Situational Leadership Theory hinges on two dimensions: leader style and follower maturity.
There are four (4) leadership styles that correspond with a follower's maturity or readiness level, which relates to their ability to complete an assigned task.
The success of the model rests on matching the appropriate leader style with follower readiness.
Situational Leadership Theory was developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. They conclude that "the right leadership style will depend on the person or group being led."
Leadership style is a function of these two behaviors:
Task Behavior + Relationship Behavior
Task relates telling or showing others what to do or how to do something specific. Relationship relates to supporting others.
Since leader style is a key component of this model, we will explore the four styles in more detail. They are:
Telling or directing is described as "High Task & Low Relationship." It is prescriptive in nature; the leader gives specific directions/instructions.
This style is used when the follower is inexperienced or low in ability, as it relates to what is required in the situation.
For instance, if a follower is responsible for completing a project or task that is relatively new and/or complex in nature, the leader should use this style.
In this style, the leader provides close supervision.
Selling helps the follower "buy-in to the process." It involves coaching or guiding, and is "High Task & High Relationship."
The leader provides direction and supervision, but s/he also provides a healthy dose of encouragement.
The leader encourages the follower to be involved, serves in the role of coach, and takes time to answer questions and explain decisions.
Participating or supporting is "Low Task & High Relationship." The leader enters into a more collaborative role with the follower.
Both parties take part in setting objectives. There is "shared decision making" which means the leader involves the follower in decision-making.
A more expansive description of participative management is shown here.
Delegating is just that. The follower has the freedom to determine how the task/project is to get done.
This style is used when the follower is capable of delivering and confident that s/he can do so.
The follower is encouraged to take as much responsibility as they can handle.
Please note: Delegating does not mean "dumping" tasks you do not like or want to do.
It is very easy to rely on one style. But effective leaders step out of their comfort zones and lead with style. They master the style that matches the follower's readiness level.