Blog Insights Situational Leadership Strategy
Published on November 19, 2021
3 min read

Situational Leadership Strategy

GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij shares how he incorporates situational leadership in his management style.


Situational Leadership Theory is a model created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969. It describes a leadership style that is adapted to a direct report depending on the unique individual or situation, with no one style being better than another.

Hersey and Blanchard grouped leadership styles into four behaviors:

  • Telling: The report lacks the skills required to do the job, but is willing to work at it.
  • Selling: The report is capable of performing, but is unwilling to do the task.
  • Participating: The report is experienced in performing the task, but not confident.
  • Delegating: The report is experienced, confident, and takes ownership of the task.

Depending on the individual and the task at hand, it’s necessary to adapt your leadership approach in order to be the most effective leader possible.

I have built on top of this model as I adapt my leadership style based on specific circumstances.

The following factors inform my approach to managing an individual in a specific situation:

  1. Experience level: What is the experience level of the report?
  2. Skills required: What skills are required to perform the task?
  3. My own skill: What skills do I have to perform the task? Should I delegate my weaknesses or strengths?
  4. Task importance: What is the importance and priority of the task?
  5. Task urgency: How quickly do we need to complete the task?
  6. Opportunities to provide feedback: What opportunities are there to provide feedback? Should the feedback be in a group setting or in a 1-1?
  7. Learning opportunities: Are others able to learn from doing the task? Does a group setting or live stream help others learn?
  8. Reporting relationship: Are they a direct or indirect report? Are they external to the company?
  9. Time available: How much time does the report have to perform the task? What is their capacity?
  10. Time needed: How much time would it take me to perform the task?
  11. Current solution: What is the shortfall of the current solution?
  12. My emotion: How much does the shortfall bother me?
  13. Feedback effort: How much effort do I need to invest in order to give the feedback?
  14. Feedback allocation: How much time is available to provide feedback?
  15. Previous feedback: What feedback have they already received regarding the task? Have I already given feedback?
  16. Team member’s state of mind: How is the report feeling?
  17. Metrics: What data is available to the report as a means of automatic feedback?
  18. Relationship duration: How long do I expect to work with this person?
  19. Resourcing needed: What resources does the person need to complete the task? Do they have these resources available?

These are also not complete tradeoffs. A combination of any number of these factors help determine my approach. For example, I may choose to more heavily weight a team member’s state of mind if I know that they recently experienced a personal hardship and the task does not have great urgency--even if I have a high level of emotional engagement.

It’s important to note that while this list outlines key considerations that inform my management style, it doesn’t mean that I choose the most effective approach in a particular instance.

For more information on Situational Leadership and you can adapt your own leadership style, check out the book Management of Organizational Behavior by Paul Hersey, Ken Blanchard, and Dewey Johnson.

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