Learn to Enhance your Situational Leadership Skill

Formerly referred to as the “life cycle theory of leadership”, one of the most popular adaptive leadership styles in the world today is “situational leadership (SL)”. This strategy enables leaders to adapt their leadership style to best fit their goals, circumstances, team members, environment and resources. The SL model is built around four leadership pillars: direct, support, coach, delegate. In the words of world-renowned management consultant Margaret Wheatley: “Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes.”

For organisations around the world that want to accomplish the following key goals, situational leadership is the model of choice:

  • Develop people,
  • Establish rapport,
  • Unify leadership style (locally, nationally, internationally)

How do professionals become better situational leaders? Some of them undergo professional training, some gain insight under the mentorship of a mature colleague and others learn on the job. Let us take a closer look at the critical competencies, benefits, advantages and disadvantages of this management style.


Although slight differences occur depending on the model of situational leadership being followed, in general, an adept leader specialising in this style of management will display competency and skill in the following four areas:

  • Able to diagnose an individual’s readiness to complete a specific task,
  • Adapt behaviour (think on their feet) based on the diagnosis of a situation,
  • Ability to communicate in a manner that workers can understand and accept,
  • Advance by always steering teams towards higher performance.


According to the founders of SL, this style of management pivots around “choosing the right leadership style for the right people”. From their perspective, there is no best leadership model; everything depends on the specific situation and the people involved. It also depends on the competency of the leader and maturity of his/her workers. If done correctly, situational leadership can have the following benefits:

  • Accelerates the pace of employee development
  • Accesses performance based around task specificity
  • Allows leaders to drive behaviour change
  • Creates multi-directional influence
  • Defines a common language of performance
  • Enables leaders to interpret and effectively respond to their surroundings

Procs & Cons

As powerful as situational leadership can be, it is worth noting that it does not work effectively in all circumstances. Like any business model, it has its limitations and drawbacks. And, of course, leaders have the right to change their management style as they see fit.

Let us look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the leadership style:

Pros (advantages):

Confidence – When a leader has the right manner, he/she leads with confidence.

Simplicity – All the leader needs to do is evaluate the situation and apply the correct “next best steps” to solve the situation.

Intuition – With the right type of leader, this style is comfortable and effortless.

Cons (disadvantages):

Culture – It does not always take into consideration the communication styles of other cultures

Gender – It ignores the innate differences between female and male leaders.

Ego – It can divert attention away from long-term strategies, KPIs and politics.


Successful leaders can look at situations from varying perspectives. They are able to assess the situation and skill-level of their available team members and quickly determine the type of leadership approach needed to get the job done. Choose correctly, and they will stay one step ahead of problems and ensure success in today’s multi-layered business environment.

If you are looking to be more flexible in your approach to leadership; if you want to encourage collaboration among team members; encourage socio-emotional support for subordinates; boost employee motivation within a business unit; and find a business theory that is adaptable to fit past, present and future situations, then situational leadership should be your go-to methodology. Once you master this leadership style, you will be able to counter volatility and uncertainty, decipher situational complexity, overcome ambiguity and control all possible outcomes.