Helpful Tips for Leading Outside Your Comfort Zone

One of the most valuable takeaways from the Situational Leadership®: Building Leaders course is learning with statistical certainty your primary leadership style. Participants always want to learn more about their personalized list of likeliest mismatches and discover next steps and strategies that can increase their adaptability and accuracy. Our best trainer tips are in such demand, we thought they should be available 24/7.

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Ability is the root of the issue when we talk about right-side and left-side leadership in the Situational Leadership® Model. By clearly deciding if the person is able for this task or if the person is unable for this task , the leader is halfway to a correct diagnosis! This will point directly to either the left-side follower-driven leadership styles or right-side leader-driven styles.

The Four Leadership Styles of The Situational Leadership(R) Model

With left-side S3 or S4 as your primary leadership style, you are most comfortable when allowing the follower to lead. You recognize your followers as being able to handle their tasks on their own with minimal direction but varying levels of support from you, if and as needed. If your follower is R3 for the task (“Able but Insecure or Unwilling”), S3 (We Talk, You Decide.) is the best match. Should you deliver the slight mismatch of S4 (You Decide, I Trust You.), at least the “miss” is happening on the left (follower-driven) side of the model. The follower still owns the task so your direction is on the lower side, but you should raise your level of support in this situation.

Here are some “quick shifts” to adjust from mismatch to best match:

  • R3-S4: “You are normally very confident in both speaking about and with this client. What happened that appears to have shaken your confidence? How can I help you here?”
  • R4-S3: “You seem to have considered all the angles, so I’ll stop with the questions and leave you to it. I am sure the Executive Committee will be well-informed by your presentation on Friday.”

With right-side S1 or S2 as your primary leadership style, you are more comfortable giving direction to unable followers (“capable,” perhaps, but not ready to do it on their own yet) who still need consistent direction along with gradually increasing support for the task. If your follower is R1 for the task (“Unable and Insecure or Unwilling”) and you deliver S2 (We Talk, I Decide.), we can be glad that the slight mismatch is happening on the same right-side (leader-driven) of the model. While the follower does need high direction, you should provide less support (the why and context) for this task (Note: The glazed look in their eyes that screams, “You’re losing me!”) and focus on the basics using S1 (I Talk, I Decide.).

Here are some more “quick shifts” to adjust from mismatch to best match:

  • R1-S2: “I’m sorry—I can see I’m sharing too much background on this. Complete Steps 1 and 2 as I showed you, then come back to me by the end of the day so we can go over your results.”
  • R2-S1: “You have been finishing my sentences for me and seem anxious to get back to work. I am going to change our daily check-ins to twice a week. You are growing in confidence and developing some skill here. Good work!”

Now, the real struggles come when the best match requires a switch from the left-side hands off to the right-side hands on or (worse for some?) from right-side “I Decide,” to left-side “You Decide.” Our No. 1 mismatch in a database of millions of global managers is R3-S2. The second is close behind: R2-S3.

Ah, yes. The crossover.

I hear you: “I feel like a micromanager when I have to leave left-side delegation to provide right-side instruction!” Or, “It’s like a total loss of control when I need to switch from the right side to the left side!” I know, I know. We either struggle to step in or struggle to step back.

You can raise your adaptability score and add this agility to your leadership DNA if you work diligently with the Situational Leadership® Model. Effective leadership – that skill Dr. Hersey identified as adapting to the person for the task – takes thought, preplanning and discipline.

For the “need to step in” folks (those who struggle to lead from the right side of the model):

  • Dare to test the truth that hands-on involvement in the early stages will pay off greatly. Dr. Hersey wisely observed, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” Your attention to detail and frequent check-ins now will bring noticeable returns, and much sooner than your current spotty plan of “letting them sort it out!”
  • Take just 10 minutes to plot a development plan for your follower for a certain task or skill. You don’t have to guide and instruct at every turn, but you are responsible to establish and connect your follower with the opportunities, people and check-points that will ensure they see and own their path to R4 mastery of this task

For the “need to step back” folks (those who struggle to lead from the left side of the model):

  • Be diligent to thoughtfully assess the amount of knowledge, experience and skill they have for this task. When you can recall multiple occasions where skill was displayed (“sustained, acceptable performance”), you can be confident you can trust this person to bear the responsibility for the task. Anything less (Count the cost!) will dampen (Even kill?) their engagement and certainly impact success
  • They say that “confession is good for the soul,” so go ahead and say it! “I like to lead from the right side of the model and provide High Direction/High Support. You are “Able, Confident and Willing” for this task, however, so I invite you to let me know when I overlead you here.”


  1. Review your Situational Leadership®: Building Leaders workbook, page 67: the page with eight positive match words and eight negative mismatch words for all four styles. Use these words as your “passport” to a new destination. What word(s) will assist you in straddling the two styles at the top of the model (e.g., Persuading S2 → Participating S3 or Problem Solving S3 → Coaching S2)?
  2. Review the markers of each leadership style on page 17 of your Situational Leadership®: Building Leaders workbook, paying particular attention to the one you need to leverage in the upcoming performance conversation. Take the time to jot them down on your meeting agenda, and even go as far as crafting a couple of statements or questions directly from that particular style box on the page. If you have taken our Situational Coaching® course, you can refer to the Situational Coaching® Process Handout for additional, specific Performance Readiness® Level diagnostic questions.