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What type of situational leadership style should you use?

Situational leadership, as defined by Thompson (2012), is a flexible approach that blends task-oriented actions like providing instructions and guidance with relationship-oriented behaviors such as listening, offering support, and valuing individuals. This combined approach allows leaders to adapt their strategies to the specific needs of individuals and situations, offering significant advantages.

In scientific literature, there are two different known points of view about situational leadership: Goleman's and Blanchard's theories.

Daniel Goleman believed that leadership and emotional intelligence cannot be set apart. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can actively cultivate the positive emotional "charge" within their teams while fostering a supportive environment where all emotions are acknowledged and valued. This approach leads to increased engagement, motivation, and ultimately, stronger performance.

Goleman proposed six leadership styles (Goleman, 2012):

  1. Commanding: This style emphasizes immediate compliance. While effective in crises or with problem employees, it can harm team morale due to its reliance on control.

  2. Visionary: Leaders inspire change and set direction through self-confidence, empathy, and adaptability. This style has a strongly positive impact, motivating teams towards a shared vision.

  3. Affiliative: This style prioritizes harmony and connection. Leaders with strong empathy and relationship-building skills can effectively heal rifts and boost team morale.

  4. Democratic: This style fosters collaboration and communication, building consensus and acquiring valuable input. It has a positive impact on team engagement and ownership.

  5. Pacesetting: This style demands high standards and is focused on achieving quick results. While potentially effective with skilled and motivated teams, it can lead to burnout if used excessively.

  6. Coaching: Focused on development, this style is focused on enhancing employee performance and growth. Leaders with empathy and self-awareness can leverage this style for long-term benefits.

The most effective leaders understand the strengths and limitations of each style. They strategically deploy the right approach at the right time, creating a dynamic and responsive leadership model that fosters positive team dynamics and promotes organizational success.

On the other hand, Kenneth Blanchard proposed a situational leadership model with four distinct styles, taking into account both task-related factors and the level of relationship between the leader and follower:

  • Style 1 (Directing): In the context of high task, low relationship, the leader provides clear instructions and close supervision for new or unsure followers.

  • Style 2 (Coaching): In the context of a high task, a high relationship, the leader explains "why" while guiding and encouraging motivated but inexperienced followers.

  • Style 3 (Participating): In the context of low task, high relationship, the leader collaborates with skilled but hesitant followers to build confidence and commitment.

  • Style 4 (Delegating): In the context of low task, low relationship, the leader empowers experienced and motivated followers by giving them ownership and freedom. (Blancahrd & Hersey, 1998)

Situational leadership, like many leadership styles, is adaptable to the context and individual involved. When introducing a new team member, especially someone with limited experience like a freshman, employing a Directing style might be appropriate initially. This involves providing clear instructions and close guidance.

As the individual gains skills and confidence, the leader can gradually transition to a more supportive and collaborative style like Coaching or beyond. This demonstrates the flexibility of situational leadership and underscores the importance of continuously assessing both: the situational context of the task and the follower's maturity. It's essential to remember that maturity is relative and context-dependent. 

Successful application of situational leadership hinges on the leader's ability to continuously analyze both the situation and the individual involved, adjusting their leadership style accordingly.

Situational leadership in a nutshell:

  • develops the ability to adapt the communication to different audiences when discussing business issues and fosters understanding and buy-in.

  • helps in learning to effectively present company objectives, ensuring cross-departmental alignment.

  • helps in mastering the art of motivating other teams to take ownership and action on collaborative initiatives.

At Talent Collection we offer tailored learning services on situational leadership delivered by experienced trainers. You can reach us at

What is the theory you resonate most with: Goleman's or Blanchard's?



Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, (2002), Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

Hersey P, Blanchard Kenneth H. (1998) Management and Organizational Behavior Prentice-Hall, London.

Thompson, G., & Aarset, M. (2012). Examining the impact of social intelligence, demographics, and context for implementing the dynamics of the situational leadership model, Journal of International Doctoral Research

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