Situational leadership explained

'Too many leaders act as if the sheep... their people... are there for the benefit of the shepherd, not that the shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.' Ken Blanchard

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I agree very much with this quote. As a leader, either formal or informal, you are there to help your people develop themselves. One of the many tools available for this is the model for situational leadership by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey. Whenever I feel I am not connecting properly with a group or a person I check a couple of things. One of these things is the model for situational leadership. It looks like the picture below.

Model for situational leadership

On the horizontal axis is directive and task oriented behavior. The more you move up this axis the more task oriented and directive you become. The vertical axis is about relationship oriented and supportive behavior. The more you move along the axis the more supportive your behavior becomes.

As you can see from the picture there are four basic styles. The right style to use depends on the situation. These are the four quadrants:

  • Telling: This is a very directive leadership style. You tell people what, how and when to do their work.  You make sure your instructions are understood. People who need this leadership style will be low on self confidence, knowledge, capabilities and motivation. Which is why you need more focus on task and less on supportive behavior. The discussion is a one way street from you to the person with the task.
  • Selling: This style is for people who do not feel up to the task, but very much want to learn. The discussion is a two way street with you telling what, why and how the work needs to be done, while the team member will ask questions to enhance their understanding. You will need to make time to answer their questions and (give them options to) grow their capabilities and knowledge. This is why this style is both high on task and people orientation. 
  • Participating: This style is for people with high level of knowledge and capabilities, but who may lack a certain motivation or self esteem for the task at hand. This is why task oriented leadership is not necessary. People may feel that you are doubting their capabilities. Supportive behavior is needed to make sure that the motivation does not fall back, and preferably grows. You motivate people or grow their self esteem by leaning on their expertise.
  • Delegating: This is a style for people who are both very capable, have good self esteem and are very motivated for the task at hand. With these people you sit down to create the conditions they need to fulfill the task with a maximum of autonomy. After that you can use a style low on supportive and low on task oriented behavior. You need to stay connected with these people while you leave them a lot of freedom to do their task.

 It is easy to keep using the same style for a person in each situation. But this is not effective. Someone may be ready for delegating in one task, but may need selling in another task. People's skills, self esteem and motivations vary in each situation. This is why I check this model whenever I feel my coaching is not making as big of an impact as I would like it to make.  This model can also helps you choose the right style in kata coaching.


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