The Right Leadership, at The Right Time.

Situational Leadership® Chart

Situational Leadership® is the most practical on-the-job tool. The application from the course to the real work environment can begin immediately.

Lead Organizational Development Specialist, Vidant Health

The Situational Leadership® methodology is based on the relationship between leaders and followers and provides a framework to analyze each situation based on the Performance Readiness® Level that a follower exhibits in performing a specific task, function or objective. Then, based on the leader’s diagnosis, the necessary amounts of relationship behavior and task behavior are applied and communicated to the follower in order to support their needs and advance development.

Trainer Certifications Schedule an Onsite Workshop

Discover the next generation of Situational Leadership® training!

Situational Leadership® Essentials

The role of the manager is becoming increasingly complex, and adaptability is the key to organizational resilience. Our new multimodal course enables leaders to overcome misalignment, build trust, increase engagement and drive results.


What is Situational Leadership®?

Understanding The Situational Leadership® Framework

Situational Leadership® is a flexible framework that enables leaders to tailor their approach to the needs of their team or individual members. Developed by Paul Hersey in 1969, this model provides a repeatable process for matching leadership behaviors to the performance needs of those being influenced. Unlike other leadership models, Situational Leadership® recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, allowing leaders to adapt their behaviors to suit the unique needs of each situation.

The Four Leadership Styles of Situational Leadership®

The Benefits of Situational Leadership®

  • Creates a common language of performance
  • Accounts for multi-directional influence
  • Utilizes task specificity as a measure of performance versus typecasting employees
  • Allows leaders to effectively drive behavior change
  • Accelerates the pace and quality of employee development
  • Teaches leaders to accurately interpret and effectively respond to their environment

The Four Core Competencies of Situational Leadership®

Situational Leaders learn to demonstrate four core, common and critical leadership competencies:

  • Diagnose an individual’s Performance Readiness® to complete a specific task
  • Adapt leader behavior based on the diagnosis
  • Communicate an influence approach in a manner that followers can both understand and accept
  • Advance by managing the movement toward higher performance

Situational Leadership® Videos

Interested in learning more about Situational Leadership®? Check out our videos:

The 4 Core Competencies of A Situational Leader

Is Situational Leadership® Still Relevant?

Benefits of Situational Leadership® Training

The Four Leadership Styles of the Situational Leadership®

Flexible Situational Leadership® Training Options

From instructor-led and virtual public workshops for personal development and organizational vetting, to private on-site workshops or certification, we have flexible training solutions designed to meet your needs.

Training Events

Our Clients

This is how you train your people; this is how you keep your people; this is how you develop your people.
- Marty Davis, Director of Global Field Training, American Dairy Queen

The History of Situational Leadership®

As founder of The Center for Leadership Studies and co-developer of the Situational Leadership® Model, Dr. Hersey was internationally recognized as a leading authority on training and development in leadership and management. The author and coauthor of numerous papers, articles, and books, “Management of Organizational Behavior,” is a true reflection of 50 years of the most significant theory and research developed by thought leaders in the behavioral sciences. This work focuses on the applicability of the Situational Leadership® Model, along with the interaction of people, motivation and leadership.

It was Dr. Paul Hersey’s goal to present a practical model that could be leveraged by a diverse spectrum of leaders for the express purpose of effective influence.

When developing the Situational Leadership® Model, Dr. Paul Hersey had two questions:

What is the best leadership style?

What are the driving forces behind human motivation?

From his research, Dr. Paul Hersey found that there is no one best leadership style, as it is dependent upon the individual’s level of ability and willingness to complete the specific task. From the 1960s to present, the Situational Leadership® theory has remained an effective tool for leaders to match their behaviors with the performance needs of the individual or group that they are attempting to influence.

Find A Course

*Interested in writing about The Situational Leadership® Model? Review these guidelines for our Intellectual Property.

Situational Leadership case study

Situational Leadership® Case Study

For more than 50 years, our leadership theory has enabled leaders at all levels of the organization to more effectively influence others. This comprehensive case study examines the core principles of the model and how leaders can apply this leadership approach to navigate any given situation or interaction.

Read the Case Study

Situational Leadership® FAQs

A leader, with a strong ability and natural inclination to influence others through a participative or collaborative approach notices that style has been relatively ineffective with a member of her team who is working on a high-visibility project with a tight timeline. The leader takes a thoughtful look at the task this team member has been given responsibility to perform and breaks it down into sequential steps. Further, the leader examines the historical task-specific experience and skill this team member has demonstrated for this type of work and determines it to be low. Given those givens the leader moves out of their personal leadership comfort zone and employs a far more structured approach, which winds up creating necessary movement on the project, and is far better received by the follower.

There are three, highly interdependent skills, imbedded in Situational Leadership®:

  1. Diagnose: Leaders are thoughtful people. They think before they do. In the context of Situational Leadership® those leaders actively consider the task that needs to be performed and the relative ability and willingness of the person performing it before taking any action. 
  2. Adapt: Leaders recognize it is up to them to adjust to the follower and the leadership circumstance they are attempting to influence. It is not about their personal level of comfort with one approach or another.
  3. Communicate: Leaders recognize they have influence related strengths and areas for improvement. As such, they leverage their strengths when the situation aligns and work with intent to improve their effectiveness with the styles that don’t come naturally.

Not unlike mathematics is a language of physics and design, Situational Leadership® is a language of performance and change management with a big impact.

  1. Performance management: This helps leaders play an appropriate role in the process of establishing goals and priorities (i.e., more directive with a novice, more empowering with an expert). Along the same lines, Situational Leadership® also informs the approach the leader should take when providing either formal, or informal, performance feedback. 
  2. Change management: When change hits, the readiness of individuals and teams to perform usually shifts with it. Simply stated, leadership can’t stay the same! It has to move and adjust to reflect the circumstances introduced by the change.

Situational Leadership® revolves around three, key elements:

  • The work: Situational Leaders initiate with a thoughtful analysis of the work that needs to be accomplished and, in so doing, break down jobs and roles into incremental tasks that need to be completed.
  • The follower: Situational Leaders gain alignment with the individuals performing those tasks on their task-specific ability (knowledge, experience, skill) and willingness (confidence, commitment, motivation).
  • The leader: Situational Leaders provide a style or approach that has a high probability of helping the follower deliver the desired results.

Suffice to say, Situational Leadership® helps leaders form a relationship with followers around the work.

First, Situational Leaders are aware of themselves. They recognize their leadership-related strengths and weaknesses, and they intentionally make every effort to accentuate and continually improve both. Second, Situational Leaders are aware of others. They possess the ability to accurately discern confidence from insecurity and knowledge/understanding from skill. The resultant effect of that two-tiered awareness is that Situational Leaders consistently make and implement good decisions that are in the best interests of the organization they work for as well as the people they serve in that capacity.

The “best” leadership style is the one that most accurately and objectively responds to the nuances of the situation (defined by the task at hand and the readiness of the person responsible for performing it). As such, every style “works”—and every style doesn’t! Empowerment is great, but can also be described as abandonment. Guidance can be the right thing at the right time unless it is perceived as micromanagement. The “best” leadership style … depends!

The Situational Leadership® Model features four styles:

  1. Directing: The leader makes decisions and closely supervises execution. This is a short-term approach intended to create movement.
  2. Coaching: The leader still makes decisions but provides background and context and engages with the follower to reinforce buy-in and continued progress.
  3. Collaborating: The follower makes decisions with support from the leader in an effort to instill and enhance task mastery. 
  4. Empowering: The follower is trusted to not only make task-related decisions but to suggest strategies for improvement and identify best practices.

Our founder at The Center for Leadership Studies (Dr. Paul Hersey) also happens to be the creator of Situational Leadership®.  In that capacity he was passionate, consistent, and crystal clear whenever he was asked about Situational Leadership® Theory:

“There is no such thing as Situational Leadership® Theory!  A theory gives you something interesting to think about.  Situational Leadership® is a model.  A model is a repeatable framework that provides you with a roadmap on what to do”.

In short, nothing has changed!  For over 50 years Situational Leadership® has been helping leaders identify specific tasks; assess Performance Readiness®; and implement an approach with the highest probability of success. 

Situational Leadership® is anchored by Task or Directive Behavior on the horizontal continuum and Relationship or Supportive Behavior on the vertical continuum.  Here are the operational definitions of both:

    1. Task/Directive Behavior – The extent to which the leader makes decisions and tells the follower what to do, and how to do it.
    2. Relationship/Supportive Behavior – The extent to which the leader allows the follower to participate in or make decisions and engages in two-way communication and listening.

The intersection of these dimensions identifies Four Primary Styles of Leadership (Guiding; Explaining; Collaborating; and Empowering).   

There are four progressive steps leaders employ when they implement Situational Leadership®:

    1. Identifying a specific task or performance target
    2. Assessing the follower’s task specific Ability and Willingness to perform the task:
      1. Ability – Knowledge; Experience; and Skill
      2. Willingness – Confidence; Commitment; and Motivation
    3. Communicating with the follower in a manner that aligns with the assessment (highest probability approach)
      1. This includes recognizing there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” leadership style (they all “work”…and they all “don’t”)
    4. Monitoring progress and calibrating approach 
      1. Situational Leaders recognize the job (of leadership) is never “over”.  They continually reassess readiness and adjust their style as need be.

It has to be…right?  How else could a model (or any product for that matter) remain relevant for over 50 years?  And we wholeheartedly believe the essence of the effectiveness of Situational Leadership® over the years is a function of alignment.  

The Situational Leadership® model helps leaders align their approach to the follower performing the task.  In that regard it allows the leader and the follower to form a relationship around the work that needs to be done.  The benefits of that aligned relationship are manifested in three, interdependent dimensions:

  1. Engagement – Leaders that align their approach to the performance needs of their followers enhance their confidence, commitment, and motivation.
  2. Productivity – Confident, committed, and motivated employees consistently deliver targeted results.
  3. Retention – Committed and motivated employees are less likely to seek employment elsewhere.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of documented definitions of leadership.  By design, we at The Center for Leadership Studies have adopted one that is all-encompassing:

  1. Leadership…is an attempt to influence!

So, any time you as a manger are attempting to influence the behavior of anyone on your team, you are (by definition) leading!

In more specific terms a Situational Approach to Leadership will be helpful if:

  • Your team is struggling and needs the benefit of your experience to get on track.
  • Your team is excelling and needs autonomy to continue pursuing mastery.
  • Your team is learning and needs someone to discuss next steps with.

Situational Leadership® is effective because (if properly employed) the approach of the leader is aligned with the performance needs of the follower.  That typically take the form of:

  • A follower who doesn’t know what to do (or how to do it), with a leader that provides necessary direction and close supervision.
  • A follower who can consistently perform a task at a sustained and acceptable standard (and loves to do so), with a leader that provides both space and autonomy.
  • A follower who is developing expertise, with a leader who provides feedback, recognition on progress made, and a sounding board for upcoming decisions.

The success of Situational Leadership® is a function of the communication and trust, between the leader and the follower, that are in the process of forming a relationship around the task to be accomplished.

In that regard it is important to note that “people” do not “fit into boxes”.  Conversely, they fall into one level or another of performance readiness, based on the task at hand.  Leaders and followers need to be able to transparently discuss the task, along with the ability and willingness of the follower to perform it, in order to align on the approach the leader will employ moving forward.

Short answer, yes!  And the primary scenario that comes to mind revolves around the distinction between a “task”, and a “condition of employment”.  

A task is an element of an employee’s role that they need to learn how to perform at a sustained and acceptable level of proficiency.  The process for that development is usually iterative, takes time, and features well-intended setbacks as part of the learning curve.  Situational Leadership® makes so much sense here!

On the other hand, a condition of employment…is just that!  You are employed “here” on the condition that you comply from day 1 (and moment 1) with rules we have established around things like: stealing company assets; creating or contributing to a hostile workplace; misrepresenting the company in commercial negotiation; etc.  Situational Leadership® does not align here.

Build Leaders Who Understand the Importance of Success and Engagement With The Center for Leadership Studies

CLS is the sole provider of the Situational Leadership® method and has trained over 15 million leaders and counting. To learn more about how Situational Leadership® training can benefit your organization, we encourage you to complete our online contact form or by calling us at 919.335.8763. today!