Leadership in the Moment



“When the effective leader is finished with his work, the people say it happened naturally.” — Lao Tzu

A skilled leader knows when to provide more help with the task.  A skilled leader also knows when to provide more encouragement or motivation.

An effective leader also know that just because you needed more task help in one situation, does not mean you need more task help  in another.  An effective leader also knows that just because you need more relationship support in one situation, does not mean you need more relationship support in another.

As a leader, your ability to identify a specific task, assess what a follower needs to perform the task , and apply the right combination of task and relationship focus, is a way to lead effectively, from moment to moment, or from situation to situation.  It’s leadership acumen in action.

The Hersey Situational Leadership® Model is a great model for applying the right amount of task-focus, and the right amount of relationship-focus to the goal at hand.  It’s a powerful model too because it helps you stay fluid and responsive, and adjust your leadership style based on what your followers need.

In the book, In the book, Little Book of Leadership: The 12.5 Strengths of Responsible, Reliable, Remarkable Leaders that Create Results, Rewards, and Resilience, Jeffrey Gitomer and Paul “Doc” Hersey write about how to use the Hersey Situational Leadership® Model to express and apply leadership in the moment.

Three Learnable Skills to Master

Hersey and Gitomer share three skills for using the Hersey Situational Leadership® Model:

  • Skill 1 – Identify a Specific Task.
  • Skill 2 – Diagnose the Follower’s Performance Needs for the Task.
  • Skill 3 – Apply the Best Combination of Task and Relationship Leader Behaviors.

Applying the Skills

To show how you can apply the skills, Hersey and Gitomer provide a scenario and give some examples of how you would blend your task-focus and relationship-focus behaviors.

In the example, Pat walks into your office and asks if you have a moment.  The situation is a client has asked Pat to change the ordering process by noon the next day.

Here is how you might respond, to apply the three skills:

  1. Identify the task. You identify the task as “change the order process.”
  2. Diagnose the performance needs. You diagnose the situation.  You know Pat has the skills since she’s changed the order process twice before.  You ask her what is it about this change that you find challenging.  She responds that it’s the time frame.
  3. Apply appropriate amounts of task and relationship behaviors.  You ask the following questions: Is this any more complicated than the other two you did so well on?  How much time will this one take? How much time did the previous two take? Do you need any backup resources? Do we need a plan B?

In this case, asking the questions helps stay connected, while exploring the task-needs and relationship needs that Pat may have.

Stay Fluid and Responsive

If your follower needs more task help, you can help provide the who, what, when, where, how, and how much they need to perform.   If you follow needs more relationship help, you can focus on communication, praise, encouragement, or clarity on the “why” behind the task.  Hersey and Gitomer write:

“If the answers to these questions come from Pat, she will come to realize  she can handle this and the leader will be able to delegate. (Low Relationship and Low Task.)  If Pat cannot answer the questions and does not respond  with a little encouragement (High Relationship and Low Task), the leader can become more involved and provide some structure for meeting the deadline  (High Task and High Relationship).  One of the great things about the Hersey Situational Leadership® Model is how fluid and responsive you can be to follower needs.  This is leadership in the moment.”

You can practices your task and relationship leadership behaviors from moment to moment.  If you master this ability, you will dramatically improve your leadership effectiveness.  This will help you avoid micro-managing, and it will help you maintain trust with your followers.  It will also help you grow and expand your followers’ abilities, while providing the encouragement and emotional support that they need.


  1. Hello JD,

    Greetings from Vista … the town, not the OS! I read your piece on Situational Leadership and just wanted to say it’s a keeper. How do I know? I worked for “The Doc” — Dr. Paul Hersey for nearly 20 years serving as his rain-maker at the Center for Leadership Studies. I just wanted to say I enjoyed your post and like the way you portrayed it as an algorithm of sorts. That’s consistent with how I view it too.

    I love that model. When Doc’s family took the business over things began to change and not necessarily for the better. They don’t “love” the model like some of us former, “industrial shamans” do. It’s disconcerting when DNA trumps performance. Nevertheless, I keep the fire burning in me hoping that one day those now in charge of shepherding this work will see that they have one of the greatest life hacks ever to hit the planet. One thing not well known outside the “inner circle” of Hersey is that there is a lot more to the model. He has a third dimension (AKA the missing link) that connects the SL model to the judicious and appropriate use of power. He’s also re-purposed to support specific applications of leadership: parenting and selling to name the two best.

    I could never persuade Doc to let us build and distribute a Situational Leadership Gadget or App. Most people now lack the time and commitment to Doc’s (and his families now) preferred learning platform: butts in seats for up to three days. What someone creative and entrepreneurial could do with this hack/algorithm/decision-making model boggles my mind. To use an analogy, now a recent “certified” learner of SL is required to use it much like a compass … with a map they must provide. If someone figured out how to “GPS” it the world would be served and I suspect, performance and engagement would be bolstered significantly.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post very much and enjoyed you’re general approach to life as evidenced by the way you’ve structured your terrific uber-blog. I wish you great success and if you want to chat about Hersey/Sit Lead or the unrevealed secrets of the model let me know.

    Be well,

    Randy Baker
    SimplexCity Solutions

  2. @ Randy — That is fantastic insight and I really enjoyed your first-hand experience.

    I think you are right about how an app could help change the world. What I find is that people love to change, when they have a great “why”, it’s fun, and it’s easy. Apps can help turn routine and mundane into fun and productive.

    In my experience, there is always a gap between what the insider know and the masses, and sometimes the gap is enormous. A friendly way we referred to this gap on one of my teams was: “The State of the Art” vs. “The State of the Practice” 😉

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