What is Situational Leadership?

Situational Leadership definition

Situational leadership is a leadership theory underlined by the belief that there is no one most effective, and that the best leaders adapt their leadership style to suit the task, people or project at hand.

It was developed by Professor Paul Hersey and guru Ken Blanchard in the 1970s, originally conceived as the ‘life cycle theory of leadership.’

At the core of the theory are the four types of interchangeable leadership styles, as conceived by Blanchard and Hersey.

  • S1: Telling – an authoritative, direct style where the leader communicates in a one-way capacity exactly what everyone’s roles are and what they need to do
  • S2: Selling – similar to Telling, except the leader offers support and guidance to allow participants to buy into the process
  • S3: Participating – a social style whereby the leader provides less behavioural guidance and instead focuses on shared decision-making
  • S4: Delegating – the leader’s role is to participate and monitor – the main responsibilities have been passed onto others.

The theory also provides reference for the maturity levels of the audience being led:

  • M1 – they lack the skills needed for the task and can’t or won’t take responsibility for the task
  • M2 – enthusiastic rookies – they’re willing to work at the task but lack the skills to do so
  • M3 – their skills are there but lack confidence or willingness to take responsibility for the task
  • M4 – they have the skills and experience to perform the task well, and are confident and willing to take responsibility for the task’s results