Situational leadership: What is it and why it should be top of mind as you build your manager training program

If you haven’t heard about situational leadership, here’s your wakeup call.

For companies operating in fast-paced, high-growth environments with change seemingly happening every day, it’s essential managers are able to flex their management style.

This means understanding that every employee and situation is unique and will require a different approach.

For HR and People teams building manager training programs, the concept of situational leadership is an important one to incorporate as it gives your managers the skills and tools to be flexible and adapt as needed.

Want to learn more about situational leadership and how your managers can put it into practice? Read on!

What is situational leadership?

Situational leadership is a leadership theory that suggests the ideal course of action for a manager depends on the situation at hand. It’s a term first coined by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in their 1969 book, The Management of Organizational Behavior.

A leader who follows this style purposefully remains flexible and has developed the ability to look at situations with different perspectives. They intentionally adjust the way they lead not only to complement their environment but also to serve the individual needs of their teams and organization.

Though the style dates back to the late 60s, its application today is highly relevant as there isn’t one leadership style that works for all situations.

How does situational leadership work?

While they each developed their own unique flavors of situational leadership after first promoting the idea, Hersey and Blanchard’s original framework broke leadership practices down according to their characteristic behaviors, resulting in four distinct leadership styles – labeled S1-S4:

  • S1 – Telling: When you give someone explicit instructions on what needs to be done. Sticking to this approach may be a good move with workers who lack the necessary skills to complete a task – or if you’re in the middle of an emerging issue.
  • S2 – Selling: When you convince someone to do something they may not be entirely on board with. It’s helpful when you need to get buy-in from someone on a task or project.
  • S3 – Participating: When you work alongside someone else on a task or project. You might use this style when someone you’re managing needs help and guidance to complete the task. It could also be a helpful skills-building experience for your team – such as when you jump into the workflow directly to root out process inefficiencies.
  • S4 – Delegating: Delegating is when you give someone else the responsibility for a job or project. This is appropriate for capable, motivated workers who have the necessary skills to complete the task.

When and why would managers use situational leadership?

For managers operating in a fast-paced or high-growth environment characterized by rapid change, a situational leadership style and the ability to remain flexible is key.

For example, your managers may be leading their teams through the launch of a new product or introducing a new process. Their teams may not have the subject matter expertise or the context to understand exactly how to move forward and fulfil their roles.

At the beginning of the project, the ‘telling’ style could come into play, where the manager needs to give specific instructions and asks to get teams moving in the right direction. They might also need to ‘participate’ to make it clear to the team exactly how the project needs to be handled.

Once the strategy is in place and the team has a better grasp of what is expected and what success looks like, the manager could adopt more of a ‘delegation’ approach.

Making the most of how managers lead

The key ultimately lies in how situational leadership practices are applied by managers.

Training your managers to know which style to use in what situation, and how to assess their team’s maturity is key to becoming an effective leader.

Teaching managers situational leadership in your training program will help your managers learn to be flexible and adaptive, and drive their teams toward the goals they’re responsible for achieving.

Want to empower your managers to adapt to the unique and ever-changing situations that come with the role? Discover how you can partner with The Mintable to give your managers the training, tools and community they need to thrive. Get in touch with our team to schedule your personalized demo.