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Does the 'Situational Leadership' Style Look Better on You?

In the midst of facilitating a workshop for a group of enthusiastic managers the other day, the conversation took an unexpected turn toward the elusive concept of effective leadership styles. Tempted to get right into the discussion, I decided to opt for gently nudging them toward the dynamic world of Situational Leadership (SL) as a better strategy for effective leadership.

Leadership is a dynamic journey, and its success is often determined by the ability to adapt to various situations and individuals. In this context, Situational Leadership emerges as a powerful and flexible leadership style that emphasises the importance of tailoring leadership approaches to meet the needs of the team and the task at hand.

In contrast to rigid, one-size-fits-all styles such as autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, and paternalistic approaches, Situational Leadership recognises the diversity among people, tasks, and circumstances. This recognition demands leaders to be adaptable and insightful in their approach, ensuring a dynamic response that suits the unique requirements of each situation.

Why Situational Leadership?

Situational Leadership should be today’s go-to leadership style because it places the onus on leaders to understand and adapt to the unique needs of their team members. Instead of expecting individuals to conform to a predetermined leadership style, Situational Leadership recognises that people are different, and their requirements may change based on the situation. This approach aligns with the idea that effective leadership is not about asserting control but about guiding and supporting individuals to achieve their full potential.

In a rapidly evolving workplace, where diverse skills and personalities coexist, leaders must possess the agility to adjust their leadership style accordingly. The traditional top-down, authoritarian leadership model is becoming outdated as it often fails to inspire and engage modern teams. Situational Leadership, on the other hand, supports collaboration, trust, and a sense of shared purpose.

Adaptability: The Essence of Situational Leadership

One of the core tenets of Situational Leadership is recognising the continuum of support and direction that individuals require. Leaders should be adept at identifying where their team members fall on this continuum and adjust their leadership style accordingly.

  1. Directing (S1): In situations where team members lack both competence and commitment, leaders should take a more directive role. This involves providing clear instructions and closely supervising tasks to build foundational skills and confidence.

  2. Coaching (S2): As competence increases but commitment remains low, leaders should shift towards a coaching approach. This involves providing guidance, encouragement, and constructive feedback to develop skills and increase commitment.

  3. Supporting (S3): When team members have high competence but variable commitment, leaders should focus on a supportive role. This involves providing the necessary support, encouragement, and resources while allowing autonomy.

  4. Delegating (S4): In situations where team members demonstrate both high competence and commitment, leaders can adopt a delegating style. This involves empowering individuals to take ownership and responsibility for tasks.

Tailoring Leadership to Task and Individual Needs

The beauty of Situational Leadership lies in its recognition that an effective leader's approach should vary according to the task and the individuals involved. A team member who excels in one area may require more guidance in another.

Likewise, a task that demands precision may require a more directive approach, while creative projects may benefit from a hands-off, supportive stance.

Steps for Leaders to Determine the Appropriate Style

1. Assess the Situation

  • Evaluate the complexity of the task.

  • Gauge the team member's competence and commitment related to the task.

2. Understand Individual Needs

  • Engage in open communication to understand team members' preferences and working styles.

  • Identify areas where team members may need more support or autonomy.

3. Flexibility and Adaptability

  • Be willing to adapt your leadership style based on evolving circumstances and team dynamics.

  • Recognise that what works for one team member or task may not work for another.

4. Continuous Feedback Loop

  • Establish a culture of open feedback, encouraging team members to express their needs and concerns.

  • Regularly assess the effectiveness of your leadership style and make adjustments as necessary.

5. Invest in Professional Development

  • Support the ongoing development of team members to enhance their skills and confidence.

Situational Leadership can be a powerful approach that acknowledges the ever-changing landscape of leadership. By focusing on adaptability, understanding individual needs, and tailoring leadership to specific tasks, leaders can nurture a collaborative and high-performing team.

A leader interacting with employee
Pick the leadership style that suits the situation

In a world where diversity is celebrated, and tasks are multifaceted, Situational Leadership emerges as the key to unlocking the full potential of both leaders and their teams.


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