Co-author of the recognized leadership book The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard is also widely known for leadership research studying how a situation will impact the leadership style of a leader. Blanchard and co-author Paul Hersey’s research in situational approach leadership have been further studied and refined nowadays, and are heavily used in organizational settings including small companies and Fortune 500 companies.

Situational approach leadership is just as it appears to represent — it is centered on leadership and how leaders lead due to the demands of a particular situation. Therefore, when the situation varies, ones’ leadership style may need to vary as well. To be the most-effective in situational leadership, a leader accurately deciphers the situation, analyzes the developmental level of followers, and then matches the correct leadership style to the situation.

Directive & Supportive Components

There are two main components of situational approach leadership. Directive dimension or supportive dimension. How does a leader determine which of these to use? A leader determines this by evaluating their followers and assessing how competent and committed they are at performing the goal the situation has identified as needed to be accomplished. Followers, as noted in previous leadership columns can include: employees, volunteers, middle-managers, etc. Because followers in different situations will be at different levels of competency and commitment, the leader will adjust their leadership style to a satisfactory approach situation. Obviously, when the leader can match the situational approach – either directive or supportive in the right situation, the end result is effective leadership, successful outcomes for the followers and goal attainment.

  • Directive – used when leaders want to help their group/committee/workforce accomplish goals and is done by giving directions and is thus called directive; the focus is on setting goals, determining methods of evaluation, setting timelines and defining roles such as job descriptions; primarily a one-way communication.
  • Supportive – used in situations to help group members feel comfortable with the situation (work setting, job, role on a committee, etc.,) and with their co-workers; primarily a two-way communication.

Example: Components in action

In an agricultural setting, both types of situational approach leadership styles may be effective. For example, during harvest season a farm owner who understands the competency and commitment of his employees may find it most effective to provide directive leadership. He would provide a one-way communication to employees or family members assisting with harvest. The conversation may sound something like this: ‘today we are going to harvest the north soybean field, John is going to drive the combine and Tom is going to haul to the elevator and I (the farmer) will check on each of you every couple of hours to make sure things are working smoothly and we are on pace, since this is your first year harvesting soybeans.’

Utilizing this same example, but with supportive approach leadership the farmer may want input from his employees as they have harvested for him for a number of years. During the conversation the farmer asks John and Tom which piece of equipment they prefer to drive, and if they will need help from him because if not, the farmer will be going to be working in the shop getting corn harvest equipment ready.