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How To Use Situational Leadership Theory To Be A Better Manager

At its core, this theory is about having the versatility to adapt the style and nature of your leadership to a situational approach so that you can meet ever-shifting workplace dynamics.

Here at Cloverleaf, we use the situational leadership style of learning so we can help our clients be the best leaders they can be. That doesn’t mean being domineering or controlling because leading is no longer about the amount of positional power you have over others.

Our leadership style is about putting people in the best place possible so they can do their best work. We use a situational leadership model to accomplish this. Our organization is about elevating others, and we give you the tools and resources you need to excel and deliver exceptional quality work.

3 animated characters are sitting at tables with laptops while another presents information on a whiteboard


Situational Leadership Theory is a style of learning that relates to how good leaders manage their teams in the workplace. Essentially, it’s about having the skill to provide a flexible and effective leadership strategy. That way, you can adjust according to each task and situation and the needs of the people you lead every day.

In 1969, Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed this theory in their groundbreaking book, Management of Organizational Behavior. The book sold millions, and its ideas and practices are still in use today across the world, and for a good reason: because it works.

The Four Leadership Styles

According to Hersey and Blanchard, their theory depends on the particular style of leadership and the maturity level of the team members.

They claim that the situational leader should adopt these four traits when adjusting and implementing different leadership styles in the workplace.

  1. Selling: Also called persuading, leaders use this style for unmotivated employees or those who have low competence and a low commitment level. The leadership approach for this style involves being open to communication, collaboration, and feedback, so the employee feels valued and wants to participate.

  2. Telling: Telling (direction) is for leadership situations that require supportive behavior and reliable guidance for all employees who could benefit from close supervision. This management style requires you to be a strong type of leader and take charge.

  3. Participating: Participating and sharing skills are most effective for a team member with high job proficiency who can help with decision-making or critical planning. Every skilled team member gets to make decisions and communicate effectively.

  4. Delegating: This model is ideal for teams of self-motivators with well-developed emotional intelligence. As a leader, you must have an understated management style yet be crystal clear with the outcomes you expect and your directions. 

Read more about leadership and coaching styles here.

Develop the Situational Leaders You Need for Effective Leadership Styles with Cloverleaf

Here at Cloverleaf, we implement all four leadership styles to help our clients develop the situational leadership model that fits their organization best. Right now, we offer five different packages modeled around this practical theory of leadership, so our clients can employ an effective decision-making process as a leader and foster positive employee development.

No matter what kind of leadership style your organization needs, one of the following comprehensive support packages should be right for you:

  • Individual: Increase your self-awareness, realize your potential, and leverage your strengths to become a leader in your own right.

  • Small Teams: Our leadership studies have helped us provide top-notch coaching for team members so that you can gain critical insights into your team’s performance.

  • Coaches: We have the expertise and skill to help you deliver value as a head coach. We’ll help you foster performance readiness so you can keep your team consistently producing their best work.

  • Enterprises: Develop an effective coaching style and integrate technology to implement our leadership styles on a large scale.

  • Non-Profits: We can help your non-profit build a stronger community organization so your team can collaborate seamlessly to help those who need it most.


If you want to practice situational leadership, you’ve got to have a range of different management styles. Good leaders have the ability to shift these styles at a moment’s notice to accommodate any situation, whether you’re the Editor-in-Chief, the director of human resources, or the COO of the whole shebang.

These situational leadership styles are only effective when you practice them in accordance with the four development levels:

  1. Low Competence and High Commitment: This first development level is also called the “enthusiastic beginner” level. Such employees have a very high commitment level to the task behavior required for their work but don’t have the maturity levels or expertise they need to accomplish the job with any level of skill.

  2. Mild Competence and Low Commitment: This level of worker possesses a moderate amount of skills but may be a “disillusioned learner” with only a low level of commitment to the team structure. Such contexts require a leadership style with lots of coaching and positive affirmation.

  3. High Competence and Variable Commitment: A member of this level, also known as a “cautious performer,” exhibits high levels of maturity and skills but may not have the commitment level required to excel at his or her job.  This situation requires an approach that supports every member of the team and fosters willing participation. Your role needs to present the correct task behavior as a shining example.

  4. High Commitment and High Competence: This level of worker, also called a “self-reliant achiever,” has developed skills and expertise to a high level and usually has more mature emotional intelligence. He or she will be ready to help whenever necessary and is typically focused on the tasks at hand throughout each day.

This development level also involves learning effective delegation, so you can empower your team to make the right decisions without close supervision.


If you want to change your leadership style to meet the basic principles of Situational Leadership Theory, there are a few skills you need to master first.

Once you have the tools, you need the knowledge to apply them to your specific work environment. Here are the critical skills you need as a leader to keep your team functioning at its absolute best.

  • Versatility: Regularly examine the needs of your job, the team, and the business itself and adjust your leadership style as necessary.

  • Comprehensive and Clear Directions: Give your employees clear direction and guidance for them to succeed, regardless of their maturity level or relationship behavior with others in the workplace.

  • Listening and Communication: Use active listening skills and promote positive relationship behavior among teammates, so everybody collaborates to ensure a desirable outcome.

  • Reward Dedication and Participation: Be sure to reward members of the team who participate and encourage everyone to share their opinions, expertise, knowledge, and skills.

  • Effective Skill Implementation: Have the skill range and tools to be an effective leader while coaching teammates with varying maturity levels to bring out their best work.

Read more about leadership styles and Cloverleaf here.

Talent Development in the Age of AI




What is Situational Leadership Theory?

This theory of leadership focuses on the ability of a leader to be flexible, versatile, and adaptable when it comes to their specific leadership style. Leaders need to be flexible so they can better meet the needs of their team and adjust their style to find practical solutions to the task at hand.

There’s another theory by Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) that includes six leadership styles:

  • Coaching Leader

  • Democratic Leader

  • Affiliative Leader

  • Authoritative Leader

  • Coercive Leader

  • Pacesetting Leaders

What are the four leadership styles of situational leadership?

In this theory of leadership, the four styles of leadership include:

  • Selling and persuading

  • Telling and showing

  • Participating and sharing

  • Delegating and directing

What is the main principle of situational leadership theory?

The key is to have the flexibility to adapt your leadership skills and style to fit the many variables in your workspace to lead your team more effectively.

It’s about being a mentor, a coach, a leader, and a delegator and learning how to shift between those leadership styles and skills to best tackle the situation at hand.

What are some examples of Situational Leadership Theory?

One great example of situational leadership theory would be a team leader working on a video game release for a client. Halfway to completion, there’s a major crisis and the client asks for a complete reinvention of all the progress so far. Naturally, the employees of the team feel upset and don’t know where to begin.

The leader of this team would adopt a “Telling” style of leadership, giving team members direct supervision and close guidance to get everything done efficiently.

Another real-life example would be Abraham Lincoln, who led the country not only through the Civil War but also its aftermath, helping repair the war-torn country. Had he been unable to deploy ever-shifting leadership styles, he would not have been able to achieve the great things he was able to accomplish, including the Emancipation Proclamation.

Partner with Cloverleaf and Grow Your Leadership Approach

For innovative leadership strategies, you need to keep your team excelling, contact the professionals at Cloverleaf today and learn how Situational Leadership Theory can elevate your team to the next level.

Picture of The Cloverleaf Team

The Cloverleaf Team