When Context meets Challenge: An Approach of Situational Leadership

by Inspire Teams

Situational Leadership is a strategy that takes into account the team members and the different factors in an organization’s context. Based on the given circumstances and specific business goals at a certain moment, the leader can opt for the best approach to the emerging situation. This means the leadership style can adapt, and arguably should adapt, to the situation rather than just sticking to whatever you believe leadership is for you. 

With this model of leadership, leaders in organizations can:

  • Bring the best out of the team members;
  • Establish rapport among different levels;
  • Develop workgroups towards a common central goal of the business.

The theory for Situational Leadership comes from Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, and Ken Blanchard and Paul Hershey, authors of the model developed while working on Management of Organizational Behavior.


Goleman’s six styles within Situational Leadership

Daniel Goleman combines the elements of emotional intelligence to define six styles of leadership that can be used to adapt to specific situations. These styles are:

  • the coercive
  • the authoritative
  • the affiliative
  • the democratic
  • the pacesetting
  • the coaching


Here is a look at a glance at these styles, as explained by Goleman in his article Leadership that Gets Results, published at Harvard Business Review (click on the image to enlarge it):

“The more styles a leader has mastered, the better. In particular, being able to switch among the authoritative, affiliative, democratic, and coaching styles as conditions dictate creates the best organizational climate and optimizes business performance.”

Daniel Goleman, Leadership that Gets Results

Leadership style match

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hershey designed a model of Situational Leadership based on being purposeful in conversations, knowing how to report to people, and creating a motivating work environment. Blanchard and Hershey place great value on the use of a common language throughout the organization.

The steps devised by the authors for leaders to best adapt their skills to each specific context are:

  1.   Setting SMART goals;
  2.   Diagnosing the context (by collaboratively assessing individual competence and commitment, to identify which of the four development levels correspond to the situation. Check this video to learn more about these levels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjiO8wiUIXM);
  3.   Defining the leadership style match (either delegating, supporting, coaching or directing).


The chart below relates each development level to each the leadership style, according to the Situational Leadership framework designed by Blanchard and Hershey (image via Wikimedia Commons):

What is the purpose of Situational Leadership?

The main purpose of Situational Leadership is to develop open communication among members of an organization. This conversation should develop self-reliance, increase commitment and in the long run help members improve in their performance while feeling motivated to work towards an organization’s overall goal.

The steps of diagnosing the situation and applying the best match of leadership style should result in members becoming self-motivated and self-directed. This means team members would be able to reach their highest level of performance on a specific goal or task, through the guidance of the leader.

Can we create soulful workplaces – schools, hospitals, businesses, and nonprofits – where our talents can blossom and our callings can be honored?

Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations

To learn more about leadership skills, approaches and methods, check our previous articles:


For exercises to open up communication with your team, download our worksheet Empowering Teams.

We encourage you to understand that leadership is more than a fixed set of skills. Therefore, we are writing about several leadership related theories, approaches and techniques that may be useful to you.

Our leadership topics are a free selection by us of authors and streams of theory, without having any commercial or affiliate biases. Hopefully, our articles will inspire you to check out new stuff, or re-visit and value some of the interventions you may have already implemented.

If you are looking for workshops and training to help your team succeed in working together, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Book a free call with us, let’s talk about how to take your team to the next level.



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