June 2023

LEADER PRACTICE No. 4: Best Leader Style? It Depends…

My coaching clients often bring up the matter of a team member who just doesn’t “get it.” Sometimes, my client has developed heartburn because the colleague’s way of working doesn’t meet expectations. When we explore the issue further, however, we often find that the leader’s preferred leadership style isn’t meeting the employee’s readiness.

We all have preferred leadership styles and strengths. Some of us are great at delegating and “letting go.” Others excel at providing clear direction. Other leaders are accomplished coaches. They support, encourage, and motivate. At times, all these approaches are useful. Yet none of them are suitable for all people and situations.

Fortunately, Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed the Situational Leadership® framework, which helps us select the best leader style based on an employee’s readiness for a task. The most important thing to remember is that everyone’s readiness is fluid, changing in relation to competence, motivation, and confidence in a situation. Individuals and teams can be high-performing at times, beginners in some situations, and cautious or disillusioned in other scenarios – all in the same day! It’s important to avoid using the framework to pigeon-hole ourselves or others.

To apply the framework, we begin by assessing a colleague’s readiness for the task, both in terms of their competence and their motivation/confidence in doing it.  We can recognize them in one of four categories: Enthusiastic Beginner, Disillusioned Learner, Cautiously Competent, or Peak Performer. Next, we consider how directive and supportive our leader style should be to meet the need. Four leader approaches – Directing/Telling, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating – correspond to levels of readiness.

When we pause, reflect, and adjust our style to a situation, we and our employees often become much more effective.


When you are delegating work (or something just isn’t working), use the Situational Leadership® framework to diagnose the employee’s readiness. Use that information to adjust your leader style to the situation.


Think about the employee’s competence and their motivation/confidence with that specific task/situation.

  • Enthusiastic Beginner – Low competence, highly motivated.
  • Disillusioned Learner – Some competence but bored, frustrated, and/or finding the task harder than expected.
  • Cautiously Competent – You believe they are competent but for whatever reasons, they are not confident.
  • Peak Performer – Highly competent and confident, self-motivated.

Leader Style

Then choose the leader style with the calibration of direction and support that corresponds to the individual’s readiness. Practice adjusting your leader style accordingly. 

  • Directing/Telling – Provide detailed and regular guidance and much of the major decision making.  Requires little motivating.
  • Coaching (Like a sports coach) – Provide more direction and lots of encouragement; consider sharing how you or others have experienced these challenges in the past.
  • Supportive (Like a leadership coach) – Encourage and ask open-ended questions so they can figure out their own solutions.
  • Delegating – Set the vision, outline outcomes, and grant clear authority. Let them run!

Check out this short 10 minute HR article that takes you through an employee at work and kid on bike examples which will make working with the Situational Leadership® framework crystal clear.

Until next month…

Dana's signature

Founder and Principal Coach