Situational Leadership


Adapting their style to the demands of particular situations connected to the task at hand and the current needs of their subordinates is what is expected of an effective leader operating under the situational leadership model.

Situational leadership emphasizes both a supportive and directive dimension and each has to be applied in the right proportion in a given situation. Ascertaining what is needed in a particular situation involves a leader evaluating his or her subordinates and assessing how competent and committed they are in view of performing a given task. Situational leadership also holds up to the idea of leaders changing the degree to which they are directive or supportive in order to meet the changing needs of subordinates.

Effective leaders who match their style to the competence and commitment of their subordinates, who recognise what employees need and then adapt their own style to meet those needs, are worthy of celebrating the true essence of situational leadership.

The behaviour pattern of an individual attempting to influence others is known as the leadership style. Directive (task) behaviours and supportive (relational) behaviours are its components. Directive behaviours aid group members to accomplish certain goals by giving directions, establishing goals and methods of evaluation, setting timelines, defining roles, and showing how the goals are to be achieved. Directive behaviour is often hallmarked by a one-way communication that outlines what is to be done, how it is to be accomplished and who is responsible for doing it. Helping group members feel comfortable about themselves, their coworkers and the situation is the main task of a supportive behaviour. A two-way communication and responses indicating social and emotional support to others often characterize supportive behaviours. Asking for input, problem-solving, praising, sharing information about self and listening are forms of supportive behaviour. Being mostly job related are supportive behaviours.

Leadership styles can be grouped further into four separate categories of the directive and supportive behaviours. In the high directive-low supportive or directing style, leaders adapt their communication primarily to goal achievement and spend a smaller amount of time cultivating supportive behaviours.

The high directive-high supportive or coaching style defines an approach where leaders balance their communication between goal achievement and the maintenance of their subordinates socioemotional needs. To honour the demands of this style, leaders involve themselves with the subordinates by giving encouragement and inviting in subordinates inputs. However, the final decision on the nature and modalities of goal accomplishment still rests with the leader.

The high supportive-low directive style does not tolerate exclusivity of communication on goal accomplishment but employs supportive behaviours to motivate employees to nurture their confidence around their skills and the task at hand. Listening, praising, asking for input and giving feedback are the hallmarks of this supporting style. This style enables a leader to relinquish control of day-to-day decisions to the subordinates but makes himself available to facilitate problem-solving. Giving recognition and social support to subordinates is what a supportive leader does without hesitation.

The low supportive-low directive or delegative style, calls for leaders to offer less task input and social support for boosting employees’ confidence and motivation around a task.The delegative leaders’ involvement in planning, control of details and goal clarification is lessened to a noticeable degree. They step out of the way and let their subordinates to take responsibility for getting the job done in a manner of their choosing. Relinquishing control to their subordinates, they also curtail their social support.

The developmental level of subordinates is also a crucial aspect of situational leadership. The degree to which employees have competence and commitment required to execute a given task or activity is known as developmental level. For the sake of effectiveness, it is crucial for leaders to ascertain where their subordinates stand on the developmental continuum. This will help them to match their style to the developmental level of the subordinates.

The first task of the leader is to diagnose a given situation by the following questions: what is the task expected to be accomplished by subordinates? Is the task complicated to what extent? Are subordinates sufficiently skilled to execute the job effectively? Are they motivated to complete the task once they start?

Thus, the situational leadership model tends to nurture effective leaders who are flexible with their style based on the task requirements and the subordinates’ needs. The situational leadership approach encourages leaders to become more effective by recognising that employees act differently during the execution of different tasks and even in the course of executing a single task.

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