The theory in a nutshell, describes ways in which effective leaders can adapt their style according to the development and skills level of the people they are managing. The four styles are as follow
The leader specifies the role of each team member, telling them what to do, where, when and how to do it and oversees their performances. The focus is on structure, control and supervision.
The leader provides instruction but is also willing to hear ideas and suggestions although the leader maintain control over decision making
The leader engages in a two way communication, who listens, provides support and encouragement, and is interested in involving people in the decision making process. The focus is on praising, listening and facilitating the team
The leader allows the team autonomy as they have the competence and motivation to take responsibility in completing a task.
Each of these four styles of leaderships needs to be applied judiciously depending on the competency of group members. For example the “Directive” style of leadership is suited to a team with low to moderate development level, the team is committed, but lacks experience or the competency to complete the task. Therefore specific instructions allow team members to build confidence and motivation whilst the leader ensures that the assigned tasks are performed in a timely manner;
The “Coaching” style of leadership is suited to people who are competent but lacks commitment to take responsibility. The leader is able to motivate and inspire the team by taking onboard suggestions but teaches the team members the most effective way of completing the task.
The “Supporting” style of leadership is suited to a team with moderate to high developmental level, where the team is competent where the leader needs to actively listen and facilitate problem solving and decision making. The team may still require some support and encouragement to complete the task themselves.
The “Delegating” style of leadership is suited to a team with high developmental level, where the team is highly capable, and may even have more experience than the leader. The leader’s role is then to trust the team and encourage collaborative decision making. The team members effectively become leaders themselves.
The difficulty in lies with the team members where everyone may be at different competency level, and therefore an effective leader need to be able to recognize the situation, and adjust his/her style of giving instructions or providing support. Too many a times I had been left in a situation of having to lead a club or a project when I was still learning the ropes. There is also the tendency for the type A personality of us medicos to become a one person team and take over. We think that our time is too precious, and that to coach or to engage in a two way communication with our team will take too much time, and that we rather complete the tasks ourselves as we know that we can perform it in an effective yet timely manner. There in lies the pitfall, the team becomes uncommitted, disinterested and distanced from the project, and you are left with too many tasks to juggle. So next time, when you find yourself in the above situation, before you rush in and do it all yourself – give a little thought to the Situational Leadership model – support, communicate, teach, delegate and inspire!
1. Transcript, Situational Leadership: Conversations with Paul Hersey, 2001 by John R. Schermerhorn, Jr., Ohio University. Online:
2. Blanchard, Ken (2008). Situational Leadership, Leadership Excellence 25, 5, p.19-19.
Introduction to Situational Leadership – A medical student’s perspective was authored by Miss Jenny Huang (VIC) in October 2008 as part of her AFMW Leadership Scholarship.