The Comprehensive Guide to the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model


The Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model, also known as the situational leadership model, is a dynamic and adaptive approach to leadership that emphasizes tailoring your leadership style to the maturity level of your team members. Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, this model recognizes that one leadership style does not fit all situations. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the nuances of this model, its various leadership styles, its advantages and disadvantages, and provide answers to frequently asked questions to ensure a thorough understanding.

The Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model: a comprehensive overview

The Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model, often referred to as the situational leadership model, is a leadership theory that was developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the late 1960s. This model deviates from the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to leadership and emphasizes the need for leaders to adapt their style based on the maturity levels of their team members and the specific requirements of different situations. It acknowledges that leadership is not a static concept and that effective leaders are those who can adjust their techniques to suit the needs of their team and the challenges they face.

The four maturity levels

At the heart of the Hersey-Blanchard model lies the concept of categorizing team members into four distinct maturity levels:

  • High maturity: Team members in this category are highly capable, confident, and experienced. They thrive when given autonomy and can work effectively without extensive guidance.
  • Moderate high maturity: Individuals in this group possess the necessary capability but may lack the confidence to take full responsibility. They benefit from some guidance and support.
  • Moderate low maturity: Team members in this category have the confidence to complete tasks but may need persuasion or encouragement. They require a leader who can provide clarity and motivation.
  • Low maturity: This group comprises individuals who lack both the skills and the confidence to tackle tasks independently. They require close supervision, explicit instructions, and strong leadership.

It’s crucial for leaders to assess the maturity level of their team members accurately as this assessment forms the basis for determining the most effective leadership style to adopt.

The four leadership styles

The Hersey-Blanchard model identifies four primary leadership styles, each of which aligns with the task and relationship dynamics required for different maturity levels:

  • Delegating style (S4): This leadership style is characterized by low task involvement and low relationship focus. Leaders who use this style empower high-maturity team members to make decisions autonomously, as they are already capable and confident.
  • Participating style (S3): Featuring low task involvement but a high focus on relationships, this approach encourages collaboration and shared decision-making. It’s ideal for moderate-high maturity team members who are experienced but may lack the confidence to take on tasks independently.
  • Selling style (S2): The selling style involves high task involvement and high relationship focus. Leaders employing this style aim to persuade and explain task directions persuasively. It is suitable for moderate-maturity team members who possess the ability but may be reluctant to take on certain tasks.
  • Telling style (S1): In contrast, the telling style is characterized by high task involvement but low relationship focus. Leaders adopting this style give explicit directions and closely supervise work. This approach is best suited for low-maturity team members who need clear instructions and constant guidance.

Applying the model effectively

The Hersey-Blanchard model empowers leaders to tailor their leadership style based on the maturity levels of their team members. This adaptability leads to improved team dynamics and better outcomes. However, effective application of the model requires thoughtful consideration of the following factors:

  • Assessment: Leaders must accurately assess the maturity level of each team member. This involves considering their capabilities, confidence, and willingness to take on tasks.
  • Flexibility: Leaders should be prepared to adjust their leadership style as team members’ maturity levels change. The model’s strength lies in its adaptability.
  • Communication: Clear and open communication is vital in the Hersey-Blanchard model. Leaders should explain their expectations and provide guidance effectively.
  • Support: Leaders must provide appropriate levels of support, whether it’s through coaching, mentoring, or facilitating team collaboration.

Advantages and disadvantages of the Hersey-Blanchard model


Here is a list of the advantages and disadvantages to consider:

  • Flexibility: The model offers flexibility in leadership style, allowing leaders to adapt as needed.
  • Alignment with changing workforce: It aligns well with the evolving dynamics of the modern workforce, which demands adaptable leadership.
  • Simplicity: The Hersey-Blanchard model is relatively simple to understand and apply, making it accessible for leaders at all levels.
  • Increased responsibility: Leaders using this model may find themselves shouldering more responsibility for assessing and adapting to team members’ maturity levels.
  • Not universally applicable: While effective in many situations, the model may not be suitable for all work cultures, industries, or sectors.
  • Short-term focus: There is a risk that leaders might prioritize short-term relationships and task completion over the organization’s long-term goals.

The bottom line

The Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model stands as a testament to the adaptability and versatility of leadership. It emphasizes the importance of assessing and responding to the maturity levels of team members, ultimately leading to improved team dynamics and better outcomes. Leaders who embrace this model can navigate the complexities of the modern workforce with greater effectiveness.

Frequently asked questions

Can a leader switch between different leadership styles for the same team?

Yes, the Hersey-Blanchard model encourages flexibility. Leaders can and should switch between leadership styles as the maturity levels of their team members change or as different situations require.

Are there any limitations to applying the Hersey-Blanchard model?

Yes, the model may face limitations when organizational hierarchies or time constraints restrict a leader’s ability to adapt their leadership style. In some cases, leaders may be forced to adopt rigid styles rather than tailor their approach to follower maturity.

How often should a leader assess team members’ maturity levels?

Assessment frequency may vary depending on the team and the nature of the work. However, leaders should regularly assess team members’ maturity levels to ensure that their leadership style remains aligned with their team’s needs.

Is the Hersey-Blanchard model suitable for all industries?

While the model is adaptable and can work well in many industries, its suitability depends on factors such as the organization’s culture and the nature of the work. Some industries and work cultures may require a more rigid leadership approach.

Can this model be applied to remote teams?

Yes, the Hersey-Blanchard model can be applied to both in-person and remote teams. Leaders should adapt their leadership style to the maturity levels of team members, regardless of their physical location.

Key takeaways

  • The Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model is an adaptive approach that tailors leadership style to the maturity levels of team members.
  • There are four maturity levels: high, moderate high, moderate low, and low, each requiring a specific leadership style.
  • The four leadership styles in the model are delegating, participating, selling, and telling, each suited to different maturity levels.
  • Effective application of the model involves accurate assessment of team members’ maturity levels, flexibility in leadership style, clear communication, and appropriate support.
  • Advantages of the model include flexibility, alignment with the changing workforce, and simplicity, while disadvantages include increased responsibility, limited applicability, and a potential short-term focus.
  • Leaders can switch between leadership styles as team members’ maturity levels change, and the model can be applied to both in-person and remote teams.
View article sources
  1. Situational leadership – University of Florida
  2. What is situational leadership? – Western Governors University
  3. Impact of leadership style of teacher on the performance of students: an application of hersey and Bbanchard situational model – ERIC Institute of Education Sciences
  4. Situational leadership theory as a foundation for a blended learning framework – ERIC Institute of Education Sciences