situational leadership

Could Situational Leadership Help you Adapt your Leadership Style More Effectively?

At the time of writing this post, many of us around the world are in lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus. I had planned this post prior to then, however the content is even more relevant in the current environment when many leaders have teams working entirely from home.

Most of us have experienced a work situation where we feel micro-managed. If we’re experienced and skilled in a particular area, and a manager insists on looking over our shoulder the whole time or giving specific step by step instructions for exactly how to do a task, it’s going to become disempowering, fast. Or alternatively, we’ve experienced situations where we’ve just been thrown in at the deep end and expected to be successful at something that we have never done before.

The reality is that different people need different leadership approaches depending on the familiarity and experience with the task or situation they are in.

Being able to adapt your leadership style is less about having different leadership styles for different employees. It’s more about looking at the situation or the project at hand and ascertaining how much guidance and support an employee needs. Micro-managing isn’t always the wrong approach. The most impressive and skilled doctor might need a bit of hand-holding if they had to fill out your average budget report, for example. It’s all about your assurance level and background. In this situation, it would be the perfect leadership style to be more hands-on until they have built up some confidence with a new task.

The Competence/Commitment Scale

A great resource that can be useful for navigating this is the Situational Leadership model. It looks at the various couplings of commitment and competence. The model describes the four kinds of leadership that may be needed for a specific situation.

Situational leadership

These are:

Directing: The employee is low competence but has a high desire to learn. With specific guidance, including an understanding of what ‘good’ looks like, they will learn quickly and improve their competence levels.

Coaching: An employee who may have low confidence or feel disengaged will need more praise or help in understanding why what they are doing is important. Without it, they will remain low commitment and low competence.

Supporting: This person is capable and skilled, but often cautious or shows variable commitment. This means that you need to provide an environment where they can test ideas and problem-solve.

Delegating: Team members with high commitment and strong skills are called self-reliant achievers by the model. They thrive on variety and challenge and need to be given trust and autonomy over their work.

How Do I Know I’m Doing it Right?

Here’s where you need to really know the people in your teams. Once you know how they react, using tools such as Emergentics®, you can then flag if you aren’t getting the results that you would expect. For example, if a creative or curious team member is doing the equivalent of phoning it in. It could be that you are providing too much direction and not giving them the autonomy they need. In contrast, if someone isn’t delivering well or is asking for more help than you would expect, they could need some support or coaching in this specific situation. Or they might need something taken off their plate so they can focus on the important task at hand.

As a leader, don’t be afraid to have these conversations, asking questions such as “Have you done this before?” or “What support do you need from me to make this happen?” This is how you’re going to get the best out of your teams and grow and support them without simply telling them what to do.

3 Tips for Creating Self-Aware Leadership Styles

Check-in often: Schedule regular one to one’s with the team so that you can understand personal preferences, what elements of the job are exciting for them and how to help them do more of what they love. And what areas might they need a bit more support with?

Align expectations: It’s easy to have something lost in translation when you give over a task. What’s clear in your own head might not translate as you imagined. Make sure you’re on the same page at the start of a project.

Create a safe space for feedback: Ask for feedback, and take it on board. Doing this as a role model encourages feedback to be culturally commonplace so that your workplace is a natural space for these conversations.

If you’re looking for more tools for delegating effectively, having the right conversations with teams, using situational leadership to your advantage, or understanding what’s holding your teams back – get in touch. You can contact me on 07980 838945 or email me at

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