A Guide to 4 Leadership Styles of Situational Leadership

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Situational leadership involves leading followers based on their experience, commitment and motivation levels. This leadership method is highly flexible as it approaches each individual based on their strengths and weaknesses. To excel as a situational manager, it's important to know the different styles of situational leadership. In this article, we outline the four styles of situational leadership, list the advantages and disadvantages of this method and share important qualities for situational leaders.

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What are the 4 leadership styles of situational leadership?

Here are the four leadership styles of situational leadership:

1. Telling style of situational leadership

The first style of leadership of situational managers is telling. Also called directing or guiding, this style involves the leader providing a high level of guidance to an employee before they can complete tasks. Telling is the lowest level of situational leadership because it's used for managing people with low competence and insecurity about their ability to complete tasks, follow instructions or stay committed and motivated on the job. Because of the huge commitment required of the leader, the telling style is heavily leader-driven.

The leader's goal is to provide clear instructions for the follower and check their work regularly to provide corrections and positive feedback. To improve the results of this style of leadership, encourage followers rather than reprimand them for mistakes. Your goal is to improve their proficiency and motivation levels to where they require less instruction and supervision to achieve optimal performance. This style is suitable for new team members who lack the skill and experience to complete tasks, and have a low confidence in their abilities to perform duties without the active direction of the leader.

2. Coaching style of situational leadership

The coaching leadership style is another leader-driven method. Also called selling or explaining, it's ideal for people who have achieved some level of competence, confidence and motivation to perform duties on their own. In this stage, the leader isn't guiding the team member throughout their duties, but is focusing more on building a relationship. Rather than telling the employee how to perform tasks, the leader coaches them to improve their proficiency, confidence level and commitment to the job functions.

Here, the leader gives constructive feedback and provides coaching or mentorship to help the employee improve their competence and confidence. The focus is to make suggestions and provide encouragement so that the employee becomes more independent and can deliver quality work with less commitment from the leader.

3. Participating style of situational leadership

Unlike the first two leadership styles, the participating or collaborating style of situational leadership is employee-driven. The style is ideal for competent employees who are still afraid of performing tasks without supervision. Here, the employee has developed a high level of proficiency to complete tasks qualitatively, but the leader still provides support to help them maintain their commitment and motivation towards the job.

At this level, the leader doesn't provide detailed instructions or supervision, but they focus on building a relationship with the employee so they can become more committed. To enhance results with this style of leadership, encourage employees to ask for feedback that can help boost their confidence and improve their performance and ability to solve problems on their own.

Related: 10 Leadership Role Examples (With Functions of Leadership)

4. Delegating style of situational leadership

Delegating or monitoring style of situational leadership is ideal for highly independent employees who have both the competence and confidence to complete tasks on their own. At this level, the manager doesn't provide instructions, as the employee is already self-sufficient in achieving high-level performance. The manager assigns tasks, and the employee completes them. The only duty of the leader is to monitor the output of the employee and provide guidance upon request.

This leadership style is suitable for experienced, confident and highly motivated employees who know what to do and how to do it. They can take initiative when they encounter problems while performing tasks. The delegation style is also follower-driven and doesn't require the employee to have a strong relationship with the manager. To improve results, give such employees the freedom to be creative and take responsibility since they've proven they can deliver exceptional results without the manager's input.

Related: 10 Types of Leadership Styles

Advantages of situational leadership

Here are some advantages of situational leadership:

Focuses on developing team members

One important advantage of situational leadership is that it focuses on developing team members based on their strengths and weaknesses. Each of the four styles focuses on developing the employees' competence, confidence, commitment and motivation. This makes these management styles ideal for transforming inexperienced team members into valuable employees who trust in their ability to contribute meaningfully to projects with minimal supervision from the leader.

Boosts productivity

The situational leadership styles focus on boosting productivity regardless of employees' level of experience and motivation to do their jobs. This makes it ideal for work environments where teams are required to meet strict deadlines. Using these management styles can help leaders meet up with productivity targets even when some employees lack the competence, motivation and confidence to perform at the highest level.

Provides flexibility

The contingency-based approach of situational leadership allows the leader to align their management tactics to each employee's level. This provides a high level of flexibility and allows inexperienced followers to grow at their own pace while giving more freedom to competent team members. That way, the manager can leverage their time and effort to ensure that the team completes their tasks effectively while also supporting each other to achieve higher performance and productivity.

Related: What's Empathy in Leadership? (Plus Importance and Steps)

Disadvantages of situational leadership

Here are some drawbacks to situational leadership styles:

Highly demanding of leaders

One major drawback of situational leadership is that it's highly demanding of managers. This is because it places a lot of responsibility on the leader, especially choosing which style to use for what employee. The constant requirement for adaptability can make it stressful. To reduce the burden of managing people with the situational leadership style, it's important to know the individual strengths and weaknesses of each team member as this can help you determine the most appropriate way to manage them consistently.

Related: What Is a Micromanager? (With Advantages and Disadvantages)

Short-term focus

Another disadvantage of situational leadership is that it requires changing the management style every time you encounter a new situation or employee, which isn't ideal for long-term planning. To avoid confusing your team, you can discuss changes in the leadership style with them before implementation. You can also ask for their suggestions so that everybody knows what to expect.

Source of confusion

The constant changes to the management style can be a source of confusion for employees. This is because an inexperienced team member that relied on your full commitment this week may lose confidence if you delegate a task to them next week. To prevent confusion, ensure that employees have gained enough competence and confidence to perform duties before changing how you manage them.

Important traits of situational leaders

Here are important qualities that can make you a successful situational leader:

Flexibility

The most important quality of situational leaders is flexibility. This leadership model requires you to know your teammates individually and adjust your management technique to leverage their strengths and minimise their weaknesses. Being adaptable can help you switch easily from one management style to another based on the specific requirements of each employee, allowing the group to achieve maximum productivity.

Mentorship

To be an effective situational leader, it's important to know how to coach and mentor your team. Regardless of your team members' level of experience, motivation and commitment, a situational leader provides encouragement, guidance and support to the employees. Doing this is an effective way to transform inexperienced and incompetent employees into confident and highly motivated team players who believe they can deliver high-level results with minimal supervision.

Related: What Is the Leadership Process and Why Is It Important?

Problem-solving

The best situational leaders are adept at solving problems. This is important because a recurring problem such managers face is how to choose leadership styles for situations or employees. Knowing how to analyse the specific requirements of tasks and individuals and make the right choice can help your team achieve a high level of success.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Trust

Using the situational leadership method requires being trustworthy. Before you can increase the confidence and competence of inexperienced or unmotivated employees, it's important to first gain their trust and build a relationship. When they trust you, employees may take initiative and become more independent because they know you're not going to reprimand them harshly, even if the results are below average.

Related: Pros and Cons of 10 Common Management Styles (With Examples)

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