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Situational Leadership

Situational Leadership

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Quick Overview

In this model we combine the Hersey-Blanchard leadership style with Tuckman’s team development sages. In concrete terms, we are linking leadership style to the development phase the team has reached.

Related models: Seven HabitsPhases of Team DevelopmentSituational LeadershipProfessional AttitudeConflict Mode ModelPrinciples of Leadership;Manager vs. LeaderCultural TypesLeadership and Influence


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Situational Leadership



The Situational Leadership Theory was developed by Paul Hersey, professor and author of the book Situational Leader and Ken Blanchard, leadership guru and author of the book The One Minute Manager, while writing the first edition of Management of Organizational Behavior. The theory was introduced as the “Life Cycle Theory of Leadership”. In the mid-70s it was renamed the “Situational Leadership Theory”.

Both authors developed their own models. Below are a few eye-catching features:

-      The ‘best’ leadership style does not exist.

-      Effective leadership is task-based and does not only depend on the group managed.

 -     The most successful leaders are those who can adjust their leadership style to the maturity of the individual or the group that they wish to influence.

In 1965 Bruce Tuckman described a model for the different team development stages. He states that this phasing is necessary and inescapable to allow a team to grow and face challenges, solve problems, find solutions and deliver results.

Related models: Seven HabitsPhases of Team DevelopmentSituational LeadershipProfessional AttitudeConflict Mode ModelPrinciples of Leadership;Manager vs. LeaderCultural TypesLeadership and Influence


The model


The Hersey-Blanchard model

The Hersey-Blanchard model is based on two fundamental concepts:

 -     Leadership style

 -     Maturity level of the individual or group.


The leadership styles referred to in the model are the following:

-      Instruct/Telling (S1): one-way communication with the leader defining tasks, authorities and roles and communicating who is to do what, where, when and why.

-      Convince /Selling (S2): the leader determines the direction, only now he will do so based on mutual communication. Decisions are explained and the opportunity to ask questions is given.

-      Consult/Participating (S3): decisions on how tasks and activities are to be carried out are made together. The leader is focussing less on task-oriented steering and is more involved in the relational side of leadership.

-      Delegating (S4): the leader is still involved in decision-making processes. But the process and responsibility to come to decisions lies with the individual or group. The leader is still involved and monitors at a distance.


The Tuckman model

Tuckman’s model distinguishes four team development stages:

-      Forming: the phase in which the team is put together. At this stage team members avoid complicated subjects. Being accepted by the group is important. People are ‘screening’ each other to develop a preference for some people, and dislike others. Mutual expectations are not crystal-clear yet. Being held responsible for something is very difficult at this stage.

-      Storming: at this stage team members will start to come up with ideas and suggestions. These statements can and will conflict thus causing tensions. Individual behaviour and attitude is clear. Confrontation is sought out.

-      Standardising: discussions have led to a shared idea of how to join hands, reach goals and deliver results. Team members are familiar with their responsibilities and other people’s responsibilities and are accepting each other’s roles and behaviour. Even if their own ideas do not make it through the storming phase.  People are excited and plan to be very successful.

-      Performing: the team is capable of booking self-steering good results. They solve problems fast, and dare face challenges. The team competence level is high and the will to succeed is strongly present.


In 1977 Tuckman added a 5th stage to the model which we refer to as the ‘mourning’ stage:

-      Adjourning: at this stage the assignment is completed and members leave the team.

In this model we combine the Hersey-Blanchard leadership style with Tuckman’s team development sages. In concrete terms, we are linking leadership style to the development phase the team has reached. This leads to the following insight:

-      Forming                    versus                     Instruct/Telling

-      Storming                   versus                    Convince/Selling

-      Standardisation       versus                    Consult/Participating

-      Performing               versus                    Delegating


In the adjourning phase we believe all leadership style registers can be reopened. For assignments are often not completed in line with the team dissolution.


How to use it

Obviously the above theory is no Law of the Medes and Persians. Also, the situation in which your team finds itself cannot be categorised stringently. A few insights however might help you analyse, explain or avoid certain situations.



At this stage you should focus strongly on making the project objectives crystal-clear. Leave no room for discussion if these objectives are involved. Use clear language, stand on the soapbox and define exactly what is expected from people and team. Make sure objectives are defined according to the SMART principles.  

Use tools to gain insight into the strength and composition of your team. Remember the BELBIN test you can use for identifying team roles. Use Weggeman’s knowledge value chain to determine which knowledge exists and which knowledge is required for the project.

Give people the opportunity to get to know each other better. Make no concessions to the targets set. Be directive!



Keep in mind that confrontations at this stage might be very painful for some of the team members. Individuals have their opinions and will try to influence how they are dealing with each other. Mutual behaviour and attitude is scrutinised and discussed in some cases (See also ‘Team Discussions’). As a leader make sure to facilitate these discussions and allow feelings to be expressed. But be careful! Do not solve your team’s problems. Solving problems on their own will help the team members create more support and acceptance. At this stage convincement is better than trying to impose something. Intervention is fine but do not try to solve disputes between individuals in one day. Sometimes things will take their own course in a few weeks’ time. But by then things must really be solved out.

Sometimes a team will never manage to reach the Standardising phase. This phase is very important for the team’s growth. One good option is to define ‘values’ or ‘work ethos’ together with the team. Let the team decide on manners and set things down explicitly. Prepare a so-called joint contract which might be a steering intervention towards the next step. Focus on the relationship.



The situation has been standardised. Working method, procedures, responsibilities and authorities are crystal-clear. People know what to expect from each other. People are exited. Focus on the human aspect and the relationship with the people. Be there to answer questions and be the soundboard in decision-making processes. Take a step back and try to take more time to reflect on matters. For instance, decide on whether you are observing the ‘Four Pillars of Commitment’. Use control mechanisms and dashboards to measure effectiveness. Share this with the team (members). Focus on the human side and in a dialogue try to lift up the performance level. Prepare the road for growing towards the next stage.



Let your team(s) take decisions as often as possible. Delegate. Focus on your organisation’s environment, context and vision. But do remain visible as their leader, especially to the outside world.



This phase never runs according to plan. The spot on the horizon is nearby. The result is almost booked. But just like in a marathon the last kilometres are the most challenging ones. Your experts are already being pulled at to engage in new projects. Other team members are spending more time in finding a new job rather than delivering the result painstakingly and effectively. Each individual is showing a different behaviour. Going back to very directive steering with a daily progress check might help you dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Be prepared to evaluate matters with departing team members, discussing the future in the first place. Make sure the knowledge gained and which must be shared with others, is laid down and made explicit. This will allow you to, should the organisation so require, strengthen the learning curve by using the new knowledge gained.

We wish you successful management!


Related models: 

-   Seven Habits

-   Phases of Team Development

-   Situational Leadership

-   Professional Attitude

-   Conflict Mode Model

-   Principles of Leadership;

-   Manager vs. Leader

-   Cultural Types

-   Leadership and Influence





-       Wikipedia




-       Management of Organizational Behavior – Utilizing Human Resources, P. Hersey and K.H. Blanchard, (1969). New Jersey/Prentice Hall.

-       Life Cycle Theory of Leadership, P. Hersey en K.H. Blanchard (1969). 



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