Organizational Wellness

What You Need to Know About the Situational Leadership Model

Jul 13, 2023
Last Updated Jul 13, 2023

Leaders who can successfully navigate through change are invaluable in the workplace. Whether it's adapting to new work environments, developing employees, or meeting business goals, a customizable leadership style is essential. Leaders who can adjust their skills to changing circumstances will thrive in any industry and weather any challenges. 

Situational leadership has become a favored approach for many HR managers. This adaptable style not only nurtures an inclusive and supportive culture but also empowers employees to achieve their best. When employees are motivated and engaged, they can generate better results for the entire organization.

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What is Situational Leadership?

At its core, situational leadership posits that no single "best" leadership style exists. Instead, effective leaders must adapt their approach based on the needs of their team members and a given situation. The concept of situational leadership hinges on the belief that people have varying levels of competence and commitment depending on the task.

Situational leadership theory was developed by Dr. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the late 1960s. Dr. Hersey was a renowned author, educator, and management consultant, while Ken Blanchard is a prominent leadership expert, speaker, and author best known for co-authoring "The One Minute Manager." The two experts collaborated to create this groundbreaking leadership model, a cornerstone of modern management theory.

The Four Styles of Situational Leadership

There are four primary leadership styles in situational leadership theory. It begins with close supervision and gradually matures to a hands-off approach. Over time, as employees become more self-reliant and skilled, leaders adapt their style to match the evolving needs of their team members, ensuring continued growth and progress.


The directing situational leadership style, (also known as S1), is characterized by high levels of directive behavior and low levels of supportive behavior. Leaders employing this style take charge by providing clear instructions, setting specific goals, and closely supervising their subordinates to ensure tasks are completed correctly and efficiently.

This leadership approach is most effective when the employees have low competence and low commitment. In other words, it is particularly effective when working with inexperienced or new employees who require significant guidance, direction, and structure to navigate their responsibilities. As these team members gradually develop their skills and gain confidence, the leader can transition to other styles that offer more autonomy and support.

For example, let's say your company has a new employee, Jane, who joins your software development team. She is a self-motivated and enthusiastic beginner but has limited experience with the programming languages and tools used by the company. The team leader, Mark, adopts the directing style by providing Jane with clear instructions for her tasks, step-by-step guidance for using the tools, and closely supervising her work. Mark sets specific goals for Jane to achieve and ensures she has access to resources and training materials to help her learn the necessary skills.


The coaching situational leadership style, (also referred to as S2), combines high levels of directive and supportive behavior. In this approach, leaders continue to provide guidance and direction but also strongly emphasize encouragement, feedback, and fostering two-way communication.

This style is particularly beneficial for employees who have gained experience and knowledge but still need assistance and structure to further build their confidence and competence.

In our real-world example, Jane has gained some knowledge of the programming languages and tools after several months but still requires support to complete more complex tasks. Mark transitions to a coaching style, continuing to provide direction while engaging in two-way communication with Jane. He encourages her to ask questions, offers constructive feedback, and collaborates on problem-solving to further develop her skills and confidence.


The supporting situational leadership style, (commonly known as S3), is characterized by high levels of supportive behavior and low levels of directive behavior. It is most suitable when direct reports have moderate to high competence but low commitment. This means it is most effective for employees who possess the necessary skills to perform their duties but may lack the motivation or confidence to work independently.

In this situational approach, leaders focus primarily on collaboration, encouragement, and shared decision-making. This allows their team members to take the lead in executing tasks while remaining available for guidance when needed.

For example, as Jane becomes more proficient in her role, Mark adopts the supporting leadership style. He reduces the amount of direct instruction, allowing Jane to take the lead in executing tasks while still being available for guidance when needed. Mark sets up a meeting cadence to encourage questions and provide support but gives Jane the space to grow in confidence and competence.


The delegating situational leadership style, (also known as S4), is characterized by low directive and supportive behavior levels. In this approach, leaders entrust their team members with the responsibility of managing tasks independently, providing minimal supervision and intervention. This style is most effective for highly competent and motivated employees who can fully own their work and make sound decisions.

By adopting a delegating leadership style, leaders can foster a sense of autonomy and accountability within their team. In Jane's case, she eventually becomes an expert in her role, demonstrating high levels of skill, motivation, and the ability to work independently. Mark shifts to a delegating style accordingly, entrusting Jane with the responsibility of managing her tasks autonomously and making decisions with hardly any supervision. He remains available to support her if needed, but they no longer communicate about decisions or challenges as frequently.

Ideal Qualities of a Situational Leader

A situational leader possesses an array of qualities that enable them to navigate varying circumstances and adapt to best support their team members. These include:

  • Flexibility: Allows the leader to adjust their style and strategies based on their team's evolving needs, skills, and motivation levels.
  • Active listener: Genuinely understands and pays close attention to what others are saying so they can empathetically respond to their team members' concerns, ideas, and feedback.
  • A source of clarity: Provides their team with a well-defined vision and set of goals, ensuring everyone is aligned and working towards common objectives.
  • Inspires proactivity: Motivational skills help empower their team members to take the initiative, embrace challenges, and strive for continuous improvement.
  • Coaching skills: Offers constructive feedback, shares knowledge, and collaborates on problem-solving to help team members build confidence, competence, and autonomy.

Implementing Leadership that Fosters Wellbeing

It's no secret that leadership can dramatically impact a team’s professional and personal lives, including their health and wellbeing. And just like leadership styles, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to improving work-life wellness.

Companies have a variety of options to support workplace wellbeing. From nutrition counseling and personal trainers to professional development opportunities and training seminars, today's wellness initiatives are as unique as the leadership style you embrace.

Adding a customizable wellness program to your company benefits allows employees to lead their own health and fitness journey. This investment comes right back around: 90% of companies that measure their wellness program’s return see a positive ROI.

Want to help your employees take charge of their wellness?Speak with a Wellhub wellbeing specialist today!





Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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