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What Is the Situational Leadership Model?

By Bethany Keene
Updated: May 17, 2024

The situational leadership model is one of several leadership theories developed by a variety of psychologists and researchers in the late 20th century. These models are used in the business world to offer managers and other leaders advice or techniques for the best way to lead their teams, or to show managers areas where they need to improve. The situational leadership model is one of the most often referenced models, because rather than focusing on any inherent traits or skills of the leader, it is focused on the ability of the leader to assess the situation and adjust his or her leadership tactics accordingly.

According to the proponents of this theory, the ability to adjust leadership methods to each situation, or even to each employee is one of the best ways to develop an effective, productive workplace. There are a few different parameters often used with the situational leadership model, and these are related to the various skill levels of the employees. Put simply, a manager in the situational leadership model is expected to adjust his or her leadership style based on the competence of the employee as well as his or her enthusiasm for the job.

It is best to illustrate this idea with an example. To begin, a new employee might have a very low level of competence for a job, but a high level of enthusiasm and commitment to do it well. This leader will then provide a lot of specific direction to the employee to help him or her learn. An individual with a high level of competence for the job and a low level of enthusiasm, by contrast, might need leadership that is more focused on relationship building. An employee with high levels of both competence and enthusiasm might only need very limited direction and not a great deal of leadership at all.

The purpose of the situational leadership model is to benefit both the leader and the employee equally, and to allow them to both get what they need from the work relationship. There are many different, highly specific varieties of the situational leadership model for different business environments or specific task-oriented jobs, but these are the general principles. The ability of a manager to adjust his or her leadership or management style to each individual employee or situation, will help to ensure that everyone succeeds at their jobs, and feels satisfied at the end of the day.

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Discussion Comments
By latte31 — On Oct 22, 2011

@Comfyshoes - The situational leadership model does give a leader guidance regarding difficult conflicts, but I think that people with true leadership skills instinctively know what to do and how to get their employees excited about their jobs.

These people are gifted in this area and I don’t think that this form of training would help them. I think that great leaders are people that are willing to take courageous steps in improving their department and are not afraid of being slightly unpopular in the beginning in order to change things for the better.

They often are respected because of the actions that they chose which is why I don’t know if this type of situational leadership training would help these people. You really can't teach courage and I think that these people are all about courage and vision.

By comfyshoes — On Oct 22, 2011

I think that the situational leadership model can really get a new manager up to speed fast. Being exposed to potential situations along with how to handle those problems ahead of time gives the leader more confidence in dealing with potential conflicts.

I know when I first got out of college I went into an executive training program with a large department store chain, and I wished that they would have exposed us to some of these situational management techniques because I have to say that I learned by trial and error.

It was a difficult year for me because I had never managed people before and dealing with the conflicts was also very stressful for me. I learned a lot in that year, but I know that there had to be an easier way, and I think that this situational leadership model is probably the best format for training new and even experienced managers.

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