Situational Leadership – Summary

Situational Leadership – Summary

Welcome to our Summary article on Situational Leadership, this is the first of 7 articles that explores this widely used model. Our release schedule for the Situational Leadership articles is below. Together, we will explore the positives of the model, the negatives of the model and each of the Leadership styles in more detail – concluding on the 20th of March 2022.


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

20/03/2022 – Shortfalls of Situational Leadership


What is it?

Situational Leadership is a model created by Hersey and Blanchard that was initially named the “Life cycle theory of leadership”. The idea of the model is that a Leader should change their Leadership style based on the readiness (or maturity/ developmental) level of their Follower.

It is a structured style of leadership, based on the situation at hand. This style differs from trait leadership which focuses on the Leaders behaviour, character and overall style.

Below is the Situational Leadership model. The 4 quadrants indicate Follower Readiness levels (R1, R2, R3 and R4) and the ideal Leadership style is represented by the arrows moving through each quadrant.

The model comprises of 4 main styles of Leadership; Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating. Each leadership style matches the readiness level of your Followers, typically known as R1 (Readiness level 1), R2, R3 and R4. 

  • R1 Followers are described as: “Unable and Insecure or Unwilling”
  • R2 Followers are described as: “Unable but Confident or Willing”
  • R3 Followers are described as: “Able but Insecure of Unwilling”
  • R4 Followers are described as: “Able and Willing or Motivated”

The horizontal axis focuses on directive or task orientated behaviour or how much “Telling” you need to do. The vertical axis places its focus on supportive or relationship focussed behaviour and how much time you need to invest in your Followers.


As you can see from the above image, R1 Followers need a Telling Leadership approach, R2 a Selling approach, R3 a Participating approach and R4 a Delegating approach. The model advises that you should change your Leadership style based on the Readiness level of your follower. This will provide them with the leadership style they will benefit from the most.

It’s important to understand that Follower Readiness level can move forward or backwards based on the situation at hand. For example, an R4 Follower (someone who is able and confident in their role), may turn into an R1 Follower (Someone unable and insecure) in the event of an urgent situation they felt unable to deal with.


Why is it used?

Situational Leadership has been a popular Leadership style since its inception in 1969. Businesses use it to gain a consistent yet fluid approach to Leadership, whilst Learning and Development professionals have seen success when using it as part of a learning journey.

The Leadership model has been continually adapted by its authors (albeit separately) over the years, keeping it relevant and adjusting their model based on evidential research. 

Whilst some models prefer Leaders to have specific traits or a key mentality, such as Servant Leadership, the Situational model calls for a combination of task and relationship focus, leading to an easy to assimilate and consistent formula for Leaders to use.

We go into more detail on the pros and cons of this model alongside each of the 4 styles in separate articles but one thing is clear, Situational Leadership has maintained its popularity amongst organisations since 1969.


How is it used?

For specifics, check out each individual article on the styles involved but we will give you a brief overview below of the; Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating styles, enabling you to grasp the high level theory behind the model.


Telling – or Directive Leadership

This autocratic or ‘Telling’ approach to Leadership is a method best used on R1 Followers. Here, you tell people what they need to do and why they need to do it. It works well when outlining a process or have new starters that are unable to perform the tasks required. It’s useful you’re your Follower lacks the confidence or desire to take necessary action. 


When we think about a Follower that is unskilled and lacking confidence or desire, we can think about a new starter. Whilst most of the time, we expect new starters to demonstrate a desire to do a good job, they may be lacking in confidence. They wont know the policies or processes and will need direction early on to build both their skill and confidence levels. We cover this in more detail in our Telling / Directive Leadership article due for release on the 10th of October 2021.



This is a coaching centred approach where you “sell” your ideas and is best used with R2 Followers. The ideal time to use this style is when your Follower still lacks the skill to succeed but their confidence and/or enthusiasm overrides their skill level.

The Selling approach seeks to help your Follower come to their own conclusions about what they need to do and why it is important. There is still an element of ‘Telling’ in here if your Follower gets stuck but the majority of the answers should be coming from them. This helps to foster their enthusiasm into skill based practice and help them become R3 or R4 Followers. The Selling Leadership Article is due for release on the 21st of November 2021.



This is a facilitation style and is an ideal approach for an R3 follower. This style works well for people who have the skills but are lacking the motivation or will to do the job. It can be a time consuming approach as it requires little direction and lots of support, with a high focus on relationships. This approach is designed to engage your skilled Followers and help them see the value in themselves and their work.

A Follower that has the skills but not the will to do their job can be both challenging and rewarding. Whilst the Leader will still have the final say on the way forward, putting your trust in your Followers and letting them experiment with their ideas (even if you think yours is better) is key to developing them further. Participating Leadership can be done 1 on 1 but works really well for group work – especially if your team are in the Storming Stage (more on that another time)!

The Participating Leadership article is due for release on the 2nd of January 2022.




This style of leadership is reserved for your R4 Followers. People who are motivated and have the skills to do the job to a high standard. It’s a hands off approach to leading, requiring little direction or support from the leader, this is where you want your Followers to be.

Whilst it is amazing to have a team of R4 Followers, remember that you are still accountable for your team and the projects success. Delegating a project or workload isn’t the same as passing ownership of the blame if things go wrong. Make sure your team knows the outcome needed, have a clear understanding of the values and mission your team subscribe to and that you have built up a trusting relationship with them to know if they struggle, you will be the first to know.


The Delegating Leadership article is due for release on the 13th of February 2022.


To conclude

Situational Leadership helps you establish which leadership style to use based on Follower readiness levels and the situation at hand. It outlines key attitudes and tools to use in each situation, giving the leader an easy and quick reference on how to be effective at any given moment.


There are 4 Readiness levels: 

  • R1 Followers are described as: “Unable and Insecure or Unwilling”
  • R2 Followers are described as: “Unable but Confident or Willing”
  • R3 Followers are described as: “Able but Insecure of Unwilling”
  • R4 Followers are described as: “Able and Willing or Motivated”

With 4 accompanying Leadership styles:

  • Telling – For R1 Followers (Directive / Autocratic approach)
  • Selling – For R2 Followers (Coaching approach)
  • Participating – For R3 Followers (Facilitation approach)
  • Delegating for R4 Followers (Entrusting approach)

If you are ready to engage in the leadership styles in more detail, the individual guides and their accompanying courseware should give you everything you need to utilise this model effectively. If you subscribe via email at the bottom of the article, you will get these delivered directly into your inbox.

Thank you for spending time with us and getting a foundational understanding of this theory. Consider downloading the below resources, sharing them amongst your team and developing your own styles. At the bottom of the page you will find:


1) Situational Leadership quiz – what’s your natural style?

2) Situational Leadership one page guide

3) Situational Leadership Reflection Template


If you want to take your Leadership skills to the next level, book in your free consultation today:


File Name: Situational-Leadership-Quiz-by-Develop-The-Edge-2.xlsx


Get new, value packed articles directly to your inbox:

Bookmark the permalink.