What is Situational Leadership and Why Leaders Should Learn It

What is Situational Leadership and Why Leaders Should Learn It | Leadership | Emeritus

Situational leadership has become essential for leaders to thrive in the current ever-changing work environment. As the name suggests, situational leaders can adjust and modify their leadership style in response to circumstances and tackle challenges head-on. This guide provides an understanding of this leadership imperative, discusses its advantages and disadvantages, suggests ways to choose the right leadership style, and explores some examples too. 

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What is Situational Leadership?

Situational leadership is a flexible leadership model used to adapt according to the work environment and the needs of the team or team members. It is a timeless framework based on the leader’s ability to adjust their situation to the changes, overcome challenges, and drive results. 

The situational leadership model was first developed in 1969 by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey. According to Blanchard and Hersey, one leadership style cannot work for all situations, so leaders should adapt their leadership style to fit the situation. The model describes four leadership styles – telling, selling, participating, and delegating. 

  1. Telling (S1): In which the leader makes decisions to provide guidance and close supervision to the team members
  2. Selling (S2): In which the leaders support unmotivated team members to improve and effectively execute their tasks by providing clear directions  
  3. Participating (S3): In which leaders collaborate with their team members in the decision-making process and leave the final decision to them  
  4. Delegating (S4): Where the team members are highly competent and the leaders delegate responsibilities to the team and provide minimum guidance 

Why is Situational Leadership Important?

It is an effective leadership framework as it adapts to the situation and the needs of all team members. It builds strong relationships between the leaders and their teams as it requires close communication between them. Situational leadership can prepare leaders to stay abreast of changes, effectively tackle problems, and set up their team and business for success. 

Importance of Learning Situational Leadership

In order to become a great situational leader, you need the following traits, and the good news is that these are learnable skills.  

  1. Flexibility: This is an integral characteristic of situational leaders. It allows leaders to become better equipped to overcome roadblocks, ensure the team’s success, and thrive in new situations.  
  2. Direction: Having a clear sense of direction enables leaders to provide effective guidance and support to team members. 
  3. Delegation: This skill is essential for the success of leaders and their team members. A situational leader must know how to leverage the strength of their team to complete specific tasks.    
  4. Coaching: This allows leaders to connect with their team members and help them reach their full potential. 
  5. Encouraging participation: This ability is important because situational leaders need to take their entire team along and empower each team member to participate and grow.  

Mastering these situational leadership skills can empower you to build an efficient, high-performing team that will stay relevant for years. As you can see, learning situational leadership is highly beneficial for the organization as it creates a better work environment and drives it towards a successful future. If you want to polish your leadership skills, explore these leadership courses offered by Emeritus, and taught by experts from the best universities in the world.

How to Choose the Right Leadership Style at the Right Time

According to Blanchard and Hersey, situational leadership styles are most effective when paired with the following four stages of employee development:

  1. Low Competence: High Commitment – Leaders guide employees with no specific skill set. 
  2. Some Competence: Low Commitment – Leaders coach team members with some skills to perform successful tasks. 
  3. High Competence: Variable Commitment – Leaders encourage the participation of highly skilled team members.
  4. High Competence: High Commitment – Leaders delegate tasks to highly developed and skilled team members and empowers them to work independently. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Situational Leadership

Advantages of Situational Leadership

  • Adapts and modifies according to the situation 
  • Creates a better work environment for the team members 
  • Adjusts leadership style to best fit any given situation
  • Builds a strong relationship with team members
  • Enhances team performance

Disadvantages of Situational Leadership

  • Overlooks long-term goals 
  • Depends on the leader’s relationship with the employees 
  • Not effective for repetitive tasks 
  • Consistent changes can cause confusion

Examples of Situational Leadership

John Wooden 

John Wooden, former UCLA men’s basketball coach, is considered one of the greatest sports coaches in American history. Under his leadership, his team won ten championships. And, broke the record for the longest-winning history in the NCAA. Situational leadership models suggest that the leader should consistently modify their coaching style based on the team members. As a coach, Wooden had to adapt his coaching style according to his players. He had to identify each player’s need, understand their emotions to bring out the best in them. Wooden had an athlete-focused coaching style. His connection with them on an emotional level was a huge factor behind his and his team’s success.

Steve Jobs 

Apple co-founder and chief executive of Pixar Animation Studios, Steve Jobs, is one of the most influential situational leaders. He had the knack for foreseeing trends. And, he is one of the leaders behind the technological evolution that we see today. Jobs’ leadership style is commonly known as autocratic due to his perfectionist traits; however, he was a multifaceted leader with a distinctive personality. As a situational leader, Jobs used to apply situational leadership frameworks to provide a clear direction of vision to his employees, delegate tasks, and encourage individuals to pursue their unique ideas. Jobs knew how to empower his tech developers, leverage their strengths, and bring out the best in them. Jobs’ success as a leader is one of the key factors behind the tremendous success of Apple.   

ALSO READ: How Does Leading Change in an Organization Benefit it

Ready to Be a Future-Proof Leader?

Situational leadership allows leaders to adapt to changing circumstances, overcome challenges, achieve goals, and thrive in new situations. Situational leaders can have a huge impact on employees and the organization. If you are looking to adjust your leadership style to align with the unique needs of today’s business environment, explore these leadership courses offered by Emeritus. 

By Krati Joshi

Write to us at content@emeritus.org 

About the Author

Content Marketing Manager, Emeritus Blog
Manasa is the content ninja that every brand needs. Apart from being an expert in tech-related trends and digital marketing, she has found her calling in edtech. Her 10-year-long tryst with education started with a teaching fellowship for underprivileged children, followed by a stint as an edupreneur. It gave her the perspective she now uses to create impactful content for Emeritus. Manasa loves the life of a digital nomad that allows her to travel and hopes her reels go viral on the Gram.
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