Leadership skills: The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership® Theory

Among the many leadership theories out there, the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership® Theory is on top of my favourites. Briefly, it states that successful leaders match their leadership style with the maturity and experience levels of the people they’re leading. When successfully using this theory, leaders are placing more or less emphasis on the task or the relationship with the person, depending on what are the needs to successfully accomplish an objective.

According to Hersey and Blanchard, there are four main leadership styles:

  • Telling (S1) – when the leader tells what is to be done, how and when to do it. It is defined by a one-way communication delivery of information.
  • Selling (S2) – the leader uses a two-way communication style to provide direction, focusing on having the people buying into his ideas and nurturing a good environment around the process.
  • Participating (S3) – the leader is more focused on the relationship than on building tasks with the people they lead. The relationship is based on trust and decision making is shared.
  • Delegating (S4) – the leader provides direction and supervises decisions, while the responsibility is given in its entirety to the group or individual.

Styles S1 and S2 are more focused on getting the tasks done, while the latter two are focused on building the relationship and help the group or individual to develop their abilities to work independently.

As stated earlier, leaders have to match their style with the maturity of the person or group they lead. Hersey and Blanchard broke maturity into four levels:

  • M1 – unskilled people that need to be pushed into taking the responsibility of a task. They also might lack the confidence to work on their own or ask help when they get stuck.
  • M2 – followers that fit into this category take are willing to attack a task, still have some doubts about assuming responsibility for it and still have a lack of skills to complete the task successfully.
  • M3 – people here are more skilled than the previous group, while still not being confident in their abilities to successfully complete the job.
  • M4 – people here are ready to work on their own. They have all the skills and the right amount of confidence. They also prove commitment to the task and can independently search for ways to get the job done in case they get stuck.

Here is how to match them:

Maturity Level Leadership Style
M1: Low maturity S1: Telling
M2: Medium maturity, limited skills, lacking confidence S2: Selling
M3: Medium maturity, higher skills, lacking confidence S3: Participating
M4: High maturity S4: Delegating


The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership® Theory on Mindtools and on Wikipedia.


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