Situational leadership is an easy-to-understand practical framework for leaders to adapt their leadership approach based on the development level of an employee or team for a particular situation or task.

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey came up with situational leadership in 1968. The idea was further developed by Blanchard in his book "Leadership and the One Minute Manager" and is widely used in corporations, private industry and government.

According to Blanchard: “54 percent of leaders use only one leadership style, regardless of the situation, which means that 50 percent of the time, leaders are using the wrong leadership style to meet the needs of their people.” This can lead to costly results such as turnover, disengagement, diminished productivity, missed opportunities and conflict.

Here are the situational leadership styles important to be an effective leader:

  1. Directing — In the Directing style, the leader provides specific instructions about roles and goals and closely supervises the individual’s or team’s performance. Most decisions are made by the leader. This style is useful when a team or team member requires close supervision and regular guidance, such as someone new in the job or new to a specific task.
  2. Coaching — Coaching style is useful when a team or team member has some competence, but perhaps not enough to be successful or when they are not motivated. The leader includes the individual(s) in problem solving and decision making but makes the final decision. Leaders use this style to help team members develop and improve their skills through the use of encouragement and feedback.
  3. Supporting — Supporting style is used when a team or team member has the competence required to actively participate in planning and decision making. Leaders using this style are typically collaborative in their approach to problem-solving and decision-making, letting their teams and team members make decisions within their areas of expertise. A supportive leader removes obstacles, asks questions and serves as a sounding board.
  4. Delegating — Delegating style works best when a team or team member has a high level of competence and is self-motivated. Leaders leveraging this style will set a vision, outline desired outcomes, grant clear authority, and then get out of the way. Decisions are made by the team or team members.
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In all four styles, the leader identifies desired goal or task, assesses the individual’s or team’s competence for the task, transferable skills related to the task, as well as how motivated and confident they are.

This assessment will assist the leader to select the situational leadership style most appropriate for the task or situation. As leaders become more flexible and adapt their style accordingly, they will become more effective leading others.

Pam Solberg-Tapper, president of Coach for Success Inc., is a Duluth-based executive coach, professional speaker and adventure marathoner. For questions or to submit questions or ideas for future columns, please contact her at or 218-729-0772.