Situational Leadership and Developing Great Teams


Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey’s situational leadership model tells us that managers could use different leadership styles depending on the situation.

Traditionally the model allows you to analyse the situation that you’re in and then use the most appropriate leadership style. Also, your style will likely change depending on your staff's competencies and commitment levels and from person to person. For example, you might lead the same person in one way in one situation and another way in a different situation.

The pair characterised leadership style in terms of the amount of direction and support that the leader needs to give to members of the team and created a simple matrix:

Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Model

Effective leaders are versatile – they can move around the matrix according to the situation. No leadership style is right all of the time. However, leaders tend to have a preferred style, and in applying situational leadership, it is essential to know which one is right for you.

Similarly, the competence and commitment of the follower can also be distinguished in four quadrants:

Situational Leadership 4 quadrants

As with the leadership styles, the levels of development are also situational. For example, a person could be skilled and motivated in one part of their job but less competent in another.

Blanchard and Hersey said that the leadership style must correspond to the follower's development level– the leader should adapt. By adopting the correct technique to suit the follower’s development level, relationships will be built, work will get done, and the level of the follower will subsequently increase.

Traditionally there are six steps taken in the process of situational leadership:

  • Make an overview of each employee’s tasks
  • Assess the employee on each task
  • Decide on the management style for each task
  • Discuss the situation with the employee
  • Make a plan together
  • Follow up, check and correct

To do this process well means committing time and resources. This is where a tool like the Self Awareness diagnostic can help speed up the process. To develop individuals to reach their full potential, you need to know what makes them tick. You need to know how to get the best out of them and build their confidence. It would be best if you played to their strengths.

Self Awareness can help. Our unique diagnostic allows individuals to understand and develop their soft skills, which employers value.

It can quickly give you an insight into your own and an individual’s soft skills, work role preferences, enterprise skills, and perhaps most notably, in getting the most out of your staff, including how they like to learn.

Without a tool like Self Awareness, building highly effective teams can take a great deal of time and will depend on the leader's skill and, of course, those members who make up the team.

As with all academic models, Blanchard and Hersey’s model has both strengths and weaknesses. Its main strengths are that it is both easy to understand and apply. However, its limitations are more extensive.

A problem incurred not just by Blanchard and Hersey but by other leadership models, too, is the failure to distinguish between leadership and management. As so often is the case, what is referred to as a leadership style is, in reality, a management one. It also assumes leadership’s primary function to be decision-making rather than inspiring people to change direction – leaders may vary how they inspire others but only when they have already chosen to do so themselves. Another criticism of this model is its focus on the actions of the person in charge.

This model also makes a number of assumptions:

  • Leaders should adapt their style to the ‘maturity’ of their followers and their competence and motivation
  • There are four leadership styles that match the four combinations of high/low readiness and willingness
  • The four styles suggest that leaders should put more significant or less focus on the task in question and or the relationship between the leader and the follower
  • Presumes that leadership is about how the boss makes decisions