Created by professor and author Dr. Paul Hersey and author Ken Blanchard, the Situational Leadership Model is a theory of business leadership that promotes the benefits of combining a range of managerial styles to cater to different people within the same organization. This is opposed to the more traditional view of the executive manager who may employ the same leadership tactics across an entire organization, more than likely passing directives down through subordinates and other intermediaries.

But by employing the strategies put forth in the Situational Leadership Model, a manager would potentially have the capabilities to deal with a wide range of people and thereby create a more employee-centric and innovative organization through the level of direct contact he or she has with members at all levels. Further, the leader would be free to place more or less emphasis on a particular task as well as more or less emphasis on relationships with employees – enabling them to focus on the component most needed to get the task accomplished successfully.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The core foundation of the Situational Leadership Model is the belief that there is no single “best” approach to leadership. Instead, effective leadership is viewed as task-relevant. Therefore, the most successful leaders are the ones who are able to adapt their leadership styles across a broad range of varying maturity levels readily present within the average organization. Also factoring into the choice for leadership style are the individual employees’ willingness and ability to take responsibility for the task as well as their applicable education and experience.

Given the wide level of variance in these factors, choices surrounding leadership are highly subjective in regard to the person or work group that is being influenced as well as the specific job or function that has been assigned – a situation some say lends itself perfectly to the Situational Leadership Model.

The Four Styles of Situational Leadership

Though it’s meant to provide extreme adaptability, there are four basic styles when it comes to the Situational Leadership Model, each custom tailored to elicit the highest productivity from each employee or group.

As you’ll see, there is a clear distinction between productivity and employee-development, with the first two styles (telling and selling) focused on accomplishing the task while styles three and four (participating and delegating) are more concerned with the personal development of team members.

  • Telling – Within this style, a leader will specifically instruct subordinates what to do and how to do it. This style is used at length within the law enforcement and military communities as well as on manufacturing assembly lines, providing a means of managing a diverse group of people that span a wide range of experience and maturity levels.
  • Selling – Information and direction will still be provided by the manger in this style of leadership but there’s also more two-way communication with subordinates. Within this role, leaders “sell” their message to get employees on board, persuading them to work toward the common goal. A perfect example of this type of leadership is often found in an internship situation, with the success of this approach dependent upon whether the student or apprentice learner is excited and self-motivated to be on the job.
  • Participating – With participation, leaders can focus more on relationships and less on direction. In doing so, the Situational Leadership manager works closely with the team and shares decision-making responsibilities. This style is often used by corporate leaders who are attempting to influence a board of directors toward developing a new policy for which there is no proven history or established practice.
  • Delegating – Although the leader will still monitor task- and organizational-progress, he or she will pass much of the responsibility for the execution and completion of the established goals onto the individual subordinates or dedicated work groups. By delegating, the leader is usually less involved with decisions and is therefore able to focus on the work and achievements of subordinates, as seen commonly in the freedom given to tenured professors who are allowed to teach in the manner they believe is most effective while being monitored by a dean or department head.