Contrary to what one might think, based on the overabundance of simplistic “one size fits all” definitions, leadership is not something that can be defined in narrow terms. It is a broad concept, covering multiple facets, and its definition varies depending on the context in which it’s deployed. Scores of self-help gurus, online “experts,” and unaccredited “coaches” would love the general public to believe that there are just one or two things a leader needs to do in order to be successful — all you need is this one key, this one central idea, this one industry secret, to achieve your wildest dreams. While these things are helpful, and there are great people out there trying to help make a difference, the truth is that leadership is all encompassing, complex, and deals with much more than just the business world. Politicians are community leaders, schoolteachers help lead our children to adulthood, and in religious contexts we often hear terms like “servant leadership” as a general way to live one’s life. It’s clear that leadership is an inherent part of human group behavior, and something we’ve needed since the beginning of time. Without leadership, we wouldn’t have the modern society we have today.

What is needed is not one correct-all approach, but a series of different approaches that each specialize in a certain area. Oftentimes this is most apparent when dealing with differences between individuals on a team. What may work for one person may absolutely not work at all for another. This is why we need to recognize when a different approach is needed. Thankfully, this series of different approaches has already been developed: it’s called situational leadership, and there are four distinct styles within that. To break this down, let’s reference another Methods blog post in which we explained Marshall Goldsmith’s framework for the four types of situational leaders. 


1) Directing

This leadership style is mostly a one-way street with little input from the follower or employee. This should be used when one needs detailed guidance on a specific task. Take them through, step-by-step, what needs to get done, how it should be done, and when it needs to be completed. An example of this could be a new employee in an unfamiliar role; you may need to direct their every action for a while until they get the hang of things. 


2) Coaching

This leadership style is more effective when your followers need a lot of guidance but are highly motivated. In other words, this is primarily for people who want and need to learn. The leader might say, “Here’s what I’d like you to do. What do you think?” An example of this might be promoting an existing employee to a higher role. You know they are talented and motivated, but it’s likely they’ll need a cold hard information dump before they can begin their new work. Or, if they’re going from a subject matter position to more of a leadership role, you may need to coach them on how to be a leader — such as understanding these four styles! 


3) Supporting

This is for followers with the skills to complete the task but who may lack the confidence to do it on their own. This style features below-average amounts of direction. You might hear your leader say, “Here’s the task. How do you think it should be done? Let’s talk about it. How can I help you on this one?” An example of this might look like a highly skilled employee who just needs a push in the right direction to get something done. A “supporting” leader might work to find that person’s individual motivation, to ignite that skill they already have but just give them the confidence to do it. 


4) Delegating

This leadership style is ideal for followers and employees who score high in motivation, ability, and confidence. These types of people know what to do, how to do it and can do it independently. For example, the leader might delegate an assignment and say, “If I can help, just ask. If not, you’re on your own.”


For today, we’re going to zoom in on the fourth style “delegating.” As you read above, the delegating style of leadership is perhaps the most “hands off” out of the four, and is useful when the followers or employees are highly skilled and highly motivated. 

According to the website Situational, a leader excelling in delegating —

  • Turns over control
  • Provides the “big picture”
  • Allows the individual to make task-related decisions
  • Monitors activities
  • Reinforces results
  • Remains accessible


On the other hand, an employee for whom a delegating style is needed —

  • Consistently performs this task at a high standard
  • Can operate autonomously
  • Is committed to and enjoys performing the task
  • Keeps key stakeholders informed of task progress
  • Shares both good and bad news
  • Is aware of their task-related competency and skill


What this information shows us is that a delegating style of leadership should only be reserved for those top performers in whom you as the leader have implicit, complete, unshakeable trust. For example, a successful delegation might look like an employee who’s shown a penchant for putting together company events — picnics, retreats, and so on — getting tasked with organizing the company’s centennial celebration. The leader can simply give the “big picture” to the employee and leave them to their own devices, monitoring occasionally for results and checking in to make sure the employee doesn’t need any assistance. A non-successful delegation would like giving this same assignment to the quiet, solitary subject matter expert who has never shown an interest in event planning, and has no clue where to start. You’d essentially be throwing them in the deep end with no lifejacket, and for them, they’d have no interest in trying to stay afloat. 


More important than mastering this one style of situational leadership, however, is having a knowledge of each of the four types, and knowing when and where to utilize them. As a leader, you must know your team better than anyone else, and having a working knowledge of these four styles can aid you tremendously in recognizing quickly what styles will work best for which members of your team. Sometimes, these styles per person will change as they evolve throughout their career. For instance, if an employee who typically only needs light delegation is working on a new and challenging project, they may start to need more of a coaching leadership style for that time period. The most important thing you can do is pay attention to your employees and what they need from you as a leader. It brings to mind that old JFK quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Leaders should ask not what their people can do for them, but what they can do for their people. 


Methods of 100 Coaches embraces the different styles of situational leadership by offering a variety of courses for every type of leader. Our instructors recognize the nuance of leading teams and people, and their courseware speaks to these differences. Leadership is by no means “one size fits all” and we set out to design a training platform that was expansive and all encompassing. It’s not just about learning one thing, or practicing the right theory, or using the right language, it’s about understanding leadership from a holistic perspective. And part of this holistic approach starts with understanding what type of situational leadership you’re currently engaged in. 


Whether you’re new to leadership or part of the old guard, understanding and applying these four styles of situational leadership will help your teams succeed and ultimately help your bottom line. Don’t get stuck in the same old ways of doing things — your people will thank you later, and the dividends will be huge.