Managing the situation: the ultimate guide to being a good manager
Management Style

Managing the situation: the ultimate guide to being a good manager
The ultimate guide to the Situational Leadership Model

June 27, 2021

Do you want to be a leader or a manager?

Most managers and bosses would have aspired to reach or exceed their current job level but may not have thought about the type of leader they aspire to be. Though it is desirable, being a manager is not always easy, especially when it comes to being a good one, or maybe even a great one!

The employee-manager relationship is an important factor for employee retention and overall team performance. As the famous saying goes, “people leave bad managers, not bad companies.”

A good manager needs to be flexible and caring to create a work environment where employees are enabled to do their best.

The Situational Leadership Model

Around 1970, behavioural scientist Paul Hershey, along with a motivational writer, Kenneth Blanchard, proposed a theory called the Situational Leadership Model (SLM) to help managers deal with certain ‘situations’ at the workplace by adopting various leadership styles. They claimed personal characteristics of the leader combined with that of the employee should determine the type of leadership deployed, which would differ for each employee at every level¹. One size does not fit all!

A graph can be used to show the SLM model, as seen below. Four quadrants (S1,S2,S3,S4) representing four different situations, plotting a bell shaped curve, indicating the type of leadership suitable for each scenario. The developmental skills of the employees are indicated from D1 to D4, where D1 indicates 'developing' and moving on to D4 where the skills become highly 'developed'.

SLM

The horizontal axis of the SLM graph shows directive behaviour, ranging from low to high. Low levels of directive behaviour are used in situations where high levels of employee maturity and responsibility are evident. On the vertical axis we have supportive behaviour, the degree of support given to employees by their managers.

Styles of leadership

The four styles of leadership indicated in the SLM model are Directing, Supporting, Delegating and Coaching. The maturity and attitude of the employees indicated by the developmental skills help managers determine the leadership style that should be used². If an employee is responsible and motivated (D2 to D4), the manager will be delegating, coaching or supporting the employee in their tasks. But if an employee lacks skills (D1), a more directive style would be preferable.

S1 Directing: This situation lies in the lower right quadrant of the graph indicating high directive and low supportive behaviour. This is ideally to be used for D1 employees who show low competence and high commitment. According to the model, managers need to offer more direction than support to these employees. The decision-making power lies in the hands of the manager. The new employee, inexperienced, possibly lacking some fundamental knowledge in relation to the new role, needs to be 'directed'. In fact, 'direction' is really the support they require to build enough skill to move from D1 to D2.

S2 Coaching: After a few months in the role, the skills of the new employee develop and improve. As a D2, the employee is more competent, so the manager moves to the 'coaching' style in S2.This scenario requires high directive and high supportive behaviour. At this stage employees want to work independently, but require some direction to do so. Managers should discuss each task with the employee to help develop confidence, whilst maintaining autonomy.

S3 Supporting: A year or so of working in the same job role, employees are more competent and possess well-developed skills, but their commitment levels may vary. This type of employee is classified at D3 level and requires a 'supporting' style of leadership. Employees require high levels of support to maintain or even increase their motivation, but little direction since they are familiar with their work. In this case a 'high supportive' and 'low directive' approach is applicable. At this stage allowing them to make decisions independently and giving them recognition can enhance their motivation and help them transition towards D4.

S4 Delegating: A few years in, the employee may have mastered the skills needed for high level performance, often better than their manager, making them D4 level. Managers at this point should simply 'delegate' tasks, outlining the desired outcome. They should give them autonomy to use their own knowledge and skills to determine the best process to attain the desired goal. After receiving support from their managers, D4 employees are now able to perform tasks on their own, seeking guidance whenever needed. Showing you have confidence in them is the key to their self-efficacy and productivity.

Using the S and D terminology, SLM can become a 'style matching' guide for mangers, and all the conflicts that can arise through mismatching become obvious. For example if a manager uses S4 on the D1 – the inexperienced employee is “thrown to the lions” with little support and an expectation from the manager that they can get the job done… but they can’t. This can lead to confusion situation for the employee if they are not being guided. Whereas, if a manager uses S1 on a D4 – we call it micromanaging - and it is a pet hate for most competent employees, many of whom know the details of the job better than their manager.

The motto of SLM is, "flexibility leads to success". Managers should remain flexible and supportive towards their employees, dealing with them according to their capabilities and personality, therefore allowing a smooth transition from D1 to D4. By doing so, they will be successful in maintaining a good employee-manager relationship along with increasing company performance, employee satisfaction and commitment.

SHAPE adopts the SLM in its Management Style explorer to help managers assess the developmental skills of their employees in order to determine the type of leadership style to be deployed for each.


¹Hersey, P. et al. 1977. Management of Organisational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources.

²Graeff, Claude L. The Leadership Quarterly. vol. 8, no. 2. 1997. pp. 153–170. doi:10.1016/s1048-9843(97)90014-x.

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