A Leader’s Bag of Tricks & Treats: It’s All Situational


Sometimes choices that seem smart and routine may cause tricky situations that haunt you as a leader. With Hallows’ Eve just around the corner, I thought I’d dig into my bag of tricks and treats to offer you some ghoulish advice so that you’re not haunted by stale leadership habits.

It’s no secret that “one size fits all” is a habit that can haunt you as a leader. On the contrary, different situations call for a variety of leadership approaches in order to achieve shared goals and outcomes. Without what is known as “situational leadership,” decisions and actions of leaders occur in a silo, based solely on an individual’s traits, style or skillset. This barebones approach to leading leaves team members out in the cold.

On the other hand, within a project team setting, each staff member “sees” his or her role as a unique contributor to the shared goal or outcome of the project. Therefore, leaders must be open to the needs, expectations and behaviors of individuals who comprise a team in order to positively facilitate a project or organizational outcome. And all leaders are not named. Continuing with my ghostly analogy, some leaders emerge, quietly doing the work of a leader as the need arises – yet they remain untitled, working behind-the-scenes. The job simply gets done. The situational leader rises – as if from mid-air – and focuses on how she must adapt to both the skillset and dedication of employees.

As in the case of a project team, the leader must be agile and capable of adjusting his approach to better enable each team member: no two people are alike. Leaders who take the situational leadership approach can function in one of four styles – delegating, supporting, coaching and directing – which may fluctuate depending on an employee’s or group’s behaviors. It is critical that leaders understand each member of the team’s development level in order to facilitate the most appropriate type of leadership.

Leadership Styles in Action
For the employee who is ready to get the job done, the leader may need to lead with encouragement and support. Using the coaching approach seems appropriate for this highly developed and eager employee. For the two employees who enjoy working together and are focused on tasks, the leader may foster additional social constructs in which to perform very specific tasks. For the employee with motivational concerns, the leader must keep a close presence that is clear and directing. The leader should not assume this employee understands the project and she must provide clear instructions for the team member. Finally, for the employee who is not yet available, the leader might at first offer understanding and show support to encourage the employee to get on board.

Give it a Try
The leader using the situational approach in a project team setting functions along a continuum while working one-on-one with subordinates and as best fits the situation. Be flexible and foster the ability of others, according to his or her unique needs or skills. So dig deep into your bag of tricks, remain situationally aware and adapt to move from situational scary to leadership success.


Stacie Rivera ipart of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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