Lesson Learned: Situational Leadership


One of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned (so far) came in 2001. I was volunteering as a small group leader for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Christian Leadership Institute (CLI). CLI is a week-long leadership institute for high school leaders. The entire week is devoted to teaching and practicing leadership skills in a Christian context.

As a small group leader, they required us to take a leadership behavior questionnaire that informed us of our default style of leadership. The lesson began here. I learned that I defaulted to an S3 style of leadership. What does that mean? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

There are two basic behaviors in leadership: directive and supportive.

  • Directive behavior: defined as one-way communication from the leader to the team that spells out what, where, when, and how to do something.
  • Supportive behavior: defined as two-way communication, in which the leader listens, provides encouragement, facilitates interaction, and involves the team in decision-making.

Neither is better than the other. As leaders, we must decide what type of leadership our team needs in certain situations, hence, situational leadership. There are four types of leadership style:

  • S1: Directing Behavior; high directive, low supportive. perfect for new teams that are excited and motivated, yet have no clue what to do. My job as a leader is to provide clear directions.
  • S2: Coaching Behavior; high directive, high supportive. At this stage, the team still needs a lot of direction because they are still fairly new, but the novelty of a new experience has waned. The team is less excited about the work they are doing. My job as a leader is to still provide lots of direction, but also provide more support and encouragement.
  • S3: Supporting Behavior; low directive, high supportive. At this stage, the team is getting the hang of the work that needs to be done, but is still not totally confident. My job as a leader is to provide lots of support, but the team needs less directive behavior from me.
  • S4: Delegating Behavior; low directive, low supporting. At this stage, you are working with a highly functioning team that knows what they are doing and is providing supportive behavior from within the team. My job as a leader is to back off and provide less direction and support.

Teams can easily move back and forth from stage to stage. As a ministry leader, when I am working with a team, even though I tend to default to an S3 style of leadership (which is very common among ministry leaders), I must analyze which style of leadership I need to be practicing. I cannot practice one style on all team and expect it to work every time. When I do analyze where the team is at, it allows me and the team to be more effective, which in turn helps grow the ministry and raise up more leaders from the group.

*Situational Leadership was developed by the Ken Blanchard Company. All descriptions and images used on this blog post can be attributed to Ken Blanchard.


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