Situational Leadership for Healthy Growth

Many great people management principles and books are timeless. The ‘situational leadership’ model of Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard is one such gem from the 1970s. It offers four styles of leadership that need to be flexibly applied for dealing with different people and situations. Although only a guide, these are most helpful when considering the best ways to help people move forward so as to inspire their healthy growth.

The model, refined and later re-packaged, includes a comparison of competence and commitment. Although no-one usually self-describes as ‘uncommitted,’ some are clearly less invested in the cause, whether because of time or interest. Similarly, everyone is valuable and unique, but some are simply less capable of being released to lead or serve in certain areas. Guiding people most effectively needs leaders to understand where they are at.

The model’s four leadership styles, then, offer the chance to build momentum with people for their optimum growth. They will sometimes all be used with the same people, but in different areas of their growth. These four developmentally-focused approaches are as follows.

1. Directing. This is a structured approach involving teaching and monitoring. This style is needed for the higher commitment person who has lower competence in the area under consideration. As a pastor, I know that some committed people are naturally very competent in certain areas, but maybe less so in spiritual leadership, people skills, or in working in volunteer situations.

Directive leadership can’t be condescending or authoritative, but committed people are keen to serve, too. Some leaders miss opportunities to be decisive and to specifically request help from others in their desire to avoid being controlling.

Directive leadership can inspire great growth and productivity for those needing to be shown how to make a difference. It celebrates the value of faithful people while also helping to define and promote their fruitfulness.

2. Coaching. This adds more explanation and explores suggestions for growth or change. The model suggests that it is useful for those who are less committed, and whose lesser capability in certain areas is the reason for this style. This doesn’t invalidate coaching more widely, but in this context it is crucially focused on developing some how-to wins. In certain key areas, we will all benefit from such guidance.

Coaching inspires traction by helping people to accumulate victories that create an increased desire for growth and further change, eventually releasing potential more spontaneously (after which the nature of coaching will change.) Coaching is therefore a great motivational vehicle for people who are ‘stuck.’

For Christians, this coaching connects significantly with what God is saying and what is being owned and implemented as a result, rather than just on what a leader offers.

Coaching accentuates growth in a person whose own momentum is developed through the generation of wins that are increasingly self-started.

3. Supporting. This enables more shared responsibility for decision-making. It offers more facilitation and more listening to where people are at.

This style can seem time-intensive, but may be essential for competent people who need to process and explore for greater leadership refinement. Such people may be at a stage of growth which will eventually be rewarded by their later because of development at this point.

Competent people who are less committed due to personal crises or short-term workplace or family commitments, also need support. While intentional helpfulness and encouragement will be natural for good leaders, minimal assistance will be needed for the many great people around us who play a valuable role, but who simply cannot contribute at the level we might wish them to.

4. Delegating. This empowers highly competent and committed people to make day-to-day leadership decisions and releases them to take responsibility.

This means ‘final responsibility’, not deferring to others, not procrastinating, not blaming. It also means generating resources and inspiring others, as needed.

Delegation still needs some level of support, but taps the inner motivation and ability of people to empower them to make a difference. Many such people have been more closely coached and supported in the past, but these helps are now tailored toward equipping and releasing.

Leaders need to realise, though, that not everyone is ready or able to function at this level. Some will grow into it and, for others, it will be beyond them in certain areas. The key is to develop people to achieve their best in ways best suited to them.

Identifying where people are at and what they need in particular settings has been found to be most helpful for those leaders with less maturity and experience. This is where newer leadership prospects keen to be developed, and some younger adults with less life experience, are great prospects for optimised leadership growth.

Releasing people to lead at the right level and at the right time needs care not to pigeon-hole them, though. When people are valued for who they are and where they are at, this situational leadership model helps leaders to grow great teams and better individuals, and this is surely in everyone’s best interests.


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