Leading Up as a Situational Leader

Here at CLS, we thoroughly enjoy frequent opportunities to coach people managers in applying the Situational Leadership® Model to their work with colleagues in multiple directions between team members, peers, bosses and customers or clients. Many of you are influencing effectively, flexing your task and relationship behaviors moment by moment with your people. We see a lot of people leading from the Situational Leadership® Model, which emerged from nearly a century of behavioral science research. Our Founder, Dr. Paul Hersey, nicknamed it “organized common sense.”

It never ceases to amaze me, however, that when I ask how these people managers are doing in applying the model and its language to their performance, I get surprise and stunned silence.

“Uh, how am I applying the model? To my needs? And asking my boss?”

Yes. That.

I trust that your boss has been through Situational Leadership®: Building Leaders as well. How are you doing at employing the language of “forest, tree and leaf” Performance Readiness® Levels R1 to R4 and leadership styles S1 to S4 in one-on-ones, performance conversations and project updates with your leader?

As I have given this some thought—and correct me if I am wrong, here—I have noticed that the “higher up the ladder” we go, the more we seem to believe that we should be R4 for literally just about everything. If this is you, your worst nightmare is confessing (as, let’s say, a VP) to your boss (say, the C-Suite member): “I am R2 for that and could use a little more direction and support from you as I attempt that.”

The nightmare could only be worse if you add in full transparency: “Because I have never actually done that particular task before …” (oh, let’s just take this example home) “… and I’m even R1 for it since I am not only insecure about doing it but more unwilling by the moment.”

Let’s let that sink in. Yup—worst-case scenario.

I will let you in on a little-known and rather tightly kept secret. Lean in close, now. Every person, at every level of an organization, has a few tasks for which they are R2 and even R1. Yes! This has to be true. First, because we are all human. Being R1 for something isn’t bad—it’s simply what is at the moment. Second, because new and recently changed tasks, as well as tasks and skills where new and higher bars have been set, are coming our way all the time. Especially in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where change is a constant.

What is the most effective way to influence someone’s Performance Readiness® Level R2 (“Unable but Confident and/or Willing”) for a task? “Offer them S2 (High Direction/High Support) leadership.”

If you are R2 for a task, what is the fastest and most effective way for you to move to R3 and R4 for that task? Ask for and experience S2 from my leader.”

For us at CLS, the world-class training we provide is not the best “win” unless it changes your behavior to up your leadership game and improves your job performance.

Yes. That.

So, in the spirit of an effective and engaging coach, would you allow me to ask a few probing questions? (“Yes.” Why, thank you!)

Are you and your manager on the same page regarding your Performance Readiness®?

  • Do you both agree on your current ability (knowledge, experience and skill) for key specific tasks?
  • How do you currently feel about your willingness (confidence, commitment and motivation) for those key specific tasks?

How are you leveraging the Situational Leadership® Model to impact and empower your conversations with those who influence you?

  • For the tasks that put you on the right side of the model (R1/R2), how will you ask for the best-fit levels of direction and support that you need to move forward? (It is in the leader’s best interest to respond with what you need!)
  • For the tasks that put you on the left side of the model (R3/R4), what do you need from your leaders to stay at the top of your game, or perhaps to grow in depth and breadth?

Give some thought to developing your performance as a leader who is also led. If need be, count the few minutes you spent reading and contemplating this article today as a “freebie coaching session,” courtesy of The Center for Leadership Studies.


  1. What is standing in your way of asking your leaders for exactly what you need to succeed? In other words, what is the story you are telling yourself that might be hindering, not helping?
  2. What one task can you be transparent about and ask for more direction and/or support? Who will help you plan this conversation and be there to hear how it went on the other side?