What Is Situational Leadership? - Peter Boolkah

There are many leadership styles that a leader can implement to be more successful in the work environment. One of these styles is situational leadership, which is when a leader adjusts their type of leadership to best suit a particular situation or task. In this article, we discuss the definition of situational leadership, what are the four different leadership styles, and the advantages and disadvantages of this style of leadership.

What the Situational Leadership Model Is?

The Situational Leadership Theory, now named the Situational Leadership Model, is a model created by Dr. Paul Hersey and Dr. Ken Blanchard while working on the text book, “Management of Organizational Behavior.”

Situational leadership is a leadership style that relies on the dynamic relationship between leaders and followers. It introduces a framework to analyze each situation by assessing the Performance Readiness Level a follower demonstrates in carrying out a specific task, function, or objective.

This situational approach requires that leaders, having diagnosed the situation, apply and communicate the appropriate levels of relationship behavior and task behavior. This way, they meet the needs of their followers and support their development. The strategy is not fixed but demands continual adjustments and flexibility from the leader, ensuring that the leadership style progresses alongside the follower’s growth and changing circumstances.

Benefits Of Situational Leadership

Situational leadership boasts several benefits that can significantly improve team dynamics and overall organizational performance.

Flexibility

Imagine navigating the complex world of effective leadership, where success is like a tapestry woven from different elements. These elements include the nature of the task at hand, the urgency of completing it, and the critical importance of its outcomes. The dynamics of the individuals involved also play a crucial role, from the followers—who need to be evaluated on their knowledge, past performance, and confidence—to the decision-making influencers like the leader’s superior and peers, all within the wider context of the organisation’s performance and cultural environment. If one were to think about this complexity mathematically, it might look like an equation showing how a leader’s effectiveness is connected to these multifaceted variables.

The Situational Leadership model excels by focusing on the critical elements—particularly the scenario and the people involved. It suggests that if a follower steps back, all other considerations become less important. This approach equips leaders for a wide range of challenges, fostering adaptability and preparedness for any situation.

Strengthening Team Dynamics

Strong teams show common traits that contribute to their success. Each member is consciously aligned with the group’s mission and fully committed to turning shared visions into reality. Roles are crystal clear among team members, with everyone recognizing their responsibility to contribute and the importance of prompt communication regarding any obstacles. Goals are not only individual but shared among the team, fostering a culture of collective progress and preemptive problem-solving.

Situational Leadership guides leaders in refining team dynamics by focusing on the team’s purpose, roles, and goals. The model assists in identifying key contributions from team members and adjusting leadership support according to each member’s level of expertise and confidence. This tailored approach ensures that less experienced members receive more guidance, while more knowledgeable individuals are given the autonomy they need, optimizing team performance and goal achievement.

Propelling Organizational Objectives

In competitive settings like sports, the outcomes of contests don’t always directly mirror real-time performance quality. This unpredictability mirrors the success of organisations, where short-term results may not truly show the underlying efforts or strategic execution. In the long term, organisations led by strong, adaptable leaders often outperform, echoing Warren Buffet’s enduring investment perspective.

The key to lasting success lies not only in financial metrics, but in the quality, experience, and developmental strategies of its leaders. This principle forms the basis of the Situational Leadership approach, which focuses on steady, core leadership practices as the bedrock for sustainable organisational progress.

Situational Leadership - Peter Boolkah

4 Leadership Styles of Situational Leadership

There are four styles of Situational Leadership that leaders can adapt to suit the maturity level and needs of their followers:

1. Telling, Guiding or Directing

The telling leadership style happens when a team needs close supervision and constant guidance. Leaders employing a telling style might make all decisions and then convey them to the team. The telling style is typically utilised when consistent results are necessary or when a team is at a novice level.

2. Coaching, Explaining or Selling

This style involves more interaction between leaders and followers. Leaders “sell” their ideas and messages to get group members to buy into the process. In this approach, leaders still make the final decisions, but there is an increased emphasis on seeking input from team members, explaining the reasons behind decisions, and encouraging a greater degree of participation. This coaching style is effective when followers are more competent but still need direction and motivation to bolster their confidence and commitment.

3. Facilitating, Collaborating, or Participating

In this approach, the leader gives less direction and allows group members to play a more active role in generating ideas and making decisions. This facilitating style nurtures a collaborative environment where team members feel empowered and valued for their contributions. It is especially effective in situations where followers have high competence and commitment, and can work independently.

The leader acts more as a facilitator, providing direction and support, as well as resources as necessary, and encouraging teamwork and collective problem-solving. This style enhances team cohesion and promotes innovation by harnessing the diverse skills and perspectives of the team members.

4. Empowering, Delegating, or Monitoring

The delegating leadership style is all about being more hands-off and letting the team take the lead. Team members are empowered to make decisions and shoulder responsibility. The leader trusts the team to work independently, stepping in to support and monitor progress when needed.

This approach works best with skilled, motivated followers who can operate autonomously. It fosters a culture of autonomy and self-direction, allowing team members to enhance their problem-solving and decision-making abilities. This style helps build a culture of trust and respect, with the leader acting as a mentor available for guidance and support rather than direct oversight.

Qualities of a Situational Leader

Situational leadership offers a flexible approach to management, adapting leadership styles to the developmental needs of followers in varying situations.

1. Active listener

To understand what’s going on and meet their team’s needs, a situational leader must leverage their active listening skills. They must be patient and take the time needed to fully understand and know their team.

2. A clear sense of direction

Situational leaders must be effective at providing the level of support and direction team members need. They must know where the team needs to go and what the right next step is to get there.

3. The ability to encourage participation

Situational leaders engage in behaviors that create psychological safety. They provide opportunities for team members to share their thoughts, experiences, and input. They also have the skills required to effectively delegate authority to team members as appropriate.

4. Coaching skills

To be most effective, situational leaders need to develop their ability to coach at a wide range of developmental levels. This skill allows them to meet team members where they are and support them in getting where they need to be.

Disadvantages of Situational Leadership

Disadvantages of Situational Leadership Theory

While Situational Leadership offers a flexible and adaptive approach to managing teams, it does come with its challenges.

One of the main concerns is the potential for it to create uncertainty among team members. This happens when leaders frequently change their approach to guidance and support, possibly leading to perceptions of inconsistency.

Moreover, this management style often emphasizes immediate needs or challenges, which might lead to a detachment from overarching, long-term objectives. Effective leaders, however, are mindful of maintaining a balance between addressing current issues and advancing toward broader goals.

Additionally, situational leadership places a significant responsibility on leaders to accurately assess the readiness and capabilities of their followers. There’s a risk of misjudgment, especially if employees present themselves as more competent than they are, which could lead to decisions based on inaccurate assessments.

This style also runs the risk of confusing an individual’s self-assuredness or emotional intelligence with their actual skill level and experience, further complicating effective leadership.

Situational Leadership Examples

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower. A remarkable leader during World War II and later as President, skillfully managed diverse personalities and interests. He connected personally with those under his command to boost morale. His outstanding diplomatic skills and adaptable leadership style were key to his success in both the military and political spheres.
  • Colin Powell. His career is defined by leadership roles that required decisiveness, serving as General of the U.S. Army, Secretary of State, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell’s preference for situational leadership meant he tailored his approach to the unique abilities and experiences of his team members, ensuring he utilized each individual’s strengths effectively.
  • John Wooden. The renowned UCLA men’s basketball coach, guided his team to numerous championships despite a changing roster. He demonstrated adaptability to the evolving dynamics of his team and the broader game of basketball.
  • Pat Summitt. The head coach of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, not only attained an impressive win record and multiple national titles but also achieved this by setting high expectations and engaging deeply with each player to help them reach their full potential.

FAQs

How can a leader develop their situational leadership skills?

To develop situational leadership skills, a leader can begin by gaining a deep understanding of their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and development levels. Regular communication and feedback sessions can offer insights into individual and team dynamics, making it easier to adjust leadership styles as necessary. Additionally, engaging in self-reflection and seeking feedback on leadership effectiveness from peers, mentors, and team members can highlight areas for improvement.

Leaders can also benefit from formal training in situational leadership models and coaching skills to enhance their ability to diagnose situations accurately and apply the most appropriate leadership style. Practising empathy, developing emotional intelligence, and being open to learning from each experience is key to effectively adapting one’s leadership approach to meet the evolving needs of a team.

When should situational leadership be used?

Situational leadership works best in fluid environments where team member’s skills, experience levels, and motivation vary significantly and can evolve. This approach is particularly useful during periods of organisational change, project-based work, or when overseeing cross-functional teams.

It enables leaders to tailor their approach to the developmental stages of their team members, ensuring they offer the right level of guidance and support when most needed. Situational leadership cultivates a culture of learning and growth, making it well-suited for fast-paced industries, startups, and any situation where adaptability and flexibility are vital for success.

What is the limitation of situational leadership?

One major drawback of the Situational Leadership model lies in its dependence on the leader’s ability to accurately assess and diagnose the development level and needs of their team members. This process demands a profound understanding of each individual’s competencies, motivations, and readiness to carry out tasks, which can be challenging to gauge accurately, particularly in large or diverse teams.

Moreover, the model assumes that leaders can adeptly adjust their leadership style to fit varying situations, a skill that not everyone possesses inherently and may require extensive training and experience to cultivate. Furthermore, situational leadership fails to explicitly consider broader organisational culture and external factors that can significantly impact team dynamics and performance, potentially restricting its effectiveness in certain contexts.

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