Situational or contingent leadership is a leadership model in which the leader knows how to adapt to situations and understands that there is no single or fixed management style for all circumstances.
The manager positions himself in accordance with reality and with the preparation of each professional to act in a more strategic way.
Although widely used today, the theory was developed in 1969 by behavioral scientist Paul Hersey and sociologist and business management specialist Kenneth Blanchard.
In the book “ Psychology for Managers: The Theory and Techniques of Situational Leadership ”, they set out the premises of this thinking.
In this format, the leader seeks different models of action to act according to the posture, knowledge and maturity of each employee and according to each occasion experienced in the day to day of the organization.
Relationship with collaborators
It is very likely that experienced managers have already been through the situation of handing over a task to an employee and feeling the peace of mind of knowing that it would be in good hands and that it would not be necessary to be supervising, right?
We can say that, at that moment, this leader acted in accordance with the preparation of this professional in question.
The opposite also happens. When a newly graduated employee, for example, is not yet able to perform certain tasks, the leader must intervene.
Certainly, this professional will have to be accompanied step by step by the manager , until the moment comes when he can walk alone.
So, in situational leadership, questions like “when should I get the hang of it?” or “when to leave more free to acquire autonomy?” are quite relevant to the leader.
The manager must know his team well to be able to act according to what each situation requires and within the limitations of each individual.
That is, depending on the circumstance, he will need to take different attitudes or practices to offer the appropriate solutions.
But do not think that only the preparation of the employee should be taken into account here. Their commitment and engagement with activities are also relevant points in this type of management.
When we say that the actions of a good leader depend on the professional’s maturity level, we need to complete by saying that items such as technical and behavioral skills are also evaluated.
That is, the desire to do a good job and the willingness to perform the tasks also count in this type of management.
Situational leadership styles and phases
The situational leadership model is based on two essential aspects that must be observed by leaders: the complexity of the tasks and the degree of preparation of the teams or the collaborator involved in each activity.
From the understanding of these two central axes, it is possible to exercise four possible styles of leadership that vary between giving more or less emphasis on the executions of the workers. See how it works.
S1 — Direction (or command)
This is the first level in the contingency leadership style. This is when the leader needs to say exactly what should be done to the team members and teach them step-by-step , as there is little or no knowledge on the part of those who will carry out the activities.
In the direction stage, the employee will learn to do a certain task and will be monitored by the manager until the end.
As he still has low competence in the activity, it will be necessary for the leader to have a high degree of commitment and support for everything to be carried out successfully.
Direction is usually a more rigid and closely monitored situational management style.
It is a very common form of leadership with interns, newcomers to the job market or when an employee is migrating to another area and needs new directions.
S2 — Guidance
Orientation is a phase in which the relationship is more of exchanging information and experiences with the manager. He still actively participates, but requests new ideas and suggestions for improvements from employees.
In this way, the team receives feedback pointing out what needs to be improved or guidance for better decision making.
Despite being very participative, here it is still not the team who makes the decision together, but the manager.
However, this is a stage in which employees already have some level of experience to contribute their opinions regarding the activities, and this motivates them to work more engaged.
It is worth mentioning that employees who, even though they already have some competence, may be little committed or motivated to perform their work also fit here.
This is the time when the leader must pay even more attention and have a high level of guidance.
S3 — Support
In this third stage of situational leadership, the leader is already starting to leave the scene more and starts to leave the protagonism with the workers.
As they are in a more advanced stage of experience and maturity in relation to the previous ones, they are already beginning to be followed from afar.
It is at this level that employees already have enough skill and ability to take charge of tasks.
However, in many cases, they are still unwilling or unprepared to take on responsibilities at the moment.
As we have seen, the collaborative culture is a strong and very important characteristic at this stage.
Leadership offers opportunities and support for professionals to become even more independent, aware of their decisions and professionally mature to reach the next stage.
S4 — Delegation
Now, we have reached the highest level, which has the highest level of maturity of the employees.
Here, they are more willing to perform their tasks and, therefore, are able to assume the responsibilities for the development of their activities on their own.
The leader at this stage only delegates the functions and directs them to the professionals. These already have a high performance , they know exactly what their roles are and what is the expectation in relation to them.
Why it is essential to understand every situation
One of the biggest mistakes managers make is not understanding each phase of this type of management and not keeping up with those professionals who need closer guidance.
It is at times like these that failures occur in processes and that it often takes time to identify where the error was.
The opposite can also happen: leaders who overcharge employees who already have a good background, present self –management and know what they should do and how to do it.
As a result, these people feel without autonomy to make their own decisions and end up getting stuck and undeveloped professionally.
Another big mistake made by organizations is to assign a task to a person who is highly motivated, but who does not yet have the skills to do so (D1).
Although engagement is very important for the success of activities, the lack of experience of this worker or team can compromise the entire result, impacting the success of the company.
In addition, when there are highly prepared and experienced employees who are not challenged to take on new responsibilities, the company runs the risk of losing this professional.
This is because these workers need to exercise their autonomy. Otherwise, internal turnover may increase.
Situational leadership theory
The interesting thing about situational leadership is that its theory is based on how much the manager can adapt to situations and understand his team well to act according to each circumstance.
As the job market is increasingly dynamic, this skill has become essential to be a true leader and not a boss, who just commands.
We have seen the four situational leadership styles and understand that they apply according to each phase that employees are in.
However, it is necessary to keep in mind that the same professionals can go through the four stages throughout their career within the company.
Likewise, the manager will be able to play four different leadership roles throughout this process.
In this sense, it is important to emphasize that the same person may have a low level of commitment in certain tasks — fitting into situation 1 — and, at the same time, be very skilled and capable in other activities, being in phase 4.
So, it is necessary to understand in depth each moment, the needs of the organization and the competences of the professionals so that the leadership is able to raise the potential of each one.
The theory applied in professional development
Imagine, for example, an intern who is at the beginning of college and knows very little about both theory and market practice. Upon joining the company, he will be at the first level of development, D1, according to the chart.
In other words, he will have low competence to develop certain tasks and, with that, he will need to have high commitment and a more incisive direction on the part of the leadership.
As it develops, this intern will change phases and will need less and less follow-up.
Until one day, when he has already been hired as a collaborator and reached more professional maturity, he will be much more prepared to take on new challenges and responsibilities.
This brings us to the next point, where we’ll talk about the advantages of implementing contingency leadership.
6 benefits of situational leadership
You may be wondering whether contingent leadership is really effective and whether to act strategically based on the circumstances. In this case, the answer is: yes, it is worth it.
We are going to show you some arguments that can help you understand the benefits of this type of management in your company.
1. Optimize task flow
The more efficient a management, the more efficient your team will also be and, for that, the tasks need to be well directed.
When a leader knows well what the strengths and weaknesses of each person on his team are, the more chances he will have to distribute activities according to the profile of each one , optimizing the progress of the processes.
2. Inspires employees to be more independent
There are professionals who, as much as they don’t like being monitored, understand that they need it until they acquire the ideal competence to start walking alone.
In the quest to conquer their space and more autonomy, these workers tend to make an effort so that no one else has to stand by their feet while carrying out the tasks.
In addition, when a company has independent employees who know exactly what needs to be done, business flows naturally, as everyone is aware of their responsibilities and, as a result, productivity tends to increase.
3. Promotes more open communication
Another benefit of this type of leadership is that the manager can follow the team more closely in the early stages.
With this, it is possible for him to have more dialogue and provide more feedback with tips on how and where professionals need to develop and what their strengths are.
This growth is only possible through more open and efficient communication, avoiding noise and focusing on improving employee skills.
4. Improves the organizational climate
Organizational climate is an expression that conveys the idea of the level of morale and engagement of employees.
This is an essential ingredient to keep employees motivated on a day-to-day basis.
In this sense, the lighter the manager’s relationship with his subordinates, the healthier the internal environment will be.
5. Motivates workers to grow professionally
Above, we showed that situational management leads employees to be more independent and, as a result, they tend to seek professional growth.
As the person develops, it is common for them to want to reach new heights and conquer other levels within the company.
6. Inspire managers to be better leaders
Currently, there is a lot of talk about the need for professionals to be increasingly resilient to the market and adaptable to the needs of companies.
However, little is said about the opposite, that is, about the importance of leaders also having this flexibility.
By exercising situational leadership, they are also challenged to develop into better professionals, more humane and more focused on the development of their employees .
Thus, they play more the role of teachers, counselors, mentors and advisors, improving their skills to manage and relate to people.
How to apply this type of management
You already know that the first step towards efficient situational management is to know your team well and identify the behavioral types and skills present in it, as well as how experienced, mature and prepared each employee is.
From there, at each stage, with the help of HR, the leader must:
- invest in profile mapping through behavioral analysis ;
- propose training for professionals to develop both in technique and behavior;
- encourage productivity at each stage;
- promote engagement and motivation actions, especially in the first stages in which the employee is still adapting to the process;
- identify the skills of professionals at each stage and direct activities according to individual competences ;
- show interest in helping those starting out and have the patience to teach and follow closely;
- identify who is evolving and encourage them to advance to the other phases ;
- encourage those at the most advanced level to develop a sense of leadership.