The Situational Leadership Model: How To Balance Providing Direction vs Support



“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard

One leadership style doesn’t fit all.

Empower people by giving them support or direction based on what they need.

This means staying flexible in your leadership approach and determining whether an individual needs more direction or support and responding accordingly.

That’s how a great leader empowers individuals and helps bring out their best.

According to the Situational Leadership II model, the leadership style depends on the development levels within the team.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Balance Direction and Support:  Some individuals need more direction.  Some just need more support.  If you provide too much direction or micro-manage somebody that doesn’t need it, you’re hurting more than helping.   If you’re providing somebody a lot of support when what they are looking for is more direction, again, you are hurting more than helping.   This is really about matching your leadership style to the needs of the individual and the needs of the ask.
  • Stay flexible in your approach.  While this might sound obvious, I think the important point is to be flexible in your style.  Be able to vary your leadership style by situation (the context) and tailor it to the individual development levels within the team.
  • Consider whether to change yourself or find a better fit.  Another consideration is whether it’s more effective to change your approach or change the situation to suit you (set yourself up for success.) 

Capability and Motivation Determine the Right Leadership Style

Some people might need more motivation while others need more capability.

A quick cutting question to ask is, “do this person want to do it?”

Another question to ask is, “do this person know how to do it?”

These two questions can very quickly help you figure out the right approach.

I’m a fan of changing my approach based on what individuals on the team need.  I find this dramatically helps me improve effectiveness given the variety of personalities, skill levels and context I face from project to project.

How To Adapt Your Leadership Style

Here’s a summary of the key scenarios and solutions based on the Situational Leadership II model:

  • If there’s high competence and high commitment, use a “Delegating” style which is low support and low directive.
  • If there’s high competence, but less commitment, then use a “Supporting” style, which means provide more support and encouragement.
  • If there’s low competence and low commitment, then use a “Coaching” style, which provide more direction and support
  • If there’s low competence but high commitment, use a “Directing” style, which provides more direction, but less support.

Competence is knowledge and skill for the task.

Confidence is motivation and self-confidence.

I believe competence breeds confidence which can help breed and sustain motivation.

Effective Leaders Support People and Get Out of Their Way

The main point is that if somebody has a bunch of competence, get out of their way.

If somebody needs more encouragement, support them.

Ideally, you help somebody get to a high competence, high commitment development level.

You Might Also Like

Situational Leadership II
Lessons Learned from Ken Blanchard
The Top 10 Leadership Lessons
Confidence is Knowing and Going
Building Trust on Your Teams


  1. Taking with me the two cutting questions,
    Both are very relevant and I believe can reveal many interesting things right away…
    Good stuff!

  2. I’m learning to become a better leader for myself and others. We can’t lead others until we believe in ourselves.

    When we do understand what makes us a good leader that’s when it gets even trickier. I think JD is right. We need to be flexible and caring. When we have both we can lead with strength.

  3. Hi J.D.

    To me a leader is someone who lead others to a place they have never been. A leader knows his or her people, knows how to get the best out of each one of them; also know when and how their people need support.
    Thank you,
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  4. Hi J.D. – Based on what you write and how you analyze employees and team members, I’m guessing you’re exceptionally good at being a leader. It sounds like you know how to read people, find their strengths and then encourage them to excel.

    I agree it’s important to be flexible. Each situation or task is different, thus requiring a different approach.

  5. @ Alik

    I find it helps me a lot to get quick clarity on whether it’s motivation or ability. From there, it’s a lot easier to find the best approach.

    @ Karl

    Great point. The trick with confidence is it comes before competence. You gain competence by believing in yourself and sticking with it. Confidence is a decision, much like happiness.

    Flexibility and caring go a long way in leading.

    @ Giovanna

    I like the way you put that – leading others to a place they have never been. It emphasizes growth and journey, along with results.

    @ Barbara

    Thank you. I have a lot of great mentors and it’s a continuous learning process. I find the biggest key is first self-awareness. It’s about knowing your own strengths and limitations. Another big key is testing, getting feedback, and acting on the feedback.

    Flexibility is particularly important in today’s landscape.

    @ Jason

    Thank you. I think situational leadership is one of the best frames I’ve seen for leadership and I like your post.

  6. In a perfect world only competent people would get hired, but nobody’s perfect, so this is an amazingly GREAT article for any boss / supervisor to read. I like how it is very positive in its approach, as that’s always the best way to approach an employee. (Or anyone.)

  7. I’ve always remembered this from when I took a Situational Leadership course at Microsoft. Very helping when in either position. As an “underling” you can ask for what you need. As a leader you can offer the appropriate type of help.


  8. @ Jannie

    Thank you. I think it’s a lot about learning and flexibility. The cycle of change is getting shorter in today’s world so flexiblity and adaptability are key.

    @ Rob

    I’d like to take the course. I’m a fan of the approach. Good perspective on the underling and leader.

  9. […] Leadership Styles and Development Levels One leadership style doesn’t fit all. According to the Situational Leadership II model, the leadership style depends on the development levels within the team. […]

Comments are closed.