In today's dynamic professional landscape, situational leadership can help leaders aiming to navigate the complexities of rapid technological shifts, evolving work paradigms, and a diverse generational workforce. 

Rooted in the foundational theories proposed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the late 1960s and early 1970s, situational leadership emphasizes the art of tailoring leadership tactics to meet the unique demands of specific situations and the varying developmental needs of team members. 

“To bring out the best in others, leadership must match the development level of the person being led.” Ken Blanchard

Effective situational leaders can accurately assess the developmental level of their team members in a given situation and adapt their leadership style accordingly.

Here are some of the benefits of situational leadership:

  • Build trust and rapport with team members

  • Develop team members' skills and confidence

  • Create a more positive and productive work environment

  • Help leaders achieve their goals and objectives more effectively

The Four Leadership Styles

The situational leadership model identifies four leadership styles: telling, selling, participating, and delegating. 


Telling is most directive leadership style. The leader provides clear instructions and closely supervises the follower's work. 


Selling is a more collaborative leadership style. The leader provides guidance and support while still making decisions, but also encourages two-way communication. 


Participating is a more delegating leadership style. The leader delegates decision-making to the follower and provides support as needed. 


Delegating is the most hands-off leadership style. The leader gives the follower full responsibility for the task and steps back to provide guidance only when needed. 

Leaders may be inclined toward a particular style, but good situational leaders will adapt to the situation and to their followers’ needs. Thus, they may utilize all four styles over time depending on the specific situations. 

The Four Levels of Follower Readiness

In the situational leadership model, followers are defined as individuals who are being led by a leader. They can be employees, volunteers, students, or any other group of people who are being directed by someone else.

The situational leadership model suggests that the leader's style should be tailored to the follower's level of readiness. Followers are classified into four levels of readiness:

D1 - low competence, High committment

Followers in this category are new to the task and may lack skills or experience. However, they are motivated and willing to learn.

D2 - some competence, low committment

Followers in this category have some skills or experience, but they may lack confidence or motivation.

D3 - moderate to high competence, variable committment

Followers in this category have developed their skills and can complete tasks on their own. However, they may not always be motivated or committed to the task.

D4 - high competence, high committment

Followers in this category are experienced, capable, and self-motivated. They can be trusted to complete tasks with minimal supervision.

Matching Leadership Style to Follower's Readiness

A situational leader should be able to match the level of their follower’s readiness to manage effectively. Here are some examples of leadership style matches:


Leader: provides clear instructions and closely supervises the follower's work. Followers who have low competence and commitment.


Leader: provides provides guidance and support while still making decisions, but also encourages two-way communication. Followers who have some competence but may lack confidence.


Leader: delegates decision-making to the follower and provides support as needed. Followers who have developed their skills and can take on more responsibility.


Leader: gives the follower full responsibility for the task and steps back to provide guidance only when needed.  Followers who who are experienced, capable, and self-motivated.

The leader's choice of leadership style should be based on the follower's level of readiness. For example, a leader should use a telling leadership style with followers who are in the D1 category (low competence, high commitment). This will help the followers to develop their skills and confidence. As the followers gain more competence and commitment, the leader can gradually shift to a more delegating leadership style.

It is important to note that the four levels of readiness are not fixed. Followers can move from one level to another depending on the task, the situation, and their own personal development. The leader's role is to assess the follower's readiness on a situational basis and adjust their leadership style accordingly.

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How to Choose the Right Leadership Style

The situational leadership model provides a framework for leaders to choose the right leadership style for a given situation. While the follower’s readiness level is the most important factor to consider, there are several others:

the task

The nature of the task plays an important role in determining the right leadership style. Some tasks are complex and require a high level of skill and expertise, while others are simple and straightforward. The leader should choose a style that is appropriate for the level of difficulty of the task.

The situation

The situational context can also affect the right leadership style. For example, a leader may need to use a more directive style in a crisis situation, while a more collaborative style may be more appropriate in a calm and controlled environment.

the leader's own preferences

Ultimately, the leader's own preferences and style should also be considered when choosing a leadership style. Some leaders are more comfortable with a directive style, while others prefer a more collaborative approach.

It is important to remember that the situational leadership model is just a guide. There is no one-size-fits-all leadership style that will work in every situation. Leaders should be flexible and adaptable in their approach, and they should be willing to adjust their leadership style as needed.

How Companies Can Develop Situational Leadership Skills

Situational leadership is a valuable skill for leaders at all levels of an organization. It can help leaders be more effective in developing their team members, achieving their goals, and creating a positive work environment.


  1. Provide training and Development Opportunities-

    Training and development programs can teach employees about situational leadership. These programs can be delivered in a variety of formats, such as in-person workshops, online courses, or self-study modules. An employee assistance program can help develop a program that matches the organization’s needs. 

  2. create a culture of feedback

    Encourage employees to give and receive feedback on their leadership skills. This can help them to identify areas where they can improve and make adjustments to their approach.

  3. pair experienced leaders with less experienced leaders

    Mentorship programs can be a great way for experienced leaders to share their knowledge and skills with less experienced leaders. This can help the less experienced leaders develop their situational leadership skills.

  4. make situational leadership a part of the company's culture

    This means incorporating it into the company's training programs, performance reviews, and other initiatives.

  5. celebrate successes-

    When employees use situational leadership effectively, be sure to acknowledge their efforts and celebrate their successes. This will help to reinforce the importance of situational leadership and encourage employees to continue using it.

Situational Leadership for the Modern Workforce

As the world of work grapples with challenges ranging from the rise of remote work to accelerated project deliverables, situational leadership stands out as a versatile strategy, fostering efficient communication, motivation, and guidance specific to each challenge.

The flexibility inherent in situational leadership allows managers to align their style to various factors in the workplace, including their relationship with employees. This is paramount in the modern workforce, which is increasingly diverse in terms of skills, backgrounds, and expectations.

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Define Situational Leadership, Leigh Anthony, Chron.

How to Effectively Lead the Modern Workforce with Situational Leadership, Coach Hub

Ken Blanchard On Leading at a Higher Level, Blanchard LeaderChat

Situational Theories of Leadership, Lumen Learning

What Is Situational Leadership? (4 Styles and Examples), Indeed

What Is Situational Leadership and How Do You Practice It?, Collin Baker, Leaders