Career Advice

4 Reasons why Situational leadership ensures your success

Jack Stahl, former chief executive at Coca-Cola and Revlon, mentioned an experience with one of his predecessors Doug Ivester in one of his interviews

Ivester asked him to work on a team project with a rigid deadline. The task was to prepare a prospectus for the public offering of Coca-Cola’s bottling division. When Ivester asked for a review, the draft was far more incomplete than what Stahl expected. Even the new company’s phone number was missing from the first page.

The reason?

Stahl had assigned some parts of the project to his subordinates without sufficient supervision. He realized he needs to balance between high-level management and getting into the details when necessary.

That’s what you need to do as a situational leader. You need to adjust yourself according to the requirements of the business scenario, and the experience and competency level of your subordinates. 

Before we discuss why this is the most effective leadership style, let’s first get into its nitty-gritty.  

Fundamentals of Situational leadership:

Previously known as ‘the life cycle theory of leadership,’ situational leadership has been developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey.  

It refers to your ability to adjust your leadership style to fit the development level of your employees. With this type of leadership, your subordinates need not adapt to your style. On the contrary, you adjust yourself according to their needs.

In the current times, with teams across the corporate world having a blend of heterogeneous professionals from varied backgrounds and work experiences, situational leadership is the most effective leadership style. 

The situational leadership theory divides leadership styles into four types, which are to be used depending on the maturity level of your employees. As explained in the figure below, they are directing(S1), coaching(S2), supporting(S3), and delegating(S4) corresponding to the development level of your employees, which includes their competence and commitment, from D1 to D4 respectively.

Let’s discuss these styles one by one:


In this type of situational leadership style, you call all the shots: You tell people what, why, when, and how to do things. Your behavior has to be highly commanding and need not be as supportive. This style is close to autocratic leadership. 

While exhibiting directing style in a typical corporate set-up, you need to use micromanagement techniques to get into the details of every task and assignment. You have to delve into the specifics of every piece of work and make sure your subordinates complete it as expected. 

You can map this style with the D1 level of employees. They possess low task competence and high commitment, and hence need clear instructions and guidance. When you use directing leadership style, you develop the proficiency of your employees by providing them with precise directions.


When your subordinates have gained a certain minimum competency level, you need to exhibit the coaching style of situational leadership. In this methodology, you have to be highly directive and supportive of your employees.

You need to help your team members to improve their skills and look to build a relationship of trust with them to develop a team. To attain this, you should make decisions after a discussion with your team members and let them know the reasoning behind the final resolution.

For instance, you can have a team meeting to discuss the status of tasks and also to make crucial decisions for the team collaboratively. 

You can map this style with the D2 level of employees. They possess some task competence but are low on commitment. Hence, not only do you need to give clear instructions and guidance but also provide them with encouragement and support.


You need to use the supporting style of leadership when your team members are good at task competencies but are not consistent in performance. Since, at this stage, they already have the necessary skills to complete their work, you need not go for a commanding approach.

Your primary focus in this style has to be relationship building with your employees and their inclusion in important decisions. This style is close to democratic style of leadership. You need to give your team the liberty to accomplish tasks on their own and not get into the details of every assignment.

This style is suitable for employees at the D3 level. They have all the necessary skill sets to deliver their piece of work; however, their commitment is not consistent. You need to handle them by giving them more autonomy and greater scope to develop self-leadership.


When you have a team of highly competent and self-motivated individuals, your job is to monitor progress and be a part of important decisions. You need to focus on neither supportive nor directive behavior. Instead, your focus should be on high-level goals and on providing opportunities for growth to employees.

This style is close to a laissez-faire style of leadership. You can take a hands-off approach and delegate work. Your employees can create plans and attain goals on their own. However, you need to make sure employees regularly update you on the tasks they perform. The delegating stage of situational leadership helps you develop future leaders.

As described, the employees with whom you can use delegating leadership style are high on competence as well as commitment; they are the D4 level of employees. They are motivated, competent, and confident.

How does the cycle of situational leadership benefit your organization?

If you get a team or individuals at D1 level of employee maturity, you can follow all the steps from S1 to S4 as described to develop individuals of D4 level. In other words, at the end of the situational leadership cycle, you are able to generate employees with very strong skills and commitment.

Have a look at the following video on situational leadership to understand the facets of this leadership style further: 

Situational leadership, due to various reasons, can help you become a better leader. I have boiled down to four broad reasons why situational leaders are bound to be successful. Following is a description of them one by one. 

4 Reasons why Situational leadership is a recipe for success:

1. You need not rely on one size fits all formula

When I started my career, my manager asked me to send daily updates on the status of my assignments. This regular monitoring of my work pushed me to deliver as per his expectations. 

Slowly, as I gained experience, he changed the frequency of my updates from daily to weekly. Later, I stopped giving him any details of my work, and he intervened in my assignments only when I asked for help. 

Does it seem simple and obvious to you? The leader changing his style with the experience level of his employee is as easy as it can get. Isn’t it?

Well, the KenBlanchard company does not think so. According to them, 54% of leaders use only one leadership style, regardless of the situation. 

The most crucial aspect of being a successful leader is to be able to adapt to a variety of business needs. That’s what situational leadership allows you to accomplish. 

Situational leadership does not refer to a single tool that will work in every situation. It does not talk about a fixed method to be used all the time for all the business operations. 

As a situational leader, you choose the methodologies as per the situation at hand. For instance, you are directive with less experienced team members working on complex tasks, whereas you will be supportive when they become skilled.

It gives you an advantage over other leaders. You can fit in different teams with distinct mindsets and competency level, and get the best out of each one of them.

Your skill to be able to work in different scenarios and adjust yourself to business requirements and the maturity level of employees gives you an edge over leaders who lack these qualities. It allows you to provide the desired results more efficiently than them as they use only a particular leadership style in all situations.

2. You gain skill sets of all leadership styles

As a situational leader, you learn the qualities of all types of leadership styles. The directing style of situational leadership is a close parallel to autocratic methodology. You direct people and offer minimum support while using the directing style.

Similarly, to implement the coaching and the supporting styles of situational leadership, you need to develop democratic attributes. And, when you get into the phase of delegating, you should be aware of laissez-faire leadership tools. 

Situational leadership thus encompasses the unique aspect of having the characteristics of all types of leadership styles. As a situational leader, you gain the capacity to display multifaceted leadership principles depending on the needs of your business. 

How do these skills ensure your success?

The corporate environment comprises of a blend of experienced experts and budding millennial professionals. With your ability to be able to adjust to the needs of the complete spectrum of employees, you are a perfect match for leadership roles. You can get the desired results by getting the best out of all types of subordinates.

Leaders that do not possess situational leadership skills tend to be unilateral in their approach. They may achieve the desired results, but not in all scenarios. They also are not able to get the best out of their employees. Hence, leaders with other leadership styles will get the required business outcomes only in specific frameworks.

For instance, the following are a few situations along with the leadership styles, which are generally considered tailor-made for them. A situational leader would be able to adjust to all of them.

  • A group of inexperienced employees working on a complex task that they need to deliver with a rigid deadline
    – Autocratic leadership style is perfect for this scenario.

However, as a situational leader, you will be able to use directing approach in this situation and achieve positive results.

  • A company is undergoing restructuring, and you need to work with employees to make long term profitable decisions. – Leaders amalgamate the Transformational and Democratic styles in such situations. 

However, with the coaching style of situational leadership, you will be able to handle these scenarios.

  • A company is undergoing restructuring and you need to work with employees to make long term profitable decisions. -Transformational and Democratic styles need to be amalgamated in such situations. 

But you too can be successful using skills of supporting style of situational leadership.

  • A team consists of senior experienced, highly motivated, expert professionals.
    – Laissez-Faire leadership style is considered to be suitable for handling such team members.

However, with the delegating style of situational leadership, you can handle them with equal ease. 

3. Situational leadership is more flexible than other styles of leadership

Leaders who do not possess situational leadership skills tend to start practicing leadership by the thought, ‘What’s my role, and how do I lead?’

However, when you exhibit leadership by using qualities of a situational leader, you start by thinking, ‘Whom am I leading, and what do they need from me to achieve success?’

By adjusting yourself to the requirements of your employees, you become more flexible. You get into the shape of the situation and get the best out of everyone by satiating their wants. 

How do leaders with other leadership styles behave in different situations?

A transactional leader would fit a reward-penalty system in all situations, an autocrat would look to dictate terms even with self-motivated employees, and a democratic leader looks to make decisions taking input from everyone, including the inexperienced ones. These leadership styles, along with all others, are rigid and fail if applied with a unilateral approach.

Situational leadership, on the other hand, is all about working your way out as per the situation. Your actions depend on the maturity level of employees, the complexity of tasks, and the needs of the business. Thus, you can fit into all types of teams, industry demands, and leadership roles.

Also, as a situational leader, by customizing your leadership skills, you can adapt to the changing customer needs and evolving technologies. This ability to tailor your approach makes you more flexible than leaders with other leadership styles.

4. Situational Leadership creates a healthy and comfortable work-environment

As a situational leader, you analyze the readiness level of your employees and adjust your style accordingly, which helps to create a comfortable space for them. They do not work with the fear of meeting deadlines and start enjoying the challenges of their tasks. 

Also, you support your employees through their learning curve and give them the liberty to take time to develop new skills. With this freedom, they can express themselves better, which creates a healthy work environment. As a result, they perform their job duties with more efficiency and productivity.

The other thing you attempt is to build a relationship-behavior with your employees. You determine relationship-behavior by the level of support you need to give your employees as per the phase of the situational leadership cycle. 

To comprehend this better, have a look at the following list of relationship behaviors and task behaviors that you need to adopt along with corresponding situational styles. Your ability to develop these relationship behaviors creates a positive atmosphere at your workplace :

Directing/ Telling               : High Task and Low Relationship

Selling/Coaching              : High Task and High Relationship

Participating/Supporting   : Low Task and High Relationship

Delegating                        : Low Task and Low Relationship

High relationship means your focus is on exhibiting a high level of support for your team members. You concentrate on satisfying their needs and develop positive repo with them. Low relationship, on the other hand, requires you to give direction to your employees only in their assignments.

Final Thoughts:

Situational leadership makes you a polymath. You gain multiple qualities and skill sets by adapting to the situational leadership style. It gives you the capacity to decipher complex business issues and simplify them as per the maturity of your employees. 

Also, you develop the ability to stretch yourself to meet the requirements of your business by satiating the needs of your subordinates.

All these attributes make you the perfect choice for leadership roles in the corporate world. With tonnes of advantages of situational leadership, there is no reason for you not to be successful once you start applying it in your workplace.

It’s Your Turn

Let us know what you think about the situational leadership style. How would you apply it in your work environment? Do you agree with the explanation, or you have additional suggestions? Share your experience and knowledge in the comments section below.


Your Ultimate Guide to Servant Leadership

The other day, our team received a congratulatory email from Dave, our manager, for completing a crucial project. A little later, John, who had worked on tough assignments for the project, thanked Dave for praising his efforts. He was delighted for not being forgotten, even after a couple of months of leaving the organization.

I was pleasantly surprised to know that my leader carried his relationship with his employees with such grace.

Dave was a true servant leader. He was genuinely interested in the welfare of his employees, often inquired about our well being, and ensured we reach our career objectives, even if this means we may move on. With his serving attitude, he always got the best out of us.

Let’s discuss the servant leadership style to know how leaders like Dave operate and bring success to an organization.

What is servant leadership?

Leadership, for some people, is all about enforcing power. Whatever the issue, they believe sheer strength and brute force can solve it.

These leaders stay at the top in an organization to accumulate power and follow the traditional leadership pyramid model, as explained in the following figure.

As can be seen, the leader is right at the top in such a model, followed by employees, customers, and investors.

Servant leaders, on the other hand, have a serve-first attitude. These leaders help people develop and perform to the best of their abilities. They achieve this by putting the needs of others first. Unlike traditional leaders, they do not try and accumulate power. On the contrary, they share it with other people.

 As a result, they turn the traditional leadership model completely upside down. This model puts leaders at the bottom of the hierarchy and others, i.e., employees, customers, and investors at the top. Here is what the servant leadership model looks like:

Although servant leadership is a universal concept, it was Robert K. Greenleaf, who coined the term in his essay that he published in 1970.

According to him, servant leadership starts with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first; then, conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. And finally, the best test of servant leadership style is to check if those whom you serve grow as an individual.

To understand servant leadership better, let’s have a look at the attributes of a servant leader.

The characteristics of a servant leader

According to Larry C. Spears, President, and CEO at the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, Regent University, there are ten basic characteristics of servant-leader

Let’s discuss them one by one.


As a servant leader, you follow two-way communication. You not only communicate by saying, but by listening to others as well. When you listen, you can find out the areas of concern, and also the suggestions that can help with better results.

Listening ability also allows you to understand the desires and aspirations of the people around you. As a result, you are able to make better decisions in the interest of your team.


You need to be able to connect to people and understand their feelings to be a servant-leader. When you can relate to the circumstances of others, you can handle them better. Empathy also helps you understand the challenges faced by the stakeholders in your business.

Worried that people may not reciprocate? Here’s why they will:

You genuinely care for people and try and solve their problems by being empathetic. As a result, people endorse and support your ideas and align themselves to attain the objectives you set.


Everyone, including you, goes through rough patches. However, you are expected to deliver accurate results all the time. Hence, you need to have the power to repair the damage caused by poor performances. To achieve this, traditional leaders rely on punishments and penalties.

However, as a servant-leader, you lift the spirits of employees. You understand that a poor show is no one’s choice, and instead of pressurizing, you start healing.

And then, magic happens!

Like therapy relieves the pain of wounds; similarly, healing amends the emotional state of people. As a result, they work with greater zeal and enthusiasm to achieve desired goals.


You need to be aware of yourself and the needs of others to be a servant-leader. When you are self-aware you gain clarity on the issues of ethics and values. You also gain an understanding of how these apply to the situation you are in.

Awareness of others’ needs gives you a holistic view. In case of a problem, you can examine all aspects before you attempt to solve it.  


“Persuasion can take many forms, but the result is still the same – a willing partnership designed to accomplish a shared vision of purpose”  – Dr. Ed Rough in Leadership is Persuasion).

As a servant-leader, you convince people, rather than coerce them, to follow a particular path. You use persuasion, not your authority, to motivate people to take action. You do not dominate people and throw orders at them, but inspire and build trust. You arrive at decisions with consensus.


As a servant-leader, you need to hit the balance between the vision of your organization and the day-to-day operations. Traditional leaders are fixated only on immediate goals; however, you need to shift focus to involve the bigger picture to use the power of conceptualization.

Find it hard to implement? Here’s a quick tip:

You need to think beyond numbers and the operational grinds of the tasks in hand. This can involve helping your team with tools and training that they’ll use not only immediately, but also in the longer run.


To be a servant-leader, you should have the capacity to predict the results of your decisions before you make them. Foresight is your ability to learn lessons from your past and take steps in the present that prevents undesired outcomes for the future.

The skill of having foresight has a lot to do with your intuitive mind. However, remember that intuition is a mix of experience and common sense.

Have a look at this video to understand how foresight helps Jeff Cohen, CMO Seller Labs, develop better customer products & solutions.


Peter Block, the author of Stewardship, defines a steward as ‘someone who holds something in trust for another.’

As a servant-leader, you need to get out of the ‘hit the targets at any cost’ mentality and adapt to a steward’s mentality, i.e., you need to think beyond personal achievements and rewards for the bigger cause.

How do you go about bringing this change in your attitude? Here’s a suggestion:

Make sure every decision you take has something for your employees, customers, investors, and all stakeholders; they should prosper with the service you offer. Do not take decisions that benefit only yourself.

Commitment to the growth of others:

If you want to hit the sweet spot in your journey as a servant-leader, THIS IS IT – you need to get passionately involved in the growth of other people. You should not keep the best opportunities for yourself, allow others to grab them too.

Remember, the most important resource that you work with is people. You need to overcome the fear that they will move on or outshine you. Instead, practice commitment for their growth- take suggestions before making decisions, give them training opportunities for growth, promote them for better roles.

Building a Community:

To be a servant-leader, you need to understand the importance of communities in shaping humans; the way they positively influence lives. Hence, you have to build a community within your organization.  

Build a community! Do you think it will have no impact on your company? Not really, it can actually change the fortunes of your business. Here’s how:

Your employees can easily feel detached and focus on individual goals. When you inspire them to take the goals of others and organization into account, you form a community. As a result, genuine lasting bonds develop.

Now, you are aware of the characteristics of a servant-leader. The next step is to apply these to your business. The following are a few methods you can use.

How to apply servant leadership in your organization?

Do you believe the servant leadership model will work best only in non-profit organizations or humanitarian institutes? Think again!

According to a study by Roger William University, servant leadership is effective in a competitive, for-profit, service organization.

Following are a few practical methods you can use to develop servant leadership in your company :

Change the mindset :

You cannot apply servant leadership unless you have the right mindset. You need to have a ‘serve-first’ attitude rather than ‘lead-first’ to be a servant-leader.

You serve your staff, which in turn serves and benefits your organization. Need an example to understand better?

Southwest airlines’ leadership is a classic case of the servant-leadership model. Founder Herb Kelleher’s philosophy of putting employees first, helped Southwest create employee-friendly policies.

The outcome?

A highly engaged workforce with low turnover resulted in 35 plus consecutive years of profit – quite a feat – in the turbulent airline industry.

How do you build a people-first mindset in your organization? Following are a few tips:

  • Develop a cultural department that evolves the policy of ‘everyone matters.’  This department can form committees to solve employee and client issues.
  • Arrange for regular one-to-one private counseling sessions with your employees. Such forums encourage open discussions and help in identifying their needs.
  • Appreciate people for their work and commitment through monetary benefits. Make sure awards and appreciation recognize every piece of great work.
  • Celebrate anniversaries of clients, investors and stakeholders, and birthdays of employees. Organize family gatherings of your staff. Such events help in building a healthy workplace environment.

Ensure availability of resources:

You need to make sure that everyone has the tools and knowledge they need to meet their objectives. Without the necessary resources, your team will not be able to complete their assignments efficiently and accurately. You have to identify the challenges and roadblocks your employees are facing.

Wondering how are you going to find out the areas where people need assistance? Here are a couple of methods that can be useful :

As a servant-leader, you need to figure out ways to help people open up on the issues they are facing. One-on-one meetings are a great tool to let your team have an open discussion on the bottlenecks. Such meetings are also useful in resolving conflicts and interpersonal issues.

Traditional leaders, at times, expect one employee to do the work of two. However, to be a servant-leader, you need to hit the ‘appropriate workload balance’ culture in your organization. Include a new team member if there are tight deadlines, and employees are finding it hard to meet them.

While it’s important to be there for your employees, hit the right balance between providing them the essential resources, and making them think about solutions themselves.

If you are always there to help your employees, some of them may stop solving problems on their own. Hence, don’t avoid making tough decisions or giving negative feedback when this is needed.

Offer opportunities for personal development :

You need to take care of your employees beyond their jobs to be a successful servant-leader. If you restrict yourself only to the professional aspects, your staff is bound to work only for personal goals. However, if you provide opportunities for personal growth, they will align themselves with organizational objectives.

How can you help employees in their personal development?

Having a learning and development support department exhibits career growth assistance for your employees. You can include mentoring programs, training sessions, guest speakers, and external certifications as support functions in this department. This upskills your employees and upgrades your company to the latest requirements of businesses.

Do not restrict yourself to just work-related offerings as opportunities for personal development. How about running a program to lose weight? Or a policy on providing interest-free loans to your employees for personal needs?

These, and many such employee-centric policies, may not meet any immediate corporate needs, but leads to higher employee engagement and trust, and fosters stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders.

A healthy work environment, built by an authentic interest in the personal development of employees, can upscale customer satisfaction levels as well. As a result, service ratings and customer loyalty increases, which can improve the credibility of your organization’s brand.

Final thoughts:

With a lot of successful stories of servant leadership in the corporate set-up, there is no reason why you cannot apply it in your organization.

However, make sure you analyze your situation before you apply the servant leadership model. For instance, consider applying servant-leadership alongside styles like transformational leadership, where you develop an inspiring vision of the future and motivate people to deliver it.

Also, keep in mind that servant leadership requires time to achieve positive results. Hence, if your organization is going through a financial crisis or there are other reasons why you need a quick turnaround, this leadership style should not be used. You need to be swift and decisive in such a case.

No matter what goals you have, as a leader, you need to consider servant-leadership as a compelling option for delivering results.

How are you going to apply servant leadership in your organization? Have you exhibited any of the servant leadership qualities in your business? Let us know in the comments below.