Early out of college, I found myself working at a company that struggled to determine what someone could handle and what they couldn’t handle.

I once asked one of my top performers to complete a task they had never done before. Since I had been able to quickly brief them on what was needed on previous projects and they would knock it out of the park, I did the same with this task. I left for the day, but when I got in the next morning, the situation was a mess. Hardly anything was completed, and that which was “completed” was mostly wrong.

At that moment, my boss/mentor showed up, and the conversation did not go well. He asked what I could have done differently, and I told him that I could have done it myself and not bothered delegating. That’s when the conversation took a turn, and my boss explained that if that was the case, I wasn’t performing the way they hired me to and they might need to reevaluate.

As the knot in my stomach grew, he smiled at me and related that when he was my age, his boss had the same conversation with him for an almost identical mistake. He then introduced me to the works of Ken Blanchard and talked about how if I had partnered with the employee to understand where he felt his ability with the task was and had asked what he needed from me, this issue may have never occurred. In addition, I couldn’t approach each employee the same way – I had to always adapt and improve with them. This is where I learned about Situational Leadership.

What exactly is Situational Leadership?

The main concept of Situational Leadership can be summed up in the following quote from Ken Blanchard: “To bring out the best in others, leadership must match the development level of the person being led.”

This approach to leadership involves you working together with your employee to identify where they are at in their development, what can be delegated to them, and what type of support they need from you (or others) to succeed.

Picture this – if you were a painter who was depicting Situational Leadership and individual growth as a mural, you would keep two things in mind as you began your painting: 1) Don’t create the masterpiece by yourself – work with the individual to create a collaborative masterpiece, and 2) Just because they are all people you are painting doesn’t mean they all react the same to your style… as some people say, “different strokes for different folks.”

How does Situational Leadership work?

While circumstances may vary, the key is that it is task-focused and situation-based. The focus is on what the employee’s development level is individually, not collectively.

Development level is made up of commitment (our belief in ourselves, NOT DESIRE) and competence (abilities, NOT INTELLIGENCE) levels are, and what leadership style matches to it. The breakdown of development levels and their corresponding leadership style that best suits them.

As you go through development, you start from the most fundamental (Directing) and systematically progress until you reach Delegating style. You don’t skip a style, and if issues arise you go backwards systematically. The key as a manager is to be flexible and adapt to the individual circumstance, task and most importantly the person.

What is the benefit?

In my experience, the approach of Situational Leadership, while not perfect, has allowed me to understand not just the needs of the employees I am fortunate to work with, but more importantly the requirements I have as a leader to enable me to meet those needs.

Looking back, we tend to see all the changes we wish we could make when often it was one root cause that catapulted all the other issues. For me, the single change that would have stopped the situation would have been simply this: talking with my team with regards to the tasks they were assigned. The Situational Leadership model will allow you to effectively drive a change of behavior among your team, in addition to teaching you how to accurately interpret and effectively respond to your changing environment.

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