Team Leadership Toolkit

Leadership Styles

Situational Leadership

The models by Tannenbaum & Schmidt, Blake & Mouton, and Likert concentrate on the leaders personal style and place little emphasis on the situation that the leader is operating in. Their models can almost be read as saying that an autocratic style is always wrong, whereas in some circumstances (e.g. when the Titanic is sinking) it might be quite appropriate and desirable.

Bill Reddin was one of the first to focus on this and developed his 3D leadership model to describe it introducing the idea of "Style Flex" as a leaders ability to change style to suit the situation.

This work was developed further by Hersey and Blanchard. Their theory of situational leadership is based on the view that there is no single all-purpose leadership style. Successful leaders are those who adapt their behaviour to the specific needs of the situation.

Leadership style is seen as a combination of directive (task) and supportive (relationship) behaviour.

Directive Behaviour

Clearly telling people what do, how to do it, where and when and closely supervising their performance.

Supportive Behaviour

Listening, providing support and encouragement and facilitating involvement.

Leadership Behaviour

Blanchard and Hersey characterised leadership style in terms of the amount of direction and of support that the leader gives to his or her followers, and so created a simple grid:

Directing Leaders

define the roles and tasks of the 'follower', and supervise them closely.  Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way.

Coaching Leaders

still define roles and tasks, but seeks ideas and suggestions from the follower.  Decisions remain the leader's prerogative, but communication is much more two-way.

Supporting Leaders

pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower.  The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the follower.

Delegating Leaders

are still involved in decisions and problem-solving, but control is with the follower.  The follower decides when and how the leader will be involved.

Effective leaders are versatile in being able to move around the grid according to the situation, so there is no one right style.  However, we tend to have a preferred style, and in applying Situational Leadership you need to know which one that is for you.

Development Level

Clearly the right leadership style will depend very much on the person being led - the follower - and Blanchard and Hersey extended their model to include the Development Level of the follower.  They said that the leader's style should be driven by the Competence and Commitment of the follower, and came up with four levels:

(D4)    High Competence - High Commitment

Experienced at the job, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well.  May even be more skilled than the leader.

(D3)    High Competence - Variable Commitment

Experienced and capable, but may lack the confidence to go it alone, or the motivation to do it well / quickly 

(D2)    Some Competence - Low Commitment

May have some relevant skills, but won't be able to do the job without help.  The task or the situation may be new to them.

(D1)    Low Competence - Low Commitment

Generally lacking the specific skills required for the job in hand, and lacks any confidence and / or motivation to tackle it.

Development Levels are also situational.  I might be generally skilled, confident and motivated in my job, but would still drop into Level D1 when faced, say, with a task requiring skills I don't possess.  For example, lots of managers are D4 when dealing with the day-to-day running of their department, but move to D1 or D2 when dealing with a sensitive employee issue.

Situational Leadership

You can see where this is going.  Blanchard and Hersey said that the Leadership Style (S1 - S4) of the leader should  correspond to the Development level (D1 - D4) of the follower - and it's the leader who adapts. 

For example, a new person joins your team and you're asked to help them through the first few days.  You sit them in front of a PC, show them a pile of invoices that need to be processed today, and push off to a meeting.  They're at level D1, and you've adopted S4.  Everyone loses because the new person feels helpless and demotivated, and you don't get the invoices processed.

On the other hand, you're handing over to an experienced colleague before you leave for a holiday.  You've listed all the tasks that need to be done, and a set of instructions on how to carry out each one.  They're at level D4, and you've adopted S1.  The work will probably get done, but not the way you expected, and your colleague despises you for treating him like an idiot.

But swap the situations and things get better.  Leave detailed instructions and a checklist for the new person, and they'll thank you for it.  Give your colleague a quick chat and a few notes before you go on holiday, and everything will be fine.

By adopting the right style to suit the follower's development level, work gets done, relationships are built up, and most importantly, the follower's development level will rise to D4, to everyone's benefit. These are summarised in the following table.