Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Situational Leadership Theory: A Flexible Approach

Situational leadership theory believes one style doesn’t fit all. What works best depends on the task at hand. According to this theory, great leaders can change how they lead. They consider things like the job’s type, the group’s nature, and other key factors for success. The theory is known as the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory, named after its creators, Dr. Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard. They outlined four main leadership styles: Telling (S1), Selling (S2), Participating (S3), and Delegating (S4).

Key Takeaways

  • Situational leadership theory is a flexible approach that adapts leadership styles based on the needs of the situation and followers.
  • The theory suggests that there is no single best leadership style, but rather the most effective leaders are able to adjust their approach.
  • Situational leadership involves considering factors like task requirements, follower maturity, and the leader’s authority to determine the appropriate leadership style.
  • The four primary leadership styles in the Hersey-Blanchard model are Telling, Selling, Participating, and Delegating.
  • Effective situational leaders are skilled at diagnosing follower readiness and adapting their behavior accordingly.

What is Situational Leadership Theory?

Situational Leadership Theory tells us the best leadership style changes with each group’s maturity. It was developed by Hersey and Blanchard. They found there are four levels of maturity that affect leadership. These are M1, M2, M3, and M4.

M1 represents people who don’t know much and need a lot of help. M2 shows those who are eager but lack skills. M3 means they can do the task but won’t take charge. At M4, people are skilled and ready to lead on their own.

Core Principles

The model suggests different leadership styles for each maturity level. For those at M1, leaders should just tell them what to do. At M2, leaders need to explain and help them learn. When at M3, leaders should join in the decision-making process. Finally, at M4, they should let the skilled members take over tasks themselves.

Task and Relationship Behaviors

Situational leaders need a balance. They must look at both task and relationship behaviors to know how to lead best. Task behavior is about giving clear instructions and setting goals. Relationship behavior involves listening, talking, and understanding one another.

Four Leadership Styles

The Situational Leadership Theory shows four main styles:

  1. Telling (S1): High on tasks, low on relationships. Leaders give clear orders and watch closely.
  2. Selling (S2): Also high on tasks but focuses more on relationships. Leaders explain decisions and allow for questions.
  3. Participating (S3): High on relationships, low on tasks. Here, leaders work with their group to make decisions.
  4. Delegating (S4): Low on both tasks and relationships. Leaders stand back because their group is already skilled and motivated.
Maturity Level Follower Characteristics Appropriate Leadership Style
M1 (Low Maturity) Lack knowledge, skills, and willingness Telling (S1)
M2 (Medium Maturity) Willing and enthusiastic, but lack ability Selling (S2)
M3 (Medium Maturity) Have skills, but are unwilling to take responsibility Participating (S3)
M4 (High Maturity) Highly skilled and willing Delegating (S4)

Follower Maturity and Developmental Levels

Effective leaders need to know the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory. It helps in understanding their team’s follower maturity and developmental levels. There are four follower maturity levels. Each needs a different leadership approach:

Low Maturity

At the low maturity level (M1), followers lack the knowledge, skills, and willingness for the task. For this group, a Telling (S1) leadership style works best. It means the leader gives clear instructions and keeps a close eye on their team.

Moderate Maturity

Followers at the moderate maturity level (M2) are willing and enthusiastic but need help with the task. Here, the Selling (S2) leadership style is most effective. It involves giving direction and offering support when needed.

High Maturity

Highly mature followers (M4) have the skills needed but sometimes are unwilling to fully take charge. For these followers, a Participating (S3) leadership style is the best fit. This approach means leaders and followers make decisions together.

By understanding followers’ developmental levels, leaders can adjust their leadership styles. This helps in meeting their team’s needs better. It results in improved performance and engagement.

Situational leadership theory

The Situational Leadership Theory is all about being flexible. Leaders change how they lead based on what their team needs. It knows there isn’t just one way to solve a problem. Good leaders look at the situation and how ready their team is to pick the best method.

Matching Leadership Styles to Maturity Levels

Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II (SLII) model is an upgrade. It says leaders should act according to their team’s abilities for each job. When leaders really understand how ready their team is, they can lead in a way that gets the best results and helps their team grow.

Flexibility and Adaptability

The theory’s main idea is being flexible and adaptable. Instead of sticking to just one leadership style, it’s about changing to meet your team’s needs and the job’s requirements. This way, leaders can handle the twists and turns of work today and reach great results.

Benefits of Situational Leadership

The situational approach to leadership focuses on how different social situations can be. It looks at the many people involved and their various roles. There are four important things for leaders to think about: how they relate to their team, the task at hand, their authority over the team, and each team member’s level of experience.

Knowing each team member’s experience level helps leaders pick the right way to lead them. This leads to better communication and engagement. It also helps employees grow faster.

Improved Communication and Engagement

When leaders tailor their style to what their team needs, communication and engagement get better.




improve. Teams understand tasks more clearly, follow direction better, and feel more involved. This can make teams more motivated, trusting, and willing to work together.

Accelerated Employee Development

Situational leaders can adjust their support and guidance for each employee’s stage of growth. They can start by helping more and then let employees do more as they improve.

benefits of situational leadership

Applying Situational Leadership

The Situational Leadership Theory tells us how to flex our style based on who we’re leading. It’s all about looking at our team and the work setting first. Then, we pick the best way to lead to help everyone reach their goals. This approach increases the chances of success.

Diagnosing Follower Readiness

Followers’ readiness is based on their maturity in the task. There are four levels: high, moderate high, moderate low, and low. For example, high maturity means they are skilled and confident. Low maturity refers to those who need more skills but are eager to learn.

Leaders need to figure out where their followers stand. This helps them choose the right leadership style. Each situation might need a different approach based on how ready the followers are.

Adapting Leadership Behavior

Being a situational leader means changing how you lead based on your team’s readiness. This way, you can drive better results and help your team grow. A key idea of this theory is that good leaders are flexible. They can adjust to any situation or team member’s needs smoothly.


The situational leadership theory is all about being flexible and adaptable in how you lead. It knows that one style of leadership doesn’t fit all. Leaders learn to judge how ready their team is and then change how they lead to get the best results. This helps grow the team and meet goals.

When looking at things like how experienced the team is, what the task needs, and the leader’s role, situational leaders can pick the best way to lead. They use steps like checking if the team is ready, changing how they lead, and pushing for better work. This gives leaders a roadmap to handle the challenges of leading in today’s world.

The strength of this leadership style is its flexibility and adaptability. It’s useful in many kinds of jobs and teams. Leaders get better at understanding and meeting their team’s specific needs. This can lead to more active, productive, and growing teams.


What is Situational Leadership Theory?

Situational leadership theory says there isn’t just one best way to lead. The best way to lead varies depending on the situation. Great leaders change their style to fit what’s needed, like the job type or team dynamics.

What are the core principles of Situational Leadership Theory?

It’s about understanding follower’s readiness and adjusting leadership style. This method helps leaders in today’s complex workplaces. It’s all about improving how leaders can work with their team.

What are the four leadership styles in Situational Leadership Theory?

The Hersey-Blanchard model talks about four leadership styles. These are telling, selling, participating, and delegating. Each style matches different situations and team needs.

What are the different levels of follower maturity?

Four levels of follower maturity are outlined in this theory. They are low, moderate, and high maturity. Each level requires a different approach from the leader.

How do leaders match their leadership style to the follower’s maturity level?

Leaders can match their style by understanding follower maturity levels. For low maturity followers, a ‘telling’ approach works best. As followers grow in maturity, leaders can adapt to ‘selling,’ ‘participating,’ and finally, ‘delegating.’

What are the benefits of Situational Leadership Theory?

This theory boosts communication and involvement while speeding up employee growth. It allows leaders to pick the right leadership style, helping their team achieve more.

How can leaders apply Situational Leadership Theory?

Leaders apply this theory by first knowing their team’s maturity level. Then, they adjust their leadership style. Consider the task at hand and the team’s abilities. Also, think about the leader’s role.
Explore additional categories

Explore Other Interviews