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Choosing the Appropriate Leadership Style

Leadership tools and models may come and go but there are a few ‘old faithfuls’ that hang around and still make sense when I share them with participants on our development programmes or in 1-1 coaching.

One of these is the Situational Leadership Model originally created by Hersey and Blanchard.  Most of you will be familiar with the model, which suggests that there is no single ‘best’ style of leadership. The most successful leaders are those that adapt their leadership style to the ‘maturity’ in terms of experience and skill level of the individual or group (in the particular situation in question) they are attempting to lead or influence.

A couple of key things that seem to resonate with my clients when we talk about the model are:

  1. The fact that we all have a ‘natural’ style of leadership which may or may not be appropriate given the specific situation we are looking to lead.  As an example I explain that I am not particularly good at telling people what to do (which is the appropriate leadership style to use for individuals who have no, or very little experience, in a particular task or activity).  As a result, when I was leading a team in a past life, I often ended up in a situation where I would be having a ‘coaching’ style conversation (my default / natural leadership style) with someone who didn’t have the experience or knowledge to be able to work through their thinking with me, and we’d both end up feeling a bit frustrated and ineffective.  What would have been much more effective in this situation would have been to recognise the comparative immaturity of the individual and to take a more directive / ‘tell’ approach.
  2. The assumption that, just because someone has been in the team for a while, and can have a number of activities fully delegated to them, they will automatically be able to pick up new tasks without much in the way of direction or support.  What often happens in this situation is that we move from being overly directive straight to being fully delegative in our approach, rather than using the coaching/supportive styles.  This often results in not getting back what we were hoping for, and the temptation to decide that ‘this delegation thing isn’t working’ and taking the job back to do ourselves.

The model is called ‘Situational’ for a reason so it’s important to consider the individual’s level of maturity each time we are looking for them to do something for us.  It can be useful to have an open conversation with the individual about the piece of work and jointly consider where they are on the maturity/experience scale in relation to the task and, based on that, to agree the most appropriate style of leadership.

The next time you have a task to assign to one of your team, I recommend that you pause for a moment and consider which the most appropriate style of leadership might be.  The Situational Leadership model is an oldie but goodie when it comes to providing a way of thinking this through.

Feel free to share your thoughts on other tools and models that still work for you, even though some may consider them a bit ‘old school’.


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