Situational Leadership – Shortfalls and Limitations

If we don’t know the limitations of a Leadership style, how can we be effective within it? How can we prepare for and overcome the barriers  if we are blind to them? This article looks to armour ourselves against some of the main shortfalls and limitations of this widely used and popular Leadership model. If you want to learn more about Situational Leadership before we cover its shortfalls and limitations, we have 6 other articles about it below that cover each style in more detail and the positive aspects to the model:


07/09/2021 – Situational Leadership Summary

10/10/2021 – Telling Leadership Article

21/11/2021 – Selling Leadership Article

19/12/2021 – Participating Leadership Article

13/02/2022 – Delegating Leadership Article

13/03/2022 – Pros of Situational Leadership


Let’s get stuck in and review the 4 main Shortfalls and Limitations of this model: Consistency, Short-term focus, individuality and evaluation. 



One of the main concerns with the Situational Leadership model is that it lacks consistency. Imagine one day your leader was supportive and facilitated your teams decision making process. This likely made you feel empowered, trusted, capable, skilled and engaged.

All of a sudden a new project hits and your leader now has had a complete attitude change and uses a highly Directive approach with the team, dictating actions step by step. How are you feeling now?

The lack of consistency in this approach will likely cause confusion, frustration, self doubt and cause motivation to plummet. The leader may look weak or fickle, for not being able to make up their mind and control their emotions. Which is why its should be explained to the team before changing your style to discuss what is happening (see part one for examples on how to do this).

Consistency amongst Followers may also cause conflict. Imagine one of your team mates was consistently given projects where the leader was very flexible with how the project was completed but also ensured that they were available for support. For you however, the leader directed you every step of the way and gave you no creative control of the project. Your ego would likely be bristling right now, thinking the leader has favourites and that this isn’t fair for you. If you are using this style as a Leader and you are treating Followers differently consider these questions:

  1. Have I spoken to the team about this?
  2.  Am I using the right Leadership styles based on Follower Readiness?
  3. How much am I letting my personal feelings impact the Leadership style?

Block and Kennedy (1986) found that most Followers preferred a consistently Participative Leader than a flexible one. So if you are in it for your Followers, consider how you could be more of a Participating and Facilitative leader. On the other side, Heilman, Hornstein, Cage, and Herschlag (1984) found that most superiors of the Leader being evaluated preferred them to have a flexible style instead of a consistent one. 

The key here, is to explain why you are changing your approach, ensure your followers know it’s a purposeful change and not an emotional reaction.


Short Term Focus

Situational Leadership looks at the present. It doesn’t have the long term vision that inspires Followers to action. The argument here is that we are treating our Followers based on their skill and mentality now instead of where we want them to be. When we are constantly Leading in the moment, what happens to our long-term vision? If we are Directing our Follower, are we really preparing them for Selling, Participating or Delegating Leadership? 

If your focus is always on the development level of your Followers and their task urgency, you may not be able to detach mentally from the situation in order to check on the variables that are just out of your sight line. What is the use of being present in the moment if you lose sight of the long term strategic goal? Is the situation you’re dealing with now adding value to your team and mission or is there a better way to achieve your objectives?


Some questions to consider:

  1. Am I developing my Follower with this approach?
  2. How does this approach get us towards our long-term objectives?
  3. Am I reacting more than planning?


Everyone is different (…and the same)

Situational Leadership was built for teams in America, it doesn’t take into consideration differences in cultures, gender, generation or just in general, people. Situational Leadership expects the model to work for everyone at the correct development level.

Realistically, two new Starters may not benefit from the same Directive style. The approach may be well received or ill received based on the persons disposition, values and perceived development level. Some people with high skill in the role may want coaching whilst others just want to know how to quickly fix an issue.

We are all different but we are all also the same. Psychologically speaking, humans tend to react in similar ways, take onboard feedback in similar ways and learn in similar ways. It’s important to acknowledge differences as they arise and adjust our methods accordingly but ego plays a big part in the Leader and Follower relationships which is why transparency is key.


Some questions to consider:

  1. Is this approach right for my Followers?
  2. How has each Follower reacted to the styles I’ve used?
  3. What tweaks could I make for this to be more effective?
  4. What other communication techniques can I use alongside this style?
  5. How can I understand what my Followers like and dislike about this style?


Evaluating Development Levels

The models success depends on the Leaders ability to correctly identifying the Development level of their follower and the situation at hand. Needless to say this is a very reflective exercise and requires time, skill and patience from the Leader to do accurately. Should a Leader read this wrong, they could miss the mark with their style, becoming ineffective and damaging relationships with their Followers.

Based on the critiques from Block and Kennedy above and Blake and Mouton’s arguments for a consistent leadership style, the Leader could save time and energy by focusing on both people and production, seeing the long term vision instead of having to constantly evaluate which style to use. How mentally taxing would it be for you as a Leader to consistently review your Followers readiness level? How effective would it be for you to evaluate each situation as it arises in order to choose the correct style? 


Questions to consider:

  1. How will I know if I have correctly identified my Followers readiness level?
  2. How often will I need to evaluate this?
  3. What criteria will I assess it by?
  4. Would my Followers benefit from a value based leadership style instead?




As we can see, there are some shortfalls to the model including consistency, the lack of long term vision, it doesn’t take individuals into account and that it takes a skilled and reflective Leader to correctly identify Development levels. of their Followers. Situational Leadership has some great advantages but where it doesn’t fit in with your Leadership approach, consider looking at Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid, which favours a much more consistent approach to leadership or a behaviour driven style such as Servant Leadership. What do you think about the Situational Leadership model?

Do the benefits outweigh the shortfalls?

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