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Examples of situational leadership

Updated March 23, 2017

Situational leadership, a theory developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, acknowledges that effective leadership is dependent on the task at hand, the skills of a group and the degree to which group members are motivated to follow. Effective situational leaders develop four different influence competencies (telling/directing, selling, delegating and participating) then apply different styles, depending on the type of assignment and the needs of the group.

Telling or Directing Style

The Telling or Directing Style is an authoritative approach used when followers are apathetic towards a task, confused about an assignment or lack relevant skills and experience. In addition, correct completion of the task is more important than group relationships. The leader provides commands and clear instructions on highly structured tasks, without worrying about building partnerships or whether or not members are invested in the long-term success of the project. This style is more of a "do it this way" than a "tell me what you think" approach. Examples of Telling or Directing can be found in military training, tightly supervised entry-level work or manufacturing assembly.

Selling Style

Protecting and building the relationships separates the Selling from Telling or Directing Style. The tasks in the Selling Style are highly structured, but instructions and supervision are given with encouragement and support. Followers who benefit from the Selling Style are willing and enthusiastic about the task at hand, but may lack the skills or experience to complete the assignment without supervision. A Selling Style would be a good approach in an internship situation, provided the young person was excited and happy to be on the job.

Participating Style

The Participating Style is used for situations where followers have the skills and experience to complete a task but may not have clear instructions or guidance about the assignment. Leaders using a Participating Style approach facilitate communication, information sharing and ideas so that the group reaches a firm understanding about how to proceed. A Participating Style might be used to steer a Board of Directors to develop a new policy for which there is no previous case history or best practices.

Delegating Style

The Delegating Style is the epitome of the old business leadership advice,"hire good people and then get out of the way." The Delegating Style should be used when followers are ready, willing and capable of completing tasks. A Delegating Style might be used to supervise tenured professors, who understand the job requirements but are given freedom to teach in the manner they believe is most effective.

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About the Author

Eryn Travis has over 15 years of freelance-writing experience. She has written for "Aviation News Today" and was the managing producer and host for the cable TV news show of the same name. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Maryland and is finishing up a master's degree in communication studies from West Chester University.