Situational leadership style - a contemporary way of leading employees

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Situational leadership style - a contemporary way of leading employees

People are diverse and teams are made up of many unique individuals. A "one-fits-all" leadership style is not very suitable if you want to do justice to everyone equally. The situational leadership style picks up each employee where they are at, giving you the opportunity to meet the uniqueness of your employees. This article describes the four stages of situational leadership style, its advantages and disadvantages. Finally, we'll look at what alternative leadership styles are available. Leadership styles there is.

What is a situational leadership style?

A leadership style refers to certain behaviors and actions that a manager uses in dealing with his or her employees. There are the classic leadership styles, such as the authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire leadership style. These rely on universal and general patterns of behavior. The situational leadership style differs from this because it does not propose a general solution, but responds to the respective situation and the respective employee.

A situational leadership style takes into account the specific Needs of an employee. For example, a new employee has different needs than a long-time employee of the company, and a career starter needs different leadership than an employee who has been doing his job for 20 years. In addition, how much freedom and control an individual feels is appropriate varies from person to person. Thus, flexibility is an essential characteristic of the situational leadership style.

With this leadership style, the manager can - and should - combine different leadership styles and choose the appropriate style from their repertoire depending on the circumstances.

Examples of the situational management style

Which leadership style is best suited for a particular person depends on their experience, knowledge and self-motivation. You can analyse the potential of your employees with the help of certain questions, such as:

  • Does he/she have the necessary expertise to accomplish this task?
  • Has he/she already completed a similar task in the past?
  • What problems were encountered and could the same problems occur this time?
  • Does this person turn in assignments on time?
  • Does he/she approach me on his/her own when questions arise, or do I have to check in on myself periodically to see how things are going?
  • Does it make sense to explicitly offer the support of experienced colleagues?
  • Does he/she get frustrated quickly when a task doesn't come easily to him/her?
  • How much trust do I have in him/her?
situational leadership methods

In addition to looking at your employees, it's also important that you pay enough attention to the task itself. The following questions can serve as a guide:

  1. In what time frame must the task be completed?
  2. What is the difficulty level of the task?
  3. What are the consequences of mistakes in the work for the completion of the task and for those involved?
  4. What knowledge is mandatory to complete the task?
  5. How much experience does it take to get them done?
  6. What are the quality standards?
  7. Is it clear what the objectives of this task are?

The four levels of maturity or stages of situational leadership style

The behavioral scientist Paul Hersey and the professor of leadership and organizing behavior Ken Blanchard have already designed a theory for the situational leadership style in 1977, which is still the best known today. They distinguished the leadership style and the behaviour of a leader according to task orientation and person orientation.

If a manager is task-oriented, he formulates clear announcements, sets clear goals and lets his employees know what he expects of them. She says exactly which task is to be completed by which deadline and in which way.

If, on the other hand, a manager acts in a people-oriented way, his focus is on a good relationship with his employees. She proves social competenceby listening to her employees, valuing their work, praising them and motivating them. She gives constructive feedback.

Now the question arises as to when which behaviour is appropriate. In order to be able to give an appropriate answer to this, Hersey and Blanchard developed the concept of four levels of maturity. In their opinion, employees can have different levels of maturity on a factual and on a psychological level. Factual competence describes the ability to perform a particular task appropriately. Psychological maturity is about the motivation and inner attitude of the employee.

Depending on where an employee is in terms of maturity, a different leadership style has the best chance of success. However, the maturity level of an employee always depends on the task at hand. Perhaps someone is already very experienced in one area, but another area is new territory for them. This results in the four levels of situational leadership style.


At this level, the employee has a low level of maturity. He possesses both little expertise and only a low level of motivation. According to the situational management style, a high task orientation is recommended here. The person orientation does not yet play a major role here. As a manager you should clearly tell this employee which task he has to do and how. You should check the result to see whether he has fulfilled your requirements.


The second level concerns employees with an intermediate level of maturity. Here, you retain the high level of task orientation, but there is also an increased focus on people. You continue to assign clearly defined tasks, but the employee also has the opportunity to ask questions. In addition, you gradually start to involve the employee in decisions.


Employees with a higher level of maturity are treated in the situational management style according to the third level. At this level are employees who are technically fit. However, they do not yet dare to perform their tasks completely independently. It is also possible that an employee at this level has difficulty with certain tasks and makes mistakes. As a manager, you advise such an employee and encourage him or her to work independently. Making decisions and to take responsibility. You no longer dictate exactly what is to be done, but rather act in a supportive manner.


The last level in the situational leadership style requires a very high level of maturity of your employee. The employee at this level has all the necessary competencies, is intrinsically motivated and has the right attitude to successfully complete his tasks. He no longer needs a great task orientation from you and also no real person orientation. Now it's about giving him freedom. In the long run, you hand over responsibility to him.

What are the advantages of the situational leadership style?

The biggest advantage of the situational leadership style is its great flexibility. You have a tool that you can adapt individually to the respective situation at any time. If an employee needs more guidance, you give it to him. If another person works very independently, you delegate more tasks to them. It is important that you always observe your team closely. What do your employees show you? Where do they need more freedom and where more leadership?

If your vision is to encourage your team to perform at their best, a situational leadership style is very well suited to this. This ensures that you don't treat everyone the same - because not everyone is the same - and that you meet everyone's needs. The motivation and Satisfaction in your team will increase.

situational leadership style definition

What are the criticisms of situational leadership style?

The situational leadership style requires a very competent boss who always correctly recognizes and assigns what level an employee is currently at and what he needs. In the next step, he must also be able to give him exactly that. Mistakes can quickly be made here by treating employees incorrectly.

Maturity levels are not set in stone, they change. More work experience, training, personal maturity processes, etc. lead to employees changing. As a leader, you need to keep this in mind and adjust your behavior towards an employee accordingly. In addition, you have to apply a different leadership style depending on the situation, which is difficult for many managers.

Other leadership styles

- Lateral management style

An Lateral leadership style refers to leadership at eye level. Responsibility is shared equally within a team. The manager has almost no special power anymore.

- remote leadership

In times of the home office, leadership is done at a distance, which is called remote leadership style. The manager has the task of creating closeness despite distance and of emotionally involving his employees. Despite the physical distance, they have to motivate their team.

- Digital leadership style

The digital leadership style is a new kind of style that brings digital transformation to companies. implemented and supervised. This management style is part of the agile leadership. By using the digital transformation and with a lot of innovative spirit, the breakout from old structures should succeed.

- Cooperative management style

With the cooperative management style work manager and team work closely together to develop ideas and implement projects. They complement each other and jointly decide how to distribute tasks and responsibilities.

- Participative management style

In the participative management style, employees have a large share in the idea and decision-making process. The competence of the employees should be used in the best possible way for the sustainable well-being of the company. However, the manager has the final say.

- Visionary management style

It is not the task that is central to this style of leadership, but the shared vision. Manager and Employees want to achieve a common goal. The vision is the guiding principle for the completion of tasks, promotes creativity and creates freedom.

- Appreciative management style

In the appreciative leadership style, the exchange between the manager and the team takes place at eye level. The manager appreciates his employees, trusts them, involves them and tolerates mistakes. They are not sparing with praise.

- Authoritarian management style

At authoritarian leadership all power lies with the manager. The employees have to follow their instructions, there is no room for discussion. According to the top-down principle, a single person leads and delegates the entire team.

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Conclusion on the situational management style

The situational leadership style is characterized by its great flexibility. The manager meets his employees individually and gives them the guidance or the freedom they need. This requires a lot of tact on the part of the manager. They have to take a close look at their employees and check at regular intervals which level they are currently at and which type of leadership is right now.

There are four maturity levels or stages that relate to the competence and personal development of employees. At the first stage, employees still need a lot of guidance and the focus is on task orientation. Gradually, this recedes more and more into the background and person orientation becomes more important. At the final stage, the employee can work independently and in the long term Assume responsibility.

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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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