As human beings we are constantly striving to improve ourselves and growing. The same stands true in our leadership pursuits, be it personal or professional. No matter which field you are in, you might always come across situations where your current leadership abilities may not serve you entirely in fulfilling some of your organisational or workplace needs. However, when leading others, there is no one best style of leadership, because different situations demand different kinds of leadership. And one must be adaptive in their approach rather than sticking to fixed leadership skills. Situational leadership could be one such leadership style that you can adopt, to ensure that you are leading in the most appropriate and successful way.
The ability to guide, direct and influence the work of their team is an integral part of how one is perceived as an effective leader. Situational leadership best suits when leaders need to create a flexible and adoptive work environment to better guide their team or organisation through different situations, be it changes, or work related tasks or problems. This strategy encourages leaders to take stock of their current work environment, their leadership efficiency, weigh different needs and choose the leadership style that best fits their goals and objectives.
“Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes.”— Margaret WheatleyTweet
What is Situational Leadership?
Situational leadership is a flexible leadership behaviour that is mostly dependent on two key factors, the situation at hand and the maturity level of the team or the individuals involved. It is not based on specific skill set of the leader, instead it has more to do with the way a leader modifies his or her style of management to suit his or her organisational needs. And is more needed when one has to move from one leadership style to another to meet changing needs of a workplace or an organisation.
One of the key trait of this leadership style is the ability of leaders to move from one approach to another to meet the changing needs of a workplace and its employees. Situational leaders have an insight to understand when to change their leadership style and what leadership strategy best fits the new scenario.
Related Read: Different Leadership Styles
What do situational leaders do differently
The difference between situational leaders and others is that the former incorporate many different techniques. Their choice of the style depends upon their existing work environment and readiness level of their workforce. There are two models of situational leadership, one described by Daniel Goleman and another by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard.
According to Blanchard and Hersey model, this leadership style is based on leadership behaviour and the readiness level of the follower. That is to say, leaders need to be adaptable, knowing when to use one of the following four task-based styles depending on the maturity or the developmental level of the individuals or groups. They also suggest that each of the following approaches should be paired with different readiness levels among team members.
- Directing (Telling = S1): This style is high in directing behaviour, while the supportive behaviour is low. These leaders make decisions and communicate them to others which makes their communication one-way. They create roles and objectives and expect others to accept them. Directing behaviour is more useful when the teams need guidance and close supervision to complete their tasks.
This style is adopted in managing new team members to provide explicit direction. For instance, when your team or employees are in their initial stages of development they generally lack specific skills, confidence and motivation required to tackle the job in hand. At this stage of their development, they are low in competence but might be more willing to commit to the work or task at hand. This is where adopting to this style is more effective when people need detailed directions as to tell them how, what, where, when and why to accomplish a task.
- Coaching (Selling = S2): This is a two-way communication process and is high in both supportive and directive behaviours. Leaders may create the objectives and roles for others, but are open to discussion in a way to accept suggestions or opinions. They also sell their ideas in order to gain support or cooperation.
This style is most effective to explain or persuade teams that are low in their competence and commitment. They may have some relevant skills and the ability, but might not be either keen to take on the task or won’t be able to do the job without help. For instance, a team member might be enthusiastic to gain experience in a new job role or a field, although they have limited experience, you can adopt to this style and allow them to work on related project, so he or she gain task related experience.
- Participating (Sharing = S3): This is a high supportive and low directive leadership style. Although they may participate in the decision-making process, they leave the ultimate decision to their teams or their employees. It emphasises shared ideas and is effective in leading those who are much more capable than the way they are currently doing.
This style is adopted when your team is moderate to high in their competence and may vary in their commitment to complete the task at hand successfully. For instance, sometimes, employees might be experienced and capable, but may lack the confidence to do it alone or might be unwilling to take upon the responsibility. Asking some open-ended questions or participate in making decisions regarding finding solutions or accomplishing tasks, you can match with their readiness level to improve their efficiency.
- Delegating (Allowing = S4): This leadership style is more of a hands-off approach and is a low supportive and directive behaviour. In other words, these leaders are responsible for their teams, but provide minimum guidance to help solve their problems. This style promotes freedom to self-reliant teams and fosters trust among teams.
Delegating is most effective when team members or workforce is high in their competence and commitment levels. When they are experienced and are confident in completing a project or a task, as a leader you can delegate the decision-making responsibilities. Being aware of their skills and competence, you can give them freedom to complete the task through regular updates and involve yourself mainly to monitor their progress.
Benefits of situational leadership
- Improves individual performance motivation. Using this style allows you to evaluate everyone separately and maximise their performance output. Since you pair your style with their readiness level, you can focus on individual strengths and weaknesses instead of typecasting or putting everyone into one box.
- Better work relationships. Since you need to adopt the correct leadership style to suit the situation and a person’s performance level, you become skilled at understanding/evaluating team’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Getting things done. By adopting different styles, you will be able to successfully get the work done and can raise the performance level of others you lead or manage. Delegating may provide an experienced team member with more responsibilities and opportunities to prove him or herself.
- Employee development Participating in promoting individual skill, motivation and confidence makes them feel valued and motivated to work towards achieving better outcomes.
- Better change management. Participative and directing style keeps a beginner motivated to learn and grow. Since a leader adopts to different styles by interpreting the ways others learn the best, they are better equipped to adapt to change as and when it is introduced.
Click here for Examples of Situational Leadership
Downside of Situational Leadership
Though this particular style of leadership is flexible and allows you to customise the way you lead to everyone’s needs, it doesn’t always work and may prove disadvantageous in certain situations. It can create confusion if you constantly switch in your approach. Since situational leadership focuses mostly on short-term goals, this may prove ineffective when focusing on long-term goals or objectives, especially, when leaders have to work on goals planned in advance.
Similar is the case with repetitive tasks where flexibility nature may not always come in handy. When a leader is not skilled enough to assess the situation or abilities of their workforce, they risk making choices that may not suit a team or individual. This may be because not everyone is good to judge others’ work skills, abilities and social skills to determine their employee needs. And putting too much responsibility on someone, whose decisions aren’t always sound may prove unproductive.
What it takes to improve your situational leadership
Leaders who are fixed in their leadership approach or those who prefer sticking to one style of leadership often fail at fulfilling the needs of their team or people they lead. Whereas by adopting to situational leadership style, you can quickly adjust your managing style to meet your organisational or workplace needs. Here is what you can do to improve yours.
- Gain clarity. Take into account the abilities and readiness level of your team members when assigning tasks to achieve organisational goals or projects. Having clarity on high-task versus low-task involvement can help you set realistic expectations for your teams or employees. Allow competent and committed individuals to work independently and encourage them to participate in decision-making or problem-solving. Give them freedom to tackle tasks/projects/assignments to tackle on their own by delegating.
- Communicate persuasively. Even the competent and committed people at times would still drop to level one of their readiness when faced with a task requiring skills which they don’t possess. Developing your skills of persuasive communication allows you to present your reasons as to why they should improve their performance or work towards a solution if they aren’t committing enough. When you are good at communicating and actively listen, you can swiftly adjust your leadership approach to fill those needs.
- Being flexible helps you fix team relationships, building consensus on important issues or to improve long-term performance. Flexibility allows you to be more organised and to continuously assess team’s or individual strengths and weaknesses. Adapting in a way that is most appropriate, considering factors like maturity or development level of their teams, the organisational structure and the goals to be achieved makes everyone involved more growth focused.
- Growth mindset will allow you to improve on the directive aspect of situational leadership. When team members are inexperienced or in an organisational restructuring, give them instructions at every level to exactly how to go about achieving their goals. It is important in such situations to guide others with a future growth perspective, as the team member will eventually become independent enough to make a contribution towards growth of the organisation.
- Be receptive to new ideas. Ideas can come from team members of all levels. Encourage mature and capable team members to make routine decisions by reducing your supervision and involvement in the daily activities. Once you delegate the tasks and decide on the goals to be achieved, give them freedom on how they want to accomplish these goals. This encourages them to take more responsibility to further and develop on your vision further.
Questions for self-reflection
What is the leadership style that best suits your current workplace needs or goals?
As a leader, how flexible are you in switching your approach?
Are you more traditional or transformative or adaptive?
How good are you at assessing your team’s strengths and weaknesses at all times?
Do you use directive and coaching styles in times of change and while introducing new initiatives?
How timely do you recognise the needs of your organisation/workplace/team?
Do you see yourself as a ’do as I say’ leader or as more of a delegator that trusts in terms of the work done?
To sum up
Even though situational leadership does not work well in all circumstances, it takes openness and courage to try out different approaches and figure out which one is ideal. Most leaders stick to a particular way of doing things or whatever had worked best for them in the past. But taking your chances to try out different leadership styles of situational leadership can make you more flexible and participative in improving performance motivation of your teams in achieving your organisational goals and objectives.
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