This model states that in the modern world, a leader cannot just rely on one management style to fit all situations. Mangers and leaders must be flexible in their leadership styles , in order to get the best out of their teams and individuals.
The situational leadership theory argues that for leaders to be truly successful, they must adjust the way they lead their teams, to suit two factors:
The Situational leadership model represents four quadrants. Each quadrant denotes a different leadership style.
The diagram can be seen below:
The different leadership styles in situational leadership theory, range from S1 to S4 and vary in the level of leadership involvement direction involved.
This level of direction and control and ultimately, the correct leadership style to use, is understood by mapping the ‘Development Level’ (D1 to D4) of the team or individuals against one of the quadrants.
In other words, by asking, how competent the team/individual is at completing the task at hand, one can gauge a level from D1 to D4 in maturity. This then allows the leader to pick the correct style to suit the team / individual’s competency levels, by matching the appropriate leadership style to their development levels.
Looking at the diagram:
D1 task maturity is mapped to S1 leadership style
D2 task maturity is mapped to S2 leadership style
D3 task maturity is mapped to S3 leadership style
D4 task maturity is mapped to S4 leadership style
(S1) Telling: Normally at this level of maturity, the individuals or team do not have much task knowledge. They are yet to learn the skills needed to be proficient and so they need clear direction and guidance. As a result, the necessity is to be told how to do something and what to do. To this end, the style reflects much of an autocratic behaviour .
(S2) Selling : This is the next step up in the development cycle and although the leadership style is slightly less autocratic, it still requires a good degree of direction from the leader, whereby he/she now begins to explain ideas and the reasons for such. This approach helps the individual / team to start to develop their skills and reasoning. With this style, leaders begin to sell their message to influence and develop the team.
(S3) Participating: At this level of development, the leader adjusts their style to reflect a more democratic stance and focuses further on relationships and less on task direction. He/ She allows the team(s) to create their goals but works with them to do this.
The main aim here is to develop the team further to take action and to think more autonomously, releasing the leash, if you like, and giving them greater scope for self-leadership.
(S4) Delegating: At this point in the cycle, the team are now competent. Their levels of development are high with the task at hand, and the leadership style reflects a hands-off approach. The manager now delegates goal creation and decision making to the team and as such, they competently get on with the task; setting goals, creating plans and executing them autonomously. The leader is normally kept abreast through regular updates.
The whole idea of situational leadership is to be able to flex your style to suit the task and the individual’s needs. This is based on tasks, so an person can easily be a D1 on one task and a D4 level on another. This person then should be managed differently, depending o ntheir task competency.
Knowing what level of competency each individual is at, is the key to the effective use of this model. Once understood, the leader has a good blue print to be able to use to constantly flex their style to suit the situation and the individual’s / team’s growth.
Your task as an effective manager is to keep developing your team through the cycle, so if an individual is at S4 (delegation level) for a specific task, try to add an additional level of responsibility and complexity, so they start back at S1, working with and leading them through levels 1-4 again.
This pattern is a continuous loop, and enacted correctly, the leader can develop empowered, energised and highly skilled teams.
For more information on how and when to adjust your leadership styles, you can read our Ebook, How to be an Effective Leader . It is designed to help you learn more about the concept, and will help you become an effective leader in its use. ‘How to be an Effective Leader’ is packed with:
Growth and productivity effectively have a symbiotic relationship with good leadership. To get the best out of a team, the situational leadership theory suggests that a leader must understand to manage people effectively with reference the tasks they are set and their level of competency.
It would be suicide to introduce a novice and let them get on with a highly complicated task that requires years of training to become competent in. This person would soon become unhappy, stressed and demotivated. That is before he/she walks out!
So too, it is of just as much detriment to productivity and morale if a team member is so competent at a task that they can easily do it quickly, efficiently and competently, but they are still being micro-managed. This scenario will lead to feelings from the individual of being stifled in development, not trusted and even anger at the supervisor for being a bad manager.
It is clear that flexibility is critical for effective leadership to take place. As with the definition of leadership , the critical thing to do is to lead and manage individuals effectively so they can work in harmony with the team and achieve the objectives set.
The task of the manager therefore, is to:
1. Recognise the different leadership styles available in situational leadership theory
2. Be bold enough to adjust your style appropriately to match the individual’s needs
3. Learn from your mistakes and develop as a leader – Practice makes perfect.
If you can master becoming a flexible leader using the principles from situational leadership theory, then your team can develop and improve and so too your team(s) outputs and goals.