How To Effectively Lead the Modern Workforce With Situational Leadership

CoachHub · 30 December 2022 · 5 min read

Situational leadership may be the most effective way to lead today’s workforce in this era of the new normal. In fact, rapid technological advances, remote work and a range of diverse levels of expertise demand it. 

What is situational leadership?

The situational leadership model is a relationship-oriented approach to leadership. Situational leaders adapt their leadership style to the individual needs of each team member and situation.

Think of situational leadership in terms of these well-known adages:

  • Different strokes for different folks.Different people have differing needs, abilities and requirements. Many parents are familiar with the results of using the same parenting style for each of their kids. All have very different personalities, capabilities, goals and motivations. What works with one child may backfire with another.

    Like parenting, effective leadership requires a flexible approach that will motivate the best performance and contribution from individual team members.

  • Different times call for different measures.Or maybe you’re more familiar with the phrase “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Either way, think of situational leadership in terms of the situation. A leadership approach that is effective for routine circumstances is often less successful during stressful or unusual circumstances.

    For example, during the pandemic, leaders had to find ways to motivate collaboration and interaction in remote teams. At the same time, they also needed to meet deadlines, goals, quality standards – and in some cases, regulations – with a reduced workforce and a disrupted supply chain.

    This is an extreme example of how situational leaders may be more prepared to lead their teams through desperate times. However, situational leadership also adapts to changes in workflow, team responsibilities, client or customer demands, etc.

situational leadership

What is situational leadership theory?

Previously known as the life cycle theory of leadership, developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey, situational leadership theory means that leaders adjust to their employees. Not the other way around.

The situational leadership theory includes four styles of leadership, depending on each employee’s level of competence and commitment. These levels of competence change as the employees gain familiarity with a task or confidence in their skillset. Levels of commitment may change depending on personal and business goals, circumstances and values.

Directing or telling

The directing or telling style of leadership is best used with team members who have low levels of competence and high levels of commitment. A directing leadership style might be effective with trainees who need explicit instructions and close supervision. It requires leaders to delve into the minute details and specifics for each task. Leaders then guide workers through tasks and follow up to ensure deadlines and expectations are met.

Coaching or selling

The coaching or selling style of leadership is best used with employees who have moderate to high levels of competence and variable levels of commitment. Coaching is a persuasive, problem-solving approach to leadership. A coaching leader might meet with team members to discuss the status of tasks and/or to help them improve their existing skills.

Supporting or Participating

The supporting or participating style of leadership is best used with staff who have high levels of competence and low levels of commitment. Supporting is a democratic, relationship-building approach to leadership. Leaders who take the supporting leadership approach value shared ideas and decisions and provide their team members with the autonomy to manage the details of their tasks.


The delegating style of leadership is best used with staff who have high levels of competence and high levels of commitment. A delegating approach works well for employees who have more expertise than their leader and are highly motivated to complete a task or project. Delegating leadership is a hands-off approach that empowers team members to work independently and self-lead.


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What are the qualities of a situational leader?

A situational approach to leadership requires people who have certain characteristics, skills or training, including:

Flexibility. First and foremost, situational leadership requires a supervisor, manager or team leader to be adaptable and able to quickly pivot their approach as the need presents.

Insight. Situational leaders are in-tune with the changing needs of their team members, their organisation and the events that surround them. They are perceptive of the obstacles and challenges that may come up during the completion of a task. They are able to evaluate each situation and move forward with the best approach.

Listening. To fully understand their team and adjust their leadership style in anticipation of their needs, a situational leader must be perceptive. This requires active listening skills and the ability to evaluate each team members’ level of competence and commitment.

Influence. A skilled situational leader doesn’t use a commanding or fear-based approach to leadership. Instead, they focus on building trust and influence with their teams.

Coaching. The primary goal of situational leadership is to guide team members to learn new skills, grow their expertise and mature as employees. This requires a coaching or guiding mindset and good communication skills.

Serving. An effective leader must be willing to serve their team and meet their ever-changing needs. This is the ultimate purpose of situational leadership.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of situational leadership?

Below are some of the reasons why situational leadership is more effective than a rigid approach to leadership:

  • Team members feel valued and more satisfied in their work.
  • Situational leaders build strong relationships with their teams.
  • Team members are more loyal to situational leaders.
  • Team members are more motivated and productive.
  • Situational leaders can effectively communicate and manage complex tasks according to each team member’s needs.

Despite the many advantages of situational leadership, there are some potential drawbacks. These include:

  • It can seem inconsistent and create confusion among team members.
  • It can seem short-sighted and disregard long-term business objectives. This is especially true if a leader focuses on short-term goals.
  • It may backfire if a leader doesn’t have the characteristics, skills or training to use the right approach with the right employee at the right time.

Coaching can help you master a situational leadership style

Situational leadership is an intuitive approach. However, not all leaders have the characteristics or skills to innately adapt their leadership style to the situation or needs of their staff. If you want to grow as a leader, professional leadership coaching can help.

Leadership coaching helps supervisors, managers and team leaders adapt to the changing demands of their organisation. It helps them learn to provide the flexible guidance their team needs to perform at a higher level. Explore our website to see how CoachHub builds more effective and inspiring leaders with personalised digital coaching programs.

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