Situational Leadership®: Step 3 Pitfalls and Helpful Hints

Assume for the sake of this narrative that you are a Situational Leader. You buy into the whole notion that first and foremost good leaders are thoughtful people. Leaders think before they do. In the context of the Situational Leadership® Model, that translates to carefully executing Step 1 and Step 2:

  1. Identify the specific task.
  2. Assess the current Performance Readiness®. (Think task-specific ability and willingness of the person you will be attempting to influence relative to that task.)

So, let’s say you’ve done that and it’s time to employ an approach that provides you with the highest probability of success (S1 – Directing, S2 – Explaining, S3 – Collaborating or S4 – Empowering). Even though you have pinpointed what you need to do, and (at least in general terms) how you need to do it, there are still a number of stumbling blocks that can derail your influence-related efforts. Consider the following as you prepare to engage and communicate with the target of your leadership (Step 3).

  • S1 (High Task/Low Relationship) – This is a difficult approach (regardless of the circumstances) for any leader that naturally favors high relationship behavior (S3/S2). It is particularly problematic if that leader needs to intervene with an individual that is not currently performing and doesn’t seem to care (R1). The tendency in this case is to “overdo it” (i.e., come across so strong the attention shifts from the performance of the follower to the aggressive delivery of the leader). The leader needs to proactively recognize their own discomfort and dedicate the time necessary to prepare for a conversation that objectively communicates the gap in performance in combination with the expectations moving forward (to include closer scrutiny by the leader)
  • S2 (High Task/High Relationship) – It can be so easy to confuse enthusiasm with expertise. Most of us have fallen victim to this trap at one time or another. You find yourself staring into the eyes of a confident, motivated individual that is on a sales call (R2). They state their case to dive into a task for which they have no performance history and leverage their confidence and motivation to convince you they have what it takes to pull it off. So you let them (S4). And what happens? Usually nothing “good.” There is an inherent discipline associated with effectively delivering S2. As the leader, you need to maintain control of the decision-making process until you are convinced (on the basis of objective observation) that the follower has “crossed the line” from R2 to R3
  • S3 (High Relationship/Low Task) – In theory, when executing an S3 approach, the leader becomes part of the group. In reality, the leader is always the leader! As such, a trap that leaders can unintentionally fall into when executing a high relationship style is to publicize their perspective before the targets of their collaborative efforts have had the opportunity to publicize theirs (e.g., “Here’s my take on this challenge, but I am really interested in exploring alternatives based on your collective experience.”). When you do that you increase the probability that members of your team (consciously and unconsciously) will align with your point of view and quietly discount their own. In the spirit of Simon Sinek and “Leaders Eat Last,” when it comes to S3, “leaders (should) speak last”
  • S4 (Low Relationship/Low Task) – Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it is difficult to convey the true meaning of empowerment or delegation. For the record, those terms do not translate to, “I’m done here.” Graphically, the Situational Leadership® Model suggests that relationship behavior never goes to zero. A style match with the most inexperienced R1 or the most proficient R4 still includes a significant amount of relationship behavior (think of it as a “3” on a scale of “10”). A sound-bite that captures that essence is, “Low task doesn’t mean don’t ask.”*


  1. Which of these Step 3 pitfalls resonated with you most?
    1. Why?
    2. What can you do about that moving forward?
  2. What other roadblocks, pitfalls or challenges have you experienced when it came time to execute S1, S2, S3 or S4?

* That particular “spot-on wisdom” was provided by Courtney from International Paper during a pilot of our Situational Leadership®: Building Leaders Virtual pilot program. Much thanks!