What is Situational Leadership?

Situational Leadership Theory was proposed by behavioral scientists Dr. Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard. In 1969, this initial concept appeared in the “Life cycle theory of leadership”. In the mid-1970s, the “Life cycle theory of leadership” was renamed Situational Leadership Theory. It intended that the leader’s leadership style should adapt to the maturity of the subordinates. When the subordinates gradually mature, the leader shall use the appropriate leadership style according to the subordinates’ maturity to achieve higher team performance and success.

The definition of “coaching” in the past is very different from today. We revised some wording in this theory based on the description of international coaching organizations and common corporate usage.

Four Models of Situational Leadership

S1. Telling

Leaders in the first situation are in “high-order and low-support” behaviors. They are willing to give orders to subordinates, stipulate their work and practices, drill movement by numbers, and provide very little support.

S2. Strict Mentoring (by HR Journey)

Original:Coaching by Dr. Paul Hersey

Leaders in the second situation are in “high-command and high-support behaviors”, that is, issuing many orders to subordinates and strictly controlling them. On the other hand, they provide a high degree of support. They can listen to subordinates’ opinions and encourage them to act consciously, just like a “Strict Mentor” (Dr. Hersey wrote “coach”). The steps are rigorous, and good behavior will get praise and more support.

HR Journey:

From the current definition of workplace coaching, the coaching type mentioned by Dr. Hesse back then is our standard “strict supervisor” + “workplace mentor”, not a workplace coach.

S3. Coaching(by HR Journey)

Original:Supporting by Dr. Paul Hersey

The leader in the third situation is “high-support, low-command” behavior; that is, the problem raised by the leader and the decision-making is the team member’s responsibility. The leader asks questions, and the subordinates make the decision and let the subordinates understand the rules and regulations of execution. If there is a problem with the subordinate’s decision, the leader can take another way to reflect it to the subordinates for further thinking and work out a better solution.

HR Journey:

Dr. Hersey’s supporting leadership is very close to today’s coaching leadership. See the description and links below.

Definition of Coaching from ICF (International Coach Federation) :

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

S4. Delegating

Leader in the last situation is “low-command and low-support” behavior, that is, the leader has a high degree of trust and decentralization to subordinates, and only gives orders to subordinates without any regulations, does not mention their goals and methods, or even raises questions, and let the subordinates take care of themselves to complete the task.

situational leadership revised 2022 by HR Journey

Sincere appreciation to readers, Stewart and CH, informed us of some errors in the image. Phase S1 should have a high Directive style, and S4 should have a low Directive style.

How to lead and manage by corresponding to the status of the team members?

To R1 (Low Development Level)- Telling

Followers are unable and unwilling to perform the task. Low capability-have willingness-or upset, mostly are newcomers;

  • When newcomers join your team, they are usually very motivated and want to do everything, but they are not confident to do well because there are too many things to learn, so they need to be taught by others;
  • The leaders make detailed instructions on the work’s “Why”, “When”, “Where”, “How” and SOP of the work.
  • To ensure that the newcomers can follow the standards as much as possible. Reduce the error to the lowest point. ;
  • Leadership behavior: inform, guide, instruct, establish.

To R2 (Low – Mid Development Level)- Strict Mentoring(By HR Journey)

Followers are unable but willing to perform the task. Low capability-have willingness or confidence,joined the company within 3 months;

  • This stage usually refers to employees who have joined the company within 3 months. As they gain a deeper understanding of the job, they are no longer as nervous as they first entered the job. They gradually gain confidence and hope that their supervisors will explain more things. They start to execute tasks, but at this moment, there may be a slight lack of workability;
  • Therefore, Strict Mentoring leadership is needed at this stage. Since the leader will still give clear commands and guidance at this stage, it is more important to explain the reasons and try to get the employees a sense of recognition in their hearts.
  • Leadership behavior: selling, explaining, clarifying, persuading;

To R3 (Mid-High Development Level)- Coaching(By HR Journey)

Followers are able but unwilling to perform the task. Have capability-low willingness-or uneasy, unstable, joined the company within 6 months;

  • At this stage, the employees are skillful and gradually have a deeper understanding of the company’s culture and system; they will also express their own opinions and opinions on the work;
  • Since both leaders and employees will put forward opinions and suggestions on work, the primary role of the leader is to assist and encourage employees to participate in tasks or decision-making;
  • Leadership behavior: participation, encouragement, cooperation, commitment;

To R4(High Development Level)- Delegating

Followers are able and willing to perform the task. High capability-have willingness and confidence,a benchmark for outstanding team members;

  • Such employees are excellent employees of the company, with good working attitude, high satisfaction, and can be independent;
  • Therefore, at this moment, the leader’s decision-making or task execution tasks can delegate to such employees, and they only need to listen to the periodic reports or results;
  • Leadership behavior: authorization, observation, supervision, recognition.


“There is no best leadership style, only the most appropriate leadership style.”

Situational leadership is hailed as one of the significant leadership theories of this century. Situational leadership can improve the communication between supervisors and subordinates, increase the cultivation of tacit understanding, and enable supervisors to understand the development needs of subordinates and provide necessary assistance.

From a personal point of view, the factors that affect the performance of personnel include problems of ability and willingness. One is not to do it, the other is too reluctant to do it, and different development conditions change.

Situational leadership proposes that in addition to correctly diagnosing and mastering the development stage of subordinates, supervisors must also learn to adopt correct leadership behaviors, including command-line behaviors for handling capacity issues and supportive behaviors for handling willingness issues. These are the two most essential aspects of supervisors and leadership behavior, the flexibility and effectiveness of the appropriate use.

Note from HR Journey

Coaching, not Supporting, the situation set by Dr. Hersey that team members require high support and low command. Modern workplace coaching uses a wide range of aspects and methods, and it can not only assist colleagues who need more support.