The Perplexity of the R3 Diagnosis

At last! Your boss is turning over leadership of the task force to you! You are thrilled since you have been desperate to take the reins and not only put more of your ideas in motion, but also speed up the pace of implementation. You know what you know—and you are ready for this moment!

Then, your optimism takes a hit. Your first meeting isn’t the “big win” you envisioned. Some members are clearly uncomfortable that your boss won’t be attending these meetings anymore. They are unsure that you have what it takes to achieve effective change here, and they want to be on a winning team. It just so happened that a highly respected member of the team missed this meeting due to “a doctor’s appointment.” Was that coincidence or sour grapes because he wasn’t given the reins?

In the Situational Leadership® Model, a person is R3 for a task when ability is apparent (plenty of knowledge and experience has led to skill), but either confidence or commitment and motivation are lacking, holding the person back for the task. We qualify R3 as “Able but Insecure or Unwilling.”

Let’s be clear: R3 is a good thing! “Able” means that you have demonstrated performance for that task at a sustained, acceptable level and are living the “left side of the model” life, trusted by your leader to do it fully on your own. When “Able and Insecure,” it is normal for the strongest-felt need (SFN) of confidence to appear—that surprising awareness (and pressure!) of, “No supervisor is looking over my shoulder on this!” After executing the task successfully on your own, you gain confidence quickly and rely less on support from others.

Let’s also be fair: R3 might not be a good thing as in the scenario where you were previously R4 for the task, but your performance has slipped for some reason. In this case, it is usually commitment or motivation that is the culprit disclosing your SFN. “Able and Unwilling” might describe you when a familiar task must now be done using different software or in half the time or to the new directives of a more complicated SOP or stricter supervisor. Who wouldn’t expect you to demonstrate some unwillingness?! Your leader should respond with the best match leadership style S3—a slightly higher level of both supportive and directive behaviors—to help you regain any lost ground.

I can imagine what you are thinking. You can objectively solve for ability with a clear path to new or revised skills. The solve for your lack of willingness is much more subjective, even “touchy” perhaps?

The “want to” generally leads to the “will do.” There simply aren’t many of us who just “put on a happy face” and give that task the same energy as our R4 tasks. And, if it’s a new and stricter boss or an entirely new software, chances are all our tasks are in danger of decline.

This is where we see the beauty of the Situational Leadership® Model. As a proven probability model, an R3 diagnosis points your leader to what his or her most effective response to you should be. Lean into this wonderful provision. You are an empowered Situational Leader, able to describe and contract for the best match leadership style for your needs. When you are forthcoming about your Performance Readiness®, you put your leader in the optimum position to adapt their style and deliver exactly what you need in the interests of high success and increased engagement. There is opportunity for a win-win because you had a conversation around SFN with your manager.

As you have been reading, your R3 items have probably been top of mind. Your conscience is tingling. Maybe your blood pressure has increased a point or two. We all travel the “passageway” of R3 as we move along the Performance Readiness® continuum. You know what you know and want to be R4 for those tasks.

What is standing in your way? Maybe the best question is, “What are you pretending not to know?”1



  1. Take 10 minutes with a beverage and step away from your desk to reflect. Don’t empty the cup until you have named the deepest reason why that particular task bugs you so much. Commit to one thing you will speak up about that could improve that task, lifting your attitude as well.
  2. Regarding your lack of confidence for a daunting task, name one person who can act as your coach to help dispel your “Imposter syndrome” and truly move you from R3 to R4 for that task.


1Scott S. Fierce Conversations. Penguin Random House; 2017.