Situational Leadership: Types, Pros & Cons + Examples
The situational leadership style is often highly misunderstood. Some confuse it with the transactional leadership style, while others are just unsure of how the leadership approach benefits organizations.
While it is misunderstood, it still has unique benefits. To truly understand these benefits, you should know the history behind this leadership model and why it is still used to this day.
Then, you can begin applying some of these techniques to your personal business. An effective leader does not mind experimenting with multiple leadership techniques.
Even if you decide the situational leadership style is not for you, the experience alone will help you develop key leadership skills.
In this article, we will help you understand the benefits and drawbacks of the situational leadership approach and how you can implement it in your organization.
What is Situational Leadership? Theory & Meaning
The situational leadership model originates from Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard.
Hersey and Blanchard state that situational leaders change their leadership style and communication method depending on the situation.
Their leadership practices are tailored to the individual they are speaking with. This strategy is similar to the democratic leadership style since they prioritize feedback.
Feedback is a crucial element of this leadership style. Situational leaders want to understand what makes someone passionate and interested in their work. Then, they adjust their communication accordingly.
Plus, adaptability and flexibility are also important to situational leadership.
When the situational leader realizes they did something wrong, they are not offended. Instead, they ensure that the situation is swiftly fixed.
They help unite individuals on the team after understanding their goals and passions. Both short-term goals and long-term goals are important in this type of leadership style.
In a very general sense, the situational leader cares about what their team values. They adjust their plans accordingly.
Why is Situational Leadership Important & Their Benefits
Every style of leadership has their own benefits and drawbacks. Even the best leadership types will have some cons to it.
This is why it is important for you to be transparent and honest about your approach’s weaknesses.
Try experimenting with other strategies to explore alternatives.
10 Benefits Provided By Situational Leadership
The key benefits that situational leadership provides you with include:
- Increased adaptability and flexibility
- More critical thinking and innovation
- Employees feel valued and listened to, and thus employee loyalty is boosted
- Building string and trusting relationships with your team
- The approach is tailored to the employee’s unique needs
- Increases self-awareness and humbleness of the leader
- Encourages teamwork and reduces cliques
- Ensures that communication brings out the best in each employee instead of being generic
- Speeds up how quickly short-term goals are achieved
- Supports socio-emotional development within the team
4 Main Types of Situational Leadership
Situational leadership is a broad term. There are multiple different and distinct subcategories of situational leadership, each with unique leadership qualities.
Below, we have highlighted four of the main subcategories within the situational leadership method.
This type of leadership is action-oriented and slightly more authoritarian. With the telling strategy, the leader gives direct instructions to their team. They are specific and give consequences for the team’s actions.
They are also precise in how they want the work to be done. If it is not done according to the instruction, there will be issues between the employer and the employee.
On the plus side, successfully completing the work will result in genuine positive feedback and acknowledgment.
This single leadership style is more balanced. They are not solely action-oriented, and instead do prefer to discuss plans with their teams.
The leader will give a task, but allows for some negotiation and back-and-forth on the side of the employee. These leaders believe that employees should always choose the most productive strategies they can.
Sometimes, this means trying something other than the specific instructions given. To convince employees that the experienced leader knows best, they “sell” their plans and tasks.
Participating leaders are not completely laissez-faire. However, they certainly lean in that direction.
These leaders are not as involved in the decision-making process when compared to the selling or telling types.
This individual is a pacesetter leader, meaning they set a standard and allow employees to fulfill it on their own.
Such individuals believe levels of employee engagement increase when they are not micromanaged and left to explore their own interests.
Delegating types are the most hands-off leaders. They believe that the executives should not play a major role in product production and overall strategic direction.
A laissez-faire leader will help their team when they need it, but they are not fans of control. Other team members make more of the decisions.
When a leadership strategy succeeds, that success is not attributed to the leader, but rather to the group member. This could lead to a more united team.
Situational Leadership Key Qualities & Characteristics
It takes time to realize the best leadership style for your organization. The time and sometimes even money put into the leadership journey is worth it in the end.
If you are curious about trying out the situational leadership method, consider the following characteristics such leaders have.
If you want to be a situational leader, you cannot isolate yourself from the team. Situational leaders seek to understand their team. They care about their goals, struggles, and strengths.
Being able to “read” your team is a great way to be insightful. You could tell if someone is feeling insecure or uncomfortable. Then, you could step in to motivate them and offer support.
Team members appreciate it when leaders pay attention to their emotions.
Flexibility and adaptability are universally required to be a great leader. If everything is set in stone (such as with bureaucratic leaders), team innovation and passion fade away.
Situational leaders tailor their leadership and communication style to the specific individual they are speaking with. Every person has unique needs, so a one size fits all approach is unlikely to work.
Therefore, it is your job to prioritize individuality in your leadership approach.
Trustworthiness is another key trait of situational leaders. When your team trusts you, genuinely strong bonds are built.
You and your brand as a whole gain a better reputation, thus attracting high-quality candidates. And, employee loyalty, as well as employee productivity, also skyrockets.
One way to build trust is to always listen to your employees. Make sure your employees know you care about their well-being and success.
Situational leaders are also great problem solvers and critical thinkers. They make decisions efficiently but not impulsively. When problems do arise, they do not fret.
Instead, they analyze the situation for the root cause of the issue and tackle it. Small issues do not trouble these leaders, as they are big-picture thinkers.
Combine planning and critical thinking to be the best leader you can be.
Mentor and coach
There is a distinct type of leadership known as the coach leadership style. However, situational leaders also use coaching leadership in their approach.
They make themselves available to talk with their team. They listen to their employee’s struggles. All of this is done so they can better understand the team’s needs and foster growth.
Being a coach also makes you viewed positively among your team.
3 Examples of Situational Leadership In Business
Now that you understand the basics of situational leadership, you may be wondering about how applying this strategy differs from industry to industry.
While the strategy can be applied in any scenario, it does differ in its application. Below are some ways it changes depending on the situation.
Situational Leadership in Healthcare
In healthcare, leaders need to know how to adapt. This is especially true in emergencies and surgery. For example, imagine you are a surgeon. There was just a rupture in your patient’s vein.
You would probably need to quickly gather your team, as every minute counts in this situation. The telling strategy is best at this moment. Similarly, trauma physicians also use the telling strategy most often.
There is simply not enough time to get feedback from the rest of the team, so you trust the doctor’s knowledge and swift decision-making.
Situational Leadership in The Workplace
When you consider the office setting, multiple types of situational leadership can be used. If you are a manager overseeing a large project, you could use the delegating style of leadership.
You want to spur communication and collaboration in your team, for micromanaging is not best for innovation. However, you do want to set standards and schedules for the project while being hands-off.
Thus, if the project involves little supervision, delegating leadership is the best option.
Situational Leadership in Education
Educators are often overlooked for being leaders. But, communicating with children and young adults takes immense leadership skills.
If you are a preschool teacher, you probably cannot trust kids to make decisions by themselves.
So, you can take more of an authoritarian leadership style while still letting them explore their interests. The talking leadership style is best for this.
If you are teaching older kids, a participating leadership style affords them more independence and gives them the opportunity to be creative.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Situational Leadership
As with any type of leader, situational leaders are not perfect. There are both pros and cons to this approach. And, while it may work excellently for one team, it may not work for you.
List of 5 Advantages of Situational Leadership
1. Adaptability and flexibility
These leaders know the importance of planning. However, they also know how to adapt to a rapidly changing work environment. This allows them to stay competitive even when their plans are not fully fulfilled. Adaptability also helps situational leaders individualize their leadership approach and further connect with clients and employees.
2. Less stress and burnout
Some people force themselves to maintain an unnatural leadership style. However, many people intrinsically know that a one size fits all approach to leadership is not perfect. So, it is less stressful and forceful to use a situational leadership style.
3. Simple, but encourages growth
You do not need to spend years studying to understand the situational leadership style. However, this should not make you skeptical. It does encourage you to take action and learn along the way. It forces you to use your critical thinking, communication, and delegation skills all in combination.
4. Comfortable work environment
Situational leaders know how to make their employees comfortable. They establish a positive company culture. This is so because they change their communication style depending on who they are talking to. Plus, they know how to incorporate someone’s goals into the company’s overall agreed-upon goals.
There are many differences between each of the employees on your team. Their maturity level, background, and goals are all unpredictable and unique. This approach recognizes that and uses it to the leader’s advantage.
List of 5 Disadvantages of Situational Leadership
1. Confusion and lack of clarity
If you are constantly changing your leadership style, employees may become confused. It may be strange to some individuals that your standards and goals change for each person. You yourself may have a hard time remembering these individualized goals and standards.
2. Overlooking the long-term
Situational leaders are unfortunately notorious for focusing on the present. However, it is best to include both long and short-term goals in your business. Having long-term goals ensures that you stay motivated for more than just short-term satisfaction.
3. Repetition is not their strong suit
Flexibility and adaptability are both great traits to have as a leader. But, task-driven leadership maximizes output when tasks are simple and repetitive. Situational leaders are willing to sacrifice some productivity if it means the employee/employer relationship is strengthened.
4. Level of maturity allows the leader to struggle
Situational leaders need to evaluate their team’s maturity. However, it is more difficult than you may think. Maturity can greatly impact how leaders assign tasks. If you inaccurately evaluate someone’s maturity, serious and costly problems could arise.
5. Lack of efficiency
While this approach can be efficient at times, it does take more time and effort when compared to other styles. You need to consistently reevaluate your leadership style and adjust how you speak. A once size fits approach surely takes less time (but it may be costly in the long run).
5 Books On Subject About Situational Leadership
There are a plethora of books on leadership. You could get an immense amount of information from them.
If you are curious about getting as much information as possible on situational leadership, consider reading the following books:
1. The Situational Leader: The Other 59 Minutes, Paul Hersey
There is no better person to teach you about situational leadership than Dr. Paul Hersey. He, along with his colleague Ken Blanchard, is the individual who first wrote about this leadership method.
In this book, Hersey covers everything you could possibly need to know about situational leadership. It outlines many unique elements of this approach, including how to evaluate someone’s maturity level.
If you know how to do that, you can use the correct type of situational leadership (telling, delegating, participating, selling).
2. Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership (One Minute Manager), Kenneth H. Blanchard
Dr. Blanchard’s book is the prequel to his colleague’s text. He outlines how the situational leadership model instills equity in the workplace.
However, equality is (controversially) not key in the workplace, according to Blanchard. He discusses why that is so.
Plus, there are many strategies Dr. Blanchard discusses for implementation guidelines in situational leadership.
There is no one situational leadership approach that works for everyone, both Dr. Blanchard’s book is a great place to start.
3. DECISION MAKING: Military Tactics to Master Situational Awareness & Leadership, Daniel Cooney
Have you ever thought about the connection between the military and business? In actuality, there are many correlations.
Military expert Daniel Cooney describes these associations and how the lessons he learned in the military can be transferred into the office.
He describes the hidden evil of indecisiveness and how situational leadership can be used to combat it.
Cooney shares his decision-making process and how it is intertwined with situational leadership.
4. 12 CIO Personas: The Digital CIO’s Situational Leadership Practices, Pearl Zhu
CIOs are often overlooked. But, while the job type is relatively new, they are key leaders in their organizations. CIOs have many unique traits that set them apart from other leaders and make them successful.
Any leader can gain tremendous insights from the many tactics used by CIOs. In this book, Pearl Zhu depicts how technology and leadership are connected.
Zhu has over 23 years of business experience and understands the ins and outs of situational leadership.
5. The Trait Leadership Approach And Situational Leadership Approach Defined And The Effective Application Of The Situational Leadership Approach In A Business Setting, Harrison Sachs
If you want a clear and concise overview of the situational leadership approach, look no further than Dr. Harrison Sachs’s book. As an added bonus, you can also learn about the trait-oriented leadership technique.
The text focuses on why traits matter in leadership. He answers the question: why does situational leadership matter, and what does it bring to a team?
Sachs illustrates the importance of flexibility and adaptability by analyzing Fortune 500 companies as well.
Frequently Asked Questions About Situational Leadership
What are the three skills of a situational leader?
Three of these key skills (according to researcher Ken Blanchard) include goal setting, diagnosis, and matching.
Goal setting is straightforward – you must set clear and realistic goals. Diagnosis involves you evaluating your current situation and the maturity level of your team.
For matching, take into consideration your employee’s goals, motivations, struggles, and strengths.
Who is a famous situational leader?
Situational leaders exist in every industry. One of the most famous situational leaders of all time was Steve Jobs. Other situational leaders are:
- Colin Powell
- Phil Jackson
- Jack Stahl
- George Patton
Where is situational leadership best used?
Situational leadership is unique in that is extremely adaptable. Thus, it can be applied in virtually any circumstance. Any industry or business could have a situational leader.
However, it works better when tasks are not monotonous or repetitive.
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