The Power of the Situational Leadership® Ecosystem

The staying power of Situational Leadership® over the last 50 years is largely a function of its practicality and usability. The model takes complicated things (like the multifaceted dynamics of leadership and influence) and makes them simple. If nothing else, Situational Leadership® gives leaders a starting point (what is the task?).

We encourage leaders to break that task down into its lowest common denominator, to get as specific as they possibly can in identifying the target of their influence attempt. An analogy we have relied upon for quite some time is the relationship a forest, tree and leaf have to a job title/role, major responsibility and specific task or activity.

A few weeks back, I found myself sitting in the back of one of our “Train the Trainer” certifications and heard one of the best discussions I have ever heard on this topic. The trainer seeking certification, let’s call him Dave (primarily because his name was actually Dave), posed the following question to the group: “What is the ecosystem of a forest?”

There was a certain amount of tension in the room after that inquiry because no one was expecting it and (perhaps, more candidly) many of us weren’t exactly sure what an ecosystem was. Sensing this apprehension, Dave followed up with: “What kinds of things do you find in a forest?”

The participative floodgates opened up (trees, birds, perhaps reptiles, definitely insects, animals of all types, moss, rivers or streams, rocks, unfortunately perhaps litter and on and on and on). At which point, Dave switched gears: “How about a tree? Tell me about the ecosystem of a tree.”

We all felt good (because, at this juncture, we knew exactly what an ecosystem was) but there wasn’t nearly as much to talk about (maybe a bird, maybe even a bird nest, insects — that’s about it). Final question: “How about a leaf? What’s the ecosystem of a leaf?”

At this point, Dave was really pushing his luck! As a seasoned facilitator with “mad” platform skills, he sensed this and started bringing us back to the parallels between our ecosystem awareness training and Step 1 of Situational Leadership® (Identify the specific task):

“When you think leadership, think ‘leaf.’ Think about unpacking the focus of your influence attempt down to the point where it is as crystal clear as it can possibly be. You don’t want to be headed off into the density of a forest trying to help somebody become a better sales representative. You don’t even want to be climbing a tree trying to help them improve their selling skills. You want to be laser focused on the tree and the forest one leaf at a time, helping those sales representatives understand and articulate how our product solves the problems our customers are in the middle of.”

Everybody in the class (myself included) just sort of looked at Dave, nodded their heads and said to themselves: “Makes sense.  I get this!”

Much thanks, Dave!


  1. What is your job/role? (forest)
  2. What is a major function in that job/role? (tree)
  3. What is a specific task or activity you perform on an ongoing basis? (leaf)