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.
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.
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.