Meeting People Where They Are

Apr 28, 2014 1 Min Read


We are talking about diversity. As a leader, how do you manage the variety of characters and levels of competence in the people you work with? Even more troubling, how do you manage different levels of competence and confidence in one person across the tasks they are involved in, or at different times?

We have been raised to believe that we should treat everyone around us as equal. If that is true, one style of leadership should do the trick. However, the real world does not work that way.

Just like when you deal with growing children, you need to change your approach, amount of guidance and the care you give according to their age and the phases in their lives. Similarly, you need to go through cycles when it comes to managing people at work.

Imagine this scenario – you are a manager of a marketing team, and have people with varying degrees of experience on the job, varying levels of enthusiasm about their tasks, and varying working styles. If you adopt the same style of leadership for all, surely you will end up with some people underperforming, or some people complaining about your suffocating micromanaging methods.

What do you do, then? The trick is, as Ken Blanchard and his associates call it, “Situational Leadership.” This simply means, meeting each person where they are in their career progression and their development level. As they put it in their bookLeading at a Higher Level, “to bring out the best in others, leadership must match the development level of the person being led.”

The model of Situational Leadership was originally created by Blanchard and Paul Hersey at Ohio University in 1968.

The model and its successor, what they call “Situational Leadership II” essentially indicate why and how your leadership style should be tailored to the situation you are facing, given the development level the person you are leading is in at each point in time.

The diagram below illustrates the model, which includes four leadership styles – directing (S1), coaching (S2), supporting (S3), and delegating (S4).

These leadership styles correspond to the four basic development levels that people could be in: enthusiastic beginner (D1), where the person exhibits low competence but high commitment, disillusioned learner; (D2), where the person may still be low in some aspects of competence, and also have low commitment to the job; the capable but cautious performer (D3), where he/she exhibits moderate to high competence and variable commitment; and lastly, self-reliant achiever (D4), exhibiting high competence and high commitment.

Situational Leadership


Following the diagram and Blanchard et al’s explanation:

Those that fall in the category of enthusiastic beginners, need a directing style.

This may not necessarily be true for all parts of their job though.

As an effective leader you will need to make a fair assessment of the situation. Focus on the part that is new for them, and that they are really excited about getting into – in the marketing team example given earlier, imagine a fresh graduate who has some experience in teamwork and planning due to earlier internships, but is new to identifying new ways of marketing and finding target audience specific ideas that could work.

For this aspect of the job, show them how it needs to be done from beginning to end, and lay out a step-by-step plan for their self-development. You should be involved in teaching them how to do things, provide them the direction, supervise them, plan and prioritise their tasks and targets.

Team members that would come under the disillusioned learners category, would need a coaching style.

You need to provide a leadership style that is high on direction and support. Continue to direct and closely monitor their progress, but at the same time also engage them in more two-way conversations going back and forth between your advice and their questions and suggestions.

At this development level, you‘ll need to provide a lot of praise and support to build up their confidence and restore their commitment, while at the same time still making the final decisions since they are still learning.

For those that are assessed as capable but cautious performers, a supporting style is necessary.

This would include little direction but lots of support to encourage them. Stand behind them. Listen to their concerns and suggestions, and support their interactions with clients and colleagues. Encourage and praise them, but restrain yourself from directing their actions.

Feedback should also become more of a give-and-take process. Help them reach solutions by asking them questions that would expand their thinking and encourage risk taking rather than feed them the answers.

Finally, for those that graduate to self-reliant achievers, try to adopt a delegating style.

Turn over responsibility for day-to-day decision making to them. Empower them by allowing them to act independently. Acknowledge their excellent performance and provide them with the resources they need to carry on with their work, and challenge them so that they continue to grow.

It is important to highlight that development levels are task and goal specific. That means you might need different leadership styles for different people, but also different styles for different aspects of their roles. As Blanchard et al puts it, “Leaders need to do what the people they supervise can’t do for themselves at the present moment.”


In order to become effective in using situational leadership, according to Blanchard et al, you must master three key skills.

1. Diagnosis

You should be able to assess your team members’ competences as well as their commitment to their tasks.

2. Flexibility

You should be able to switch between leadership styles from individual to individual, and also when an individual moves from one development level to the next. Research conducted by Blanchard et al indicated that 54% of leaders tend to use a uniform style of leadership irrespective of development levels overseen, 35% of them can switch between two styles, 10% can alternate between three styles, whereas only 1% of them can alternate between the ideal four styles discussed.

3. Communication

Finally, it is crucial to have sufficient communication between you and the team members. They need to understand your rationale behind the way you manage them. Gain their permission to use the leadership style that is a match to their situation at any given time, so that they do not get confused and disillusioned further when observing your behaviour changing either towards them, or the rest of the team members.

Diversity exists in all aspects of our work and life. Situational leadership, therefore, applies to all facets of our lives and career as well. We can use it on leading individuals, a team, an organisation, and perhaps more importantly, ourselves.

Blanchard and Hersey’s model can be taken as a guide to how we need to learn to be more flexible and willing to adjust according to circumstances. And that is perhaps the key to managing diversity – being able to bend your ideas and allow space to new concepts and challenges that come your way.

As a leader, you will be the first that has to do away with the old and allow the new conditions in place to determine the trajectory of your leadership style and the organisation.

As such, aim to mould yourself into new situations quite easily. There is nothing more crucial than the ability to adapt easily in today’s fast changing world. By mastering the ability to move from one leadership style to the next, you can give your team – and yourself – a very vital advantage.

Click here to read more Be A Leader articles.

Share This


Eva was formerly the Research & Development leader at Leaderonomics. Prior to that, she was an editor at Today, she is the Product leader of Happily, an engagement app at Leaderonomics Digital. She believes that everyone can be the leader they would like to be, if they are willing to put in the effort and are curious to learn along the way, as well as with some help from the people around them.

You May Also Like

choice worker, overqualified or not

Navigating The Concept of Overqualified When Job Seeking And Hiring

By Michelle Gibbings. As a leader, what approach are you taking with hiring an overqualified candidate?

Apr 11, 2023 6 Min Read


Charles Leadbeater, Authority On Innovation And Creativity

In this episode of The Leaderonomics Show, Charles shares his insight on how organisations can benefit from a little bit of lightheartedness in the workplace to encourage creativity and innovation.

Apr 10, 2014 13 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader