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Situational Leadership: Awareness and Productivity

Situational Leadership: Awareness and Productivity

By BA Laris, MPH | September 2, 2016
Research Associate, ETR

The other day I was part of a group text that made me want to laugh, cry, celebrate and scream all at the same time. My 19-year-old son had shared a photo of his first day in his biology lecture hall. He included an estranged family member. I had once told him I wished this person was more integrated into “normal” family exchanges.


Once again, I found that my son has the uncanny ability to push me to grow and accept, challenge myself, and live my principles—more than any other person I have ever met personally or professionally.


And that brings me right to the point of this post: situational leadership.

Really Short Webinar: Situational Leadership

  • 15 Minutes in Focus series on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • Thursday, September 8, 11:00-11:15 am PDT: Moving Beyond Static Leadership Styles: Making Conscious Decisions About Leading From a Strategic Perspective. Register here.
  • Check out our schedule, sign up for upcoming events and listen to archived webinars here.

Situational Leadership: More

I think of situational leadership (and my own application of the principle in situational parenting!) as the key to being able to navigate and succeed in the challenging and exciting scenarios I face at work and at home. The basic premise is deceptively simple, it’s so logical. It is this:

We take clues from dynamic situations to help us figure out the most appropriate way to respond to get a positive result or reaction. This can be related to accomplishing tasks and deliverables. It can also be about building and sustaining relationships.

Situational leadership theory is based on the ways people respond to working together and being led in groups. Central to understanding situational leadership are the interactive concepts of:

  • Task behavior: The amount of guidance and direction you provide.
  • Relationship behavior. The amount of social and emotional support you provide.
  • Follower readiness. Exhibited in followers performing a specific task or function, or accomplishing a specific objective.
  • Follower development. Followers’ maturity and ability to manage themselves in the given environment.

Your Choices? It Depends…

The leadership (or parenting) styles you choose depend on the needs of your followers (staff or children). It needs to change and be fluid as the situation changes. A crow bar may be my favorite tool, but if I use it for every home-improvement project, I am going to end up with a lot of holes in my walls!

For example, I might have an employee who is very skilled and highly motivated to complete a task (such as interviewing 25 young fathers using an interview protocol that she helped to develop). My level of oversight and guidance for her is very different from what I’ll do for an employee who needs to acquire a new skill in order to complete an arduous task (transcribing 20 focus groups for a project on which she has no background knowledge).

For the first situation, I am going to focus on delegating the interview task and checking in to monitor and hear feedback. For the second, I am going to focus on providing skills training and coaching to help the employee stay on schedule to complete the (genuinely uninspiring) transcription task.

When it comes to my son, sometimes I need to focus on building and sustaining our relationship. Sometimes the most important thing is motivating him to complete a task. Sometimes it’s explaining exactly what he needs to do, and sometimes it is just being there to celebrate the steps he is taking on his own, regardless of the outcome and who he chooses to include in that celebration.

You Can Be Situational, Too

To learn more about situational leadership in the workplace, join Michael Everett and me for our 15 Minutes in Focus series on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our next 15 minute webinar is Moving Beyond Static Leadership Styles: Making Conscious Decisions About Leading from a Strategic Perspective. It’s on Thursday, September 8, at 11:00 am PDT. You can register here.

We have several more brief webinars scheduled over the coming months. Check out the schedule, sign up for upcoming events and listen to archived episodes here.

And if you’re still hungry for webinars, access recorded versions of previous webinars on supporting organizational leaders to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace here.

BA Laris, MPH, is a Research Associate with ETR. She plans, develops and coordinates evaluation activities in a variety of settings and also provides capacity-building assistance to community-based organizations working in HIV prevention across the United States and is the mom of two amazing teenage young men. She can be reached at

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