A Situational Approach to Effective Leadership

August 22, 2019 Ken Blanchard

Missed goals, disappointing results, communication problems, and lack of engagement—leaders are called upon to resolve issues like these every day. But how should managers address these challenges? What, exactly, is the right leadership style?

Forty years of Blanchard research has proven that the best leadership style is the one that matches the developmental needs of the person you’re working with. Is the direct report new and inexperienced about the task at hand? Then more guidance and direction are called for. Is the direct report experienced and skilled? That person requires less hands-on supervision.

All of us are at different levels of development depending on the task we are working on at any given time. To bring out the best in others, leadership must be tailored to the individual and situation. Giving people too much or too little direction has a negative impact on their development.

Our model, SLII®, takes a situational approach to effective leadership. This model is based on the belief that people can and want to develop, and there is no best leadership style to encourage that development.

The Four Leadership Styles

There are four basic leadership styles in an SLII® approach to leadership: directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. These correspond with the four basic development levels: Enthusiastic Beginner, Disillusioned Learner, Capable but Cautious Contributor and Self-Reliant Achiever.

Enthusiastic Beginners need a directing style, Disillusioned Learners need a coaching style, Capable but Cautious Contributors need a supporting style and Self-Reliant Achievers need a delegating style.

Development level varies from goal to goal or task to task. An individual can be at one level of development on one goal or task and be at a different level of development on another goal or task. For example, when I was a college professor, I loved to teach and write. Those were tasks I performed well and without supervision. However, when it came to administrative matters like managing my budget and filling out reports, I was a Disillusioned Learner at best.

The Three Skills of an SLII® Leader

To become effective as an SLII® leader, you must master these three skills:

  1. Goal Setting. All good performance starts with clear goals. Clarifying goals involves making sure that people understand two things: first, what they are being asked to do—their areas of accountability—and second, what good performance looks like—the performance standards by which they will be evaluated.
  2. Diagnosis. You must diagnose the development level of your direct reports on each of their goals and tasks by looking at two factors—competence and commitment. Competence is the sum of knowledge and skills an individual brings to a goal or task. Commitment has to do with a person’s motivation and confidence about a goal or task.
  3. Matching. You must match your leadership style to the development level of the person you are leading. Over supervising or under supervising—that is, giving people too much or too little direction—has a negative impact on people’s development.

No matter what leadership challenges you’re facing, remember that all people have peak performance potential—you just need to know where they are coming from and meet them there.

Assure your success as a leader by learning the SLII® approach to leadership. As you become skilled in adapting your leadership style to match the skill level of the people you’re leading, your effectiveness will skyrocket!

PS:  Want to learn more about creating an empowered workforce with leaders who serve their people to better serve your customers? Download the free 60-page summary of Leading at a Higher Level.  It’s available for free on The Ken Blanchard Companies website.  Use this link to access the summary.

About the Author

Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard is cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies. Best known as the coauthor of The One Minute Manager, as well as 65 other books with combined sales totaling more than 21 million copies.

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