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Leading from the front and middle

Situational Leadership 

You already know that leadership requires you to be involved in a variety of situations; working with others for multiple purposes; and to influence the thinking and behaviours of teams and individuals. Leaders, at every level, make things happen – and usually through the efforts of others. The challenges and demands of the different situations you find yourself in vary and the people you are now dependent on to get things done have varying levels of skill and confidence to act. 

If you are a typical emerging leader, you have no doubt been busy trying to establish who you want to be in this role and what leadership skills you can confidently rely on. Forming a distinctive brand that people can trust is crucial to success. 

It is daunting to realise that how you handle differing situations asks you to apply leadership in ways that may be less natural to you or which you feel should not be necessary if individuals are the right people for their jobs. 

With so many moving pieces in modern business, even good people need to be led in different ways according to the situation and what they have available to contribute in terms of skills, abilities, confidence levels and experience.  

Like many leadership practices, it’s useful to explain complex dynamics in terms of two variables or key levers you can pull to support situational adeptness. Dr. Paul Hersey, the author of “The Situational Leader” helps unpack the skills to develop: 

Provision of Support: Often referenced as a focus on the relationship needs within the interpersonal dynamic, with a view to the person feeling either emotionally supported or sufficiently motivated and confident to get involved or give new things a go. Behaviours that support such focus include listening, encouraging, facilitating, clarifying and offering feedback that collectively suggests two-way communication and open dialogue. Through such communication, leaders have opportunities to elevate an individual’s sense of will to act. 

Provision of Direction: Often referenced as a focus on task needs within the situation, with a view to the person feeling that they know what needs to done and how to execute on what is needed. Behaviours that support such focus include offering clear direction or simply telling people step by step what to do, how and when to do it and who is to do it, that suggests a one-way communication style to get people performing at the level of skill. This approach does not necessarily mean being bossy or scary, it can simply mean that you are guiding people clearly in how to do something important, to the a necessary standard. You are sharing your experience and skill. 

When you pull these two levers the map looks like this:

Real life situation: Either unable and unwilling or unable and lacking confidence. 

Appropriate when: 

New Hire: A clever new hire is to be inducted into a new way of working, such as being briefed on safety procedures with check-ins to ensure complete understanding and ability to comply. 

Mentoring: A highly skilled and experienced team member who is needing to learn a completely new skill from you in readiness for higher involvement, such as you showing them how to use a scheduling tool. • Safety: There is a critical situation that needs to be arrested in the moment. 

Miss-placed: A team member is erroneously underperforming due to having been deployed beyond requisite level of skill and confidence to transition to current level of role demands and is therefore needing direction to know how to perform key tasks. 

Real life situation: Unable but willing to learn and try Appropriate when: 

Recent promotion: A keen, reliable performer is stepping up to higher duties and is keen to learn new skills through coaching and guidance. This person is likely to feel anxious if left to flounder in the absence of proficiency. 

High potential: The person is viewed as talent for the future but is lacking experience and exposure. That individual learns quickly and is keen to do the best job but is concerned about failure and may hesitate to act on their potential. As a leader, you can tap into the motivations of the person and ‘sell’ the idea that taking a risk and possibly making a mistake is viewed as a positive learning experience. Starting to involve the person in mutual problem solving and giving specific feedback will forge the relationship between you, create safety for change, and build your team member’s confidence. 

Real life situation: Able but unwilling or hesitating to try 

Appropriate when: 

Insecure: An able performer who hesitates from fear of getting it wrong. The person doesn’t need skill building support but would benefit from regular feedback on what is being attempted and what is working well. You will also need to talk about what the person could do next and share decision making on the best approach. Encouraging input from your team member will build their decision making confidence to act on their own. 

• Injured: A recent unhappy experience has temporarily damaged the confidence of an able team member. By actively offering encouragement, while also creating a team environment, will support the person as they re-establish their confidence. Real life situation: Able but unwilling or hesitating to try Appropriate when: 

Ready performer: A team member is able, confident and sufficiently experienced to fulfil the commitments of a new role. In this situation they are ready to be empowered to get on with their job. • Potential successor: A competent, focussed and career focussed team member who is keen to be a successor for you. Build that person’s readiness by staged delegation of decision making responsibility and implementation. 

I recommend you undertake a leadership-style inventory on yourself. Identify in which situations you are comfortable to lead and where you need to develop to be an effective Situational Leader. 

We’d love feedback on your situation – go to the FASTLEAD Forum

Jennifer Scott 
FASTLEAD Coaching Team 


Learning early in your leadership career how to adapt to the needs of various situations will set up you and your team for success.




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