Situational Leadership Pro & Cons

  Reviewed by: Jayne Thompson, LLB, LLM
  Written by: Annie Sisk      Updated November 28, 2018
Businesswoman gesturing, leading conference presentation

Situational leadership is a style of management developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969 and enhanced and perfected in the decades since then. It is based primarily on adapting to the immediate situation by considering on how hard the task at hand is, and the maturity of the worker performing the task. Successful implementation of situational leadership requires a willingness on the manager's part to remain flexible in each situation and with each employee. It works especially well in environments where the staff often changes. Since managers adapt to each individual and each situation, changing or adding staff members doesn't affect the others.

Pro: Works with Four Leadership Styles

Managers who adopt this model of leadership can express one of four different leadership styles:

  1. Telling/directing

ordering workers to complete specific tasks in certain ways, especially effective in emergencies or when doing repetitive tasks.
2. Selling/coaching 

–

  a more interactive coaching process where managers "sell" their approach to the employees and get them to "buy in" and agree.

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  1. Participating/coaching 

     after coaching, the manager gives more weight to the employee’s input, even leaving the final decisions up to the employee.
    4. Delegating/observing 

    – the manager allows the employee to decide how to approach each task, typically only getting involved when employees ask for help or the manager's opinion.

Recognizing that there are different circumstances or situations a manager might encounter that call for using one style over the others, each of these styles uses a decreasing level of direction from the manager.

Pro: Manager Can Vary Styles

Situational leaders can move fluidly from one style to another, based on the situation, the nature of the task to be performed and the maturity of the employee. The employee’s maturity refers to two different factors. First is the actual physiological or emotional maturity of the individual. Equally important, however, is the maturity level of the job or position. For example, someone who has been on the job for several years has more experience in the job than a new hire. Similarly, a level 2 in any job would have more advanced skills than a level 1 in that same job.

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Pro: A Simple and Intuitive Method

Situational leadership is both simple to understand and somewhat intuitive to most managers. Most managers instinctively know that they need to adjust their response to the situation at hand. Situational leadership puts the relationship between the manager and the employee at its center. Emphasizing this connection helps the employee feel valued and generally leads to a better working experience for both parties.

Con: Difficult for Some Types of Managers

Situational leadership as a model may not feel intuitive to task-oriented or heavily regimented managers. These individuals may struggle to remain flexible and adapt to situations that could benefit from more listening and less “telling.” Rigidly insisting on a specific set of rules and procedures can be demoralizing to a workforce, and can dissuade employees from coming forward with important information about the company and their work.

Con: Shifts Attention from Long-Term Goals

Additionally, this type of flexible approach to management can create too much emphasis on immediate needs, and thus shift attention away from more long-term goals and objectives. If managers are primarily evaluating and responding to specific and immediate situations, they may find it harder to shift gears and think about future company plans and needs.

Con: Maturity is Hard to Define

Some critics of situational leadership point to the difficulty in defining and quantifying maturity. In the Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model, maturity refers both to emotional maturity and job maturity which can sometimes result in a conflation between the two. In other words, a manager may assume an emotionally mature worker is likewise adept at taking responsibility for specific job duties, which may not be the case.

About the Author

Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She holds a B.A. in Speech from Catawba College and a J.D. from USC. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the business, management and legal fields.

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