Situational leadership is an approach to leadership based on the notion that there is no single best leadership style. Instead, an effective leader adjusts his style to fit variables of a given situation, including employees, work environment and other situational factors. It is based on several prominent leadership theories, including the Hersey and Blanchard’s situational theory and the Fiedler Contingency Model. Despite its flexibility, there are negative aspects of this approach.


A leader faces a significant amount of pressure to constantly analyze his situation before making decisions on actions. Other styles that emphasize a leader following his strengths and natural traits suggest more instinctive reactions to dilemmas. The path-goal theory, another prominent situational model, suggests that a leader must constantly consider how his actions provide immediate and long-term motivation for employees. The challenge is that the response to this question varies by situation and follower.

Maturity Misnomers

Dr. Robert Schemel, Assistant Management Professor at the Department at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, indicated that situational leadership theories falsely assess the role of employee maturity. Situational theories indicate that willingness and ability to perform are evidence of employee maturity. Situational theories suggest a manager must take a more direct, task-oriented perspective with less-mature employees. Schemel believes this is a false depiction of maturity, which he believes relates more to an employee's level of experiences and development in his role. Using this view, a manager should emphasize coaching and relational motivation with inexperienced workers.

Limited Flexibility

Ironically, the situational theories, which suggest the best leadership style is dependent on the situation, are often criticized for their rigidity. The Fiedler Model was derived from studies of leaders' level of relationship-orientation and task-orientation. In general, the Contingency Model indicated that a relational manager would fit better into a situation where coaching was needed, while a more direct, task-oriented leader would fit the bill in more time-sensitive or task-oriented cultures. His model gives little room for the ability of an effective leader to balance relationships and task and flex his individual style to suit. Instead, the Fiedler Model indicated a manager must be placed in the right situation for his specific style.

Short-Term View

Situational leadership theories emphasize the importance of adjusting leadership processes to fit the needs of followers in a given scenario. A leader who becomes overly oriented to this approach may become so focused on constant adjustments in the short term that he loses sight of the long-term implications of a leadership approach. Consistency, predictability and emotional stability are desired qualities in leaders. A situational leader may be deemed inconsistent and hard to predict by followers, which can produce a lack of trust in his direction.