • Managing a wide range of military operations, from planning the D-Day invasion to executing strategies across multiple theaters of war.
  • Dealing with the varying levels of competence, commitment, and morale among troops and commanders.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Eisenhower also demonstrated remarkable adaptability and flexibility in his leadership approach:

  • Directive leadership: In critical moments, such as planning the D-Day invasion, Eisenhower took a highly directive approach. He provided clear instructions and made crucial decisions to ensure that the complex operation was meticulously planned and executed.
  • Supportive leadership: Eisenhower also demonstrated supportive leadership by fostering collaboration among Allied leaders. He managed strong personalities like General George S. Patton and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, mediating disputes and maintaining unity.
  • Coaching and development: Eisenhower invested in the development of his commanders. He provided guidance and mentorship, helping them grow into their roles and improve their performance.
  • Delegating authority: He trusted capable leaders with significant responsibilities, such as delegating operational control to commanders in various theaters. This approach allowed him to focus on overall strategy while empowering his subordinates to execute tactics.

Emotional Intelligence and Communication

Eisenhower’s emotional intelligence and communication skills were another key to his effectiveness as a leader:

  • He was known for his ability to connect with troops and commanders, boosting morale through personal visits and encouraging words. His empathetic approach helped maintain high levels of commitment and motivation.
  • Eisenhower was adept at articulating his vision and plans, ensuring that everyone understood their roles and the broader objectives. His famous message to the troops before the D-Day invasion exemplifies his ability to inspire and rally his forces.

Decision-Making and Vision

Eisenhower’s decision-making abilities and vision were crucial to his success:

  • He had a clear vision of the Allied objectives and the steps needed to achieve victory. His strategic orientation allowed him to guide complex operations and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Eisenhower made tough decisions when necessary, balancing the need for swift action with careful planning. His decision to proceed with the D-Day invasion despite uncertain weather conditions exemplifies his decisive and calculated risk-taking.

How to Get Situational Leadership Training

Situational Leadership training can be obtained through various methods, including courses offered by specialized training organizations, online platforms, and in-house corporate training programs. Here are some steps and resources to help you get started:

Identify Reputable Training Providers

Several organizations specialize in Situational Leadership training. Some of the most recognized providers include:

  • The Ken Blanchard Companies: These companies offer a variety of Situational Leadership® II (SLII) training programs, including workshops, online courses, and corporate training solutions. Their programs are well-regarded and widely used in various industries.
  • The Center for Leadership Studies (CLS): Founded by Paul Hersey, CLS offers Situational Leadership training programs that include workshops, certification programs, and online courses. They provide tailored solutions for different organizational needs.

Explore Online Courses and Workshops

Many reputable Situational Leadership training providers offer online courses and virtual workshops. These can be a convenient option for individuals and organizations. Some platforms to consider:

  • Ken Blanchard online learning: Offers SLII training through online courses that include interactive elements, videos, and practical exercises.
  • LinkedIn Learning: Provides courses on Situational Leadership, including those taught by experts in the field. These can be useful for a self-paced learning experience.
  • Udemy and Coursera: These platforms sometimes offer courses on Situational Leadership, taught by experienced professionals.

Attend Public Workshops and Seminars

Public workshops and seminars can provide an immersive learning experience. These are often held in various cities and can be attended by individuals from different organizations. Look for upcoming events on the websites of The Ken Blanchard Companies and The Center for Leadership Studies.

Corporate Training Programs

If you are part of an organization looking to train multiple employees, consider arranging in-house corporate training. Many providers offer customized training solutions that can be delivered on-site or virtually. This can be an effective way to ensure that the training is aligned with your organization’s specific needs and objectives.

Certification Programs

For those seeking a deeper understanding and formal recognition, certification programs can be valuable. Both The Ken Blanchard Companies and The Center for Leadership Studies offer certification programs for individuals who want to become certified trainers in Situational Leadership.

Books and Supplementary Materials

In addition to formal training, reading books and supplementary materials on Situational Leadership can provide a solid foundation. Some recommended Situational Leadership books include:

  • Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi
  • Management of Organizational Behavior by Paul Hersey, Kenneth H. Blanchard, and Dewey E. Johnson

Internal Mentorship and Coaching

Within your organization, seek out leaders who have experience with Situational Leadership. Mentorship and coaching from experienced situational leaders can provide practical insights and help you apply the concepts in real-world situations.

Situational Leadership: Key Takeaways

Overall, the adaptability and responsiveness inherent in Situational Leadership make it a valuable tool for modern leaders aiming to enhance team performance and foster development.

Here are the key takeaways: 

  • Situational Leadership emphasizes adapting leadership styles based on the developmental stage of team members.
  • Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, the model has evolved into SLI and SLII, offering structured approaches to leadership.
  • The four styles of Situational Leadership include Telling, Selling, Participating, and Delegating, each suited for different levels of follower development.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower exemplified a good Situational Leadership example through his adaptability, emotional intelligence, and decisive action.
  • Situational Leadership training is available through workshops, online courses, and corporate programs, offering practical tools for leadership development.

Becoming trained in Situational Leadership involves selecting the right training provider, mode of learning, and resources that will suit your needs. At Careerminds, our goal is to elevate both individual and organizational performance and efficiency, ensuring everyone in your company can achieve their goals. 

If you’re interested in learning more about our leadership coaching and development services, click below to connect with our experts and see if Careerminds is the right fit for your organization.

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Rebecca Ahn

Rebecca Ahn

Rebecca is a writer, editor, and business consultant with over 10 years of experience launching, managing, and coaching small to midsize companies on their business, marketing, and HR operations. She is a passionate people advocate who believes in building strong people, teams, and companies with empowering culture, content, and communication that facilitates meaningful results at every level and touchpoint. In her spare time, Rebecca is an avid traveler and nomad who also enjoys writing about travel safety and savvy. Learn more on her LinkedIn page.

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