Situational leadership

  • Directing
  • Coaching
  • Supporting
  • Delegating

Another useful leadership theory, generally identified as the situational leadership model, was first put forweard by Hersey and Blanchard (1982). The situational leadership model is still in common use today. Although most readily applicable to leadership in a corporate context, the model is also well suited to the outdoor situation when the members of the group are mostly at a similar level of development. It provides useful guidance on how a leader ought to behave depending on the maturity of the group and the circumstances surrounding the task. Successful application of the theory demands that the leader have understanding, flexibility, patience and a high level of empathy with the members of the group.

This theory is built around a four-stage process of development based upon the competence of the group members to perform the tasks at hand, and their level of commitment to those tasks. The competence to perform the tasks can generally be taught. The commitment cannot be taught but can be stimulated and supported with careful management by the leader.

Some leadership actions appropriate to the four styles are detailed in Figure 48.1 and typical needs of group members are described in Table 48.1.


  • Provide detailed instructions.
  • Give group members specific goals and objectives.
  • Check frequently to keep group members on track.
  • Enforce rules and regulations.
  • Demonstrate the steps involved in the task.


  • Present objectives in a convincing manner.
  • Motivate with praise and other rewards.
  • Reinforce and develop group members’ abilities.
  • Provide encouraging feedback on individual performance.


  • Involve group members in decisions which will affect them.
  • Make members feel free to ask questions and express concerns.
  • Help individuals to develop higher skills.
  • Listen to their concerns with real interest and without criticism.


  • Delegate broad responsibilities and leave members to handle the details.
  • Expect group members to find and correct their own errors.
  • Provide feedback on overall performance.
  • Allow risk taking and innovation.

Individual members, and the group as a whole, can be expected to move up and down the scale of development in response to perceived successes or failures along the way. Generally, competence and confidence should grow with experience but if a challenge proves too great and some failure occurs, or is thought to have occurred, the confidence will suffer and competence may diminish. Careful leadership should minimise the risk of such setbacks occurring and should work quickly to restore confidence and commitment.

Table 48.1 Typical needs of group members at each of the four levels of development (D1-D4)
D1Low competence
High commitment
Recognition and acceptance of enthusiasm. Clear goals. Rules. Timelines. Information about the task. Frequent feedbackAn enthusiastic beginner
D2Some competence
Low commitment
Clear goals. Praise for progress. Explanations. Encouragement. Chance to discuss concerns. Reassurance. Involvement in decision making.A disillusioned learner
D3 Moderate competence
Some commitment
Support and encouragement to develop skills. Praise and recognition for improving performance. An approachable mentor or coach. Opportunities to express concerns.A capable, but unsure performer
D4High competence
High commitment
Variety and challenge. Trust. Autonomy and authority. Leader who is more a colleague.A self-reliant achiever


Hersey P & Blanchard K H. 1974. So you want to know your leadership style? Training And Development Journal, 2, 1–15.

Hersey P & Blanchard K H 1982(a). Management of Organisational Behaviour: Utilizing Human Resources, 4th edn Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Hersey P & Blanchard K H 1982(b). Grid Principles and Situationalism: Both! A Response to Blake and Mouton. Group and Organizational Studies 6, 207–210.