Table of Contents

There are many leadership styles that a leader can implement to be successful in their role. Adopting a leadership style is best for getting the best out of your followers. One of the best leadership styles is situational leadership. When choosing a leadership style, there would be pros and cons and that is part of what we would be discussing in this article. We will also talk about how to implement situational leadership. 

What is Situational Leadership? 

Situational leadership is a leadership style in which a leader adapts their style of leading to suit their current work environment or the needs of their team. This style is not dependent on the skill or the expertise of the leader. It depends on the ability of the leader to adjust to suit the current work environment or the needs of the team. Situational leadership is also called the “Situational Leadership Theory” or the “Situational Leadership Model”

In situational leadership, leaders are expected to match their behaviors with the performance needs of their team. The situational leadership model is based on the relationship between the followers and their leaders. It provides a system to analyze each situation based on the readiness or performance level of a follower after a specific task. The leader can then use the analysis to communicate support to the followers to support their needs and increase development. 

Situational leadership is a leadership style that constantly changes and evolves to meet different needs. It looks into situations from a unique perspective rather than sticking to a single method of leading. 

The Goleman Theory of Situational Leadership 

Daniel Goleman who is the author of “Emotional intelligence” picked out six styles within situational leadership. They are: 

Coaching Leaders – work on their follower’s development 

Pacesetting Leaders – set a high expectation for their followers 

Democratic Leaders – allows followers to vote in almost all decisions to be made 

Affiliative Leaders – puts their followers first 

Authoritative Leaders – allows followers to help figure out a problem and the solution 

Coercive Leaders – tell their followers what to do 

The Origin of Situational Leadership 

Situational leadership was first mentioned in the book “Management of Organizational Behavior” written by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969. It was initially called the “Life Cycle Theory of Leadership”, renaming it “situational leadership theory” some years later. They agreed that no singular leadership style is t is appropriate for every situation. They also established that the leader’s and his subordinates’ attributes and actions contribute to determining the best leadership style for a situation. 

Situational leadership

Examples and Scenarios of Situational Leadership 

There are many real-life experiences in which situational leadership is best adopted. One of the notable examples is in the games of sports, where teams frequently experience changes due to outgoings and incomings of team members. The strength and weaknesses of sports teams are constantly changing, and they must operate with what they have. Therefore, coaches adopt a strategy that works per time. When their best player leaves, they find a means to keep being the best when that individual is gone. Moreover, humans are not robots. It is hard to keep a high form forever. So, coaches and team managers look to another performing player for delivery. 

Another example can be seen in wars and military strategy. In periods of war, there will be changes in strategy regarding how to attack and defend themselves from enemies. The unexpected might happen, but they can easily change course to minimize losses. 

Situational leadership might also be seen in our daily activities. In parenting, you can see parents adjusting their leadership style as their children grow and develop. They assign responsibilities to older children and still nurture the younger ones. 

What do situational leaders do? 

Give direction 

Some teams or organizations need a high level of direction to be productive. Situational leaders are very effective in giving directions and providing constant supervision. 


Situational leaders constantly adjust their leadership styles to suit their current work environment. This aids flexibility and can easily adapt to situations. 

Regular coaching and mentoring 

Situational leaders can offer regular mentoring and coaching. They encourage growth and independence to get the best out of their followers. 

Encourage Participation 

Participation is one of the main goals of situational leaders. Building men up to the standard where they can contribute and participate to get tasks done. 


A successful situational leader can delegate tasks and roles to his followers who are capable of doing them. He must have nurtured them up to maturity and can independently deliver. 

Situational leadership theories

Leadership styles of Situational Leadership 

There are four types of leadership styles within situational leadership. These styles are identified based on the development and maturity levels of the leaders and their subordinates or followers. 

1.       Telling or Directing 

Telling is the lowest level of this leadership style. In this leadership style, the leader exercises authority and decides for the rest of the team. As the name implies, “tell,” he tells the rest of the team what to do. New and some old employees require direct instructions. Oftentimes, this method is used in emergencies or situations that need prompt and immediate action. The followers are characterized by low competence but high commitment. The leader focuses on tasks rather than a relationship with the employee. 

When the employee cannot do the job, the leader often offers guidance and regular follow-up. In this case, the leader must be persistent, encouraging, and motivational. 

2.       Coaching or Selling 

The leaders in this style have certain expectations, roles, and strategies in mind, and they attempt to encourage others to get on board. It addresses the follower who has developed expertise to an extent with an improved commitment. Not that they are convinced yet, but the followers are ready to be cooperative and open-minded. The leader focuses on tasks while building a personal relationship with the follower. Followers at the stage are being coached and mentored by their leaders. They spend time listening, offering advice and training, etc. Here, they remain open to the ideas of the rest of the team. 

The goal is to allow the followers to develop to the next level. There is less telling (instructions) but more suggesting. 

3.       Participating or Sharing 

This leadership style involves others in the decision-making process in a big way. In most cases, the subordinates have a higher chance of determining the outcome of deliberation. The followers have now built their competence to an expert level but remain somehow inconsistent. This leadership style comes into play when a follower is underperforming or uncooperative. The leader does not need to give detailed instructions or follow up but develop a relationship with the follower or team. 

A follower might still not be convinced about what he can do. The leader will continue to work with the person to gain total capacity. 

4.       Delegating 

Delegating involves team members acting based on the directives from the leader. The leader might not be closely involved in how the subordinates approach the tasks he has given them. Occasionally, subordinates can be involved in making some decisions while taking on the tasks. Delegating is the ultimate goal, that is when a follower is fully empowered and can take up roles with no or minimal supervision. 

The leader can easily delegate tasks to the followers and expect an acceptable or an excellent result. 

Reasons why situational leadership is most effective 

-          It is easy to adapt depending on the scenario 

-          It is highly flexible 

-          It can take care of many different working styles and personalities 

-          It encourages creativity 

-          It carries others along and opens leaders to different ideas 

-          It encourages transparency 

-          It gives room for coaching and nurturing 

-          Leaders can easily help their team members achieve their goals 

-          It helps leaders to have control over the outcomes of their decisions 

-          It fosters relationship building 

Disadvantages of situational leadership 

-          Leaders’ and subordinates’ expectations might be unclear 

-          Puts the leader under pressure to adapt 

-          There is no background or technical know-how a leader can follow 

-          It is not strict and task-driven 

-          It is only good for flexible situations 

-          It does not work for organizations with long-term goals 

-          The leader becomes confused in a more complex situation 

situational leadership

Frequently Ask Question 

Question: What are the living examples of situational leadership 

Answer: Situational leadership can be found in the military, organizations, sports teams, etc. 

Question: Can situational leadership be adopted for the long term? 

Answer: No, situational leadership only works in the short term. 

Question: What are the steps involved in situational leadership? 

Answer: Telling, Selling, Participating, and Delegating. 

Finally, situational leaders must be able to diagnose their team’s performance and adopt the best strategy that fits it. 

Engage with us

We'll keep you posted about our online courses, e-books, and our growing global community

© 2022 - The Black Sheep Community | BvTF houdt kantoor bij Spaces, 
Herengracht 124-128, te Amsterdam \ Kvk: 34280739 \ BTW: NL128052247B01 \ t +31655870636 Terms of use | Privacy policy