Good leaders can adapt to various types of situations and employees. Great leaders can take them one step further. They transform situations into opportunities to engage with employees at their respective levels of readiness. Situational leaders understand and apply situational leadership theory. As this framework on the Center for Leadership Studies’ website explains, “Situational leadership provides leaders with an understanding of the relationship between an effective style of leadership and the level of readiness that followers exhibit for a specific task.”

How to Be a Situational Leader

To be a situational leader, you need to understand followers’ needs and readiness at a deeper level. Your team members need to be both capable and willing to take on the tasks you will assign. Since it’s important to understand the needs and readiness of the people you lead and manage, you should try to read the context and culture of their holistic environment, and be able to adjust and adapt to the situation and readiness you see. Directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating are just some of the tools that situational leaders utilize to enhance group success. Situational leadership helps managers usher their team toward positive outcomes and results. Because you help them to further their own development, success for both team leaders and members is enhanced when you adjust your leadership style to meet your followers’ abilities and needs. Drs. Reilly, Minnick, and Baack (2011) explain, “Employees with a high level of readiness require a different leadership style than an employee with a low level of readiness.” Before assigning a task to an employee, situational leaders should consider an employee’s readiness level (their knowledge, skills, maturity, “buy-in,” and willingness) to complete it.

Situational leadership is an excellent theory and easy to enact. It helps you achieve desired results and further develop both individuals and teams. According to Joseph Weiss (2011), “The situational leadership model is based on the premise that leaders will match their directive and supportive styles -- how they give instruction and meet needs, to meet individual subordinates’ level of development relative to a specific task” (Sec. 4.2, para 6).

Leadership matters. Mo matter the situation, teams depend on strong leadership to reach success -- and hopefully grow from the examples of leadership before them. For example, Weiss (2011) tells us that the effectiveness of a team is closely associated with the effectiveness of a team leader. The leader is not only concerned about performance and the improvement of his or her team, but is also concerned about creating a positive team dynamic. Situational leadership theory can help leaders improve their teams as well as their own individual performance. It allows leaders to meet people at their readiness levels. To expand your knowledge of leadership theory, explore the business leadership program in the Forbes School of Business and Technology™.



Written by Bill Davis, MA, CM, Core Faculty and Faculty Senator in the Forbes School of Business and Technology, and Martin McAuliffe, JD, Assistant Professor in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Arizona Global Campus



Reilly, M., Minnick, C., & Baack, D. (2011). The five functions of effective management. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Weiss, J. W. (2011). An introduction to leadership. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. 

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