Delegation Decision Matrix based on Situational Leadership

Dr. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory

Dr. Hersey and Blanchard believed that one leadership style does not work in every situation. The Situational Leadership model posits that managers must use different leadership styles depending on the situation. The model allows you to analyze the needs of the situation you’re in, and then to use the most appropriate leadership style. Depending on employees’ competencies in their task areas and commitment to their tasks, your leadership style should vary from one person to another. You may even lead the same person one way sometimes, and another way at other times. Successful leaders are those who adapt their behavior to the specific needs of the situation.

Situational Leadership Model

Dr. Hersey and Blanchard characterized leadership style in terms of the amount of direction and support that the leader gives to his or her followers depending on the employee’s development level, and so created a simple model (figure 1 & 2).

  • Directive Behavior: Clearly telling people what do, how to do it, where and when, and closely supervising their performance.
  • Supportive Behavior: Listening, providing support and encouragement, and facilitating involvement.

Situational Leadership Style

Directing (S1) Coaching (S2) Supporting (S3)  Delegating (S4)
High Directive High Directive &
High Supportive
Low Directive &
High Supportive
Low Directive &
Low Supportive
Define the roles and tasks and supervise them closely. Still define roles and tasks, but seek ideas and suggestions from the follower. Provide support and praise to build their self-esteem and involvement in decision-making to restore commitment. Pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. Support is necessary to bolster commitment, confidence, and motivation. Control is with the follower while the leader is still involved in decisions and problem solving.

Follower Development Level

D 1 D 2 D 3 D 4
Low Competence/
High Commitment
Low – Some Competence/
Low Commitment
Mod – High Competence/
Variable Commitment
High Competence/
High Commitment

Directing Leadership Style

Leader defines the role and tasks of the “follower” and supervises them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way. Adapting Ohio State University and University of Michigan leadership research regarding “Task vs Relationship” orientated management, the directing leadership style would be considered high task-focused and low relationship-focused. This leadership style is most useful for new employees who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed: they need direction and supervision to get started.

Coaching Leadership Style

The leader still defines the role and tasks, but seeks ideas and suggestions from the follower. Decisions remain the leader’s prerogative, but communication is much more two-way. This leadership approach is both high task-focused as well as high relationship-focused. This style is good for employees who have some competence, but lack commitment. They need direction and supervision because they are still relatively inexperienced. They also need support and praise to build their self-esteem, and involvement in decision-making to restore their commitment.

Supporting Leadership Style

Leader passes day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the follower. This leadership style is low task-focused but high relationship-focused.

This style is best for employees who have competence, but with variations in their commitment. They do not need much direction because of their skills, but support is necessary to bolster their commitment, confidence, and motivation.

Delegating Leadership Style

The leader is still involved in decisions and problem solving, but control is with the follower. The follower decides when and how the leader will be involved. This leadership style is both low task-focused and low relationship-focused. This style is most effective for employees who have both competence and commitment. They are able and willing to work on a project by themselves with little supervision or support.

Effective leaders are versatile in being able to move around the matrix according to the situation, so there is no style that is always right. However, we tend to have a preferred style, and in applying Situational Leadership you need to know which one is your strong suit and which leadership styles to improve.

Development Level and Corresponding Situational Leadership Style

Dr. Hersey and Blanchard assert that the leader’s style should be driven by the Competence and Commitment of the follower, and came up with four development levels (D1 – D4) of the follower, which the leader adapts too (S1 – S4).

  • D1 Low Competence / High Commitment  – Directing (S1)
  • D2 Low – Some Competence / Low Commitment  – Coaching (S2)
  • D3 High Competence / Variable Commitment  – Supporting (S3)
  • D4 High Competence / High Commitment  – Delegating (S4)

Development Level 1 (D1) – Directing (S1)

An employee who has Low Competence but High Commitment characterizes the development level 1. Generally lacking the specific skills required for the job in hand, but has the confidence and/or motivation to tackle it.

  • For example: A first time learning a task, or is new to a job. Little or no prior experience but they are enthusiastic. Learning something new such as riding a bike or playing the drums is exciting because we are learning something new and we want to become competent, but our skill level is still very low.

The leadership style that is best for this sort of follower is high in directive behavior while low in supportive behavior. Leaders define the role of the employee at this point by telling them what needs to be done and how to do it. The employee is highly motivated and committed, so they don’t need support in that sense, but they need structure because they don’t yet know what they are going to be doing and how to successfully complete the task.

Development Level 2 (D2) – Coaching (S2)

An employee who possesses Some Competence but Low Commitment typifies the development level 2. The employee may have some relevant skills, but won’t be able to do the job without help. The task or the situation may be new to them.

  • For example: This development level is characteristic of someone starting a new task, and two things happen – either the task was harder to learn than the person anticipated, or it turns out the task really isn’t that interesting or enjoyable and they don’t want to do it. These situations cause commitment levels to lessen and they are no longer excited to learn about it. For instance, learning a new task such as riding a bike. Initially, we are enthusiastic but don’t have the skills yet to know how to do the task; therefore, we fall a couple of times and realize it’s really not that fun. As a result of the failed attempt, a person’s commitment level goes down.

The leader needs to Coach this employee by providing a great deal of control and direction, which is high in directive behavior, but the leader should also be high in supportive behavior. The leader is now engaging in two-way communication, providing support and encouragement, because they are trying to increase the commitment level in order that the employee will continue to work at improving their skills in the particular area despite failed attempts. Note that the employee has some competence because they have been introduced to the task and actually have been performing the task for a brief period of time, but the commitment is lessening; as a result, we as leaders need to bridge that gap of commitment so that they will persist with the task. In other words, as a leader we come alongside the follower when they need support, and catch them when they fall, in order for the employee to learn to ride on their own and successfully complete the task.

Development Level 3 (D3) – Supporting (S3)

An employee who has High Competence but Variable Commitment characterizes the development level 3. The employee is experienced and capable, but may lack the self-confidence to do it alone or the motivation to do it well/quickly. Commitment is wavering, or varies depending on what is going on during that particular day, not necessarily high or low but there’s a certain level of variance where commitment can change depending on situational context.

  • What does this look like in the workplace? You’ve modeled how to perform a particular task, and then the follower has done the task in a controlled environment where they are monitored and have you readily available for questions. Then you give them some autonomy by starting to pull away a little bit because you realize they can perform the task on their own. So you begin to draw back because the employee has the skills necessary to do the task, but is still hesitant because they haven’t yet done the task on their own. As a result, the uncertain situation can cause a bit of self-doubt and people question if they can actually perform the task, which causes their commitment to fluctuate from excitement to insecurity.

Supporting leadership style behavior is a shift in control of the day-to-day decision making and problem solving switching from the leader to the follower. The follower now has control over what they do, which is low on directive behavior, but there is still a great deal of support needed. The support is in the form of touching base on a flexible schedule (weekly, bi-weekly, etc.) just to keep in touch on how things are going, encourage the employee to ensure they are continuing to work at a high level, and offering empowering affirmations.

The fundamental difference between the Supportive leadership style and Coaching is that you don’t need to be involved in the day to day because the employee knows how to do the work, yet it’s healthy to check in every now and then to make sure their commitment level is still relatively high.

Development Level 4 – Delegating (S4)

An employee who possesses both High Competence and Commitment typifies the development level 4. The employee is experienced at the job and comfortable with his or her own ability to do it well. They have self-confidence to complete the task. In some cases, the follower may even be more skilled than the leader at some tasks.

The Delegating leadership style behavior is both low on supportive and directive. Not only does the leader not have to direct or tell the follower what needs to be done and how, but the employee now possesses the confidence and commitment necessary to complete the task; thus, the leader doesn’t have to be as supportive.

This doesn’t mean the leader does not need to check in every now and then, but they don’t need to be actively involved managing the day-to-day and providing frequent support. This is the last stage of development where someone is experienced, skilled in a particular task, plus has the confidence to actually be successful independently.

  • What does this look like in an actual organizational setting? The leader and the follower get together to discuss the problem and collaboratively agree on a set of actionable items to implement. The employee then is given the resources and autonomy to go and do what needs to be done.

Summary

There are certain things that we are good at and certain areas we can develop; therefore, the same leadership style for all tasks won’t benefit an employee’s professional development. As leaders, there are some delegation situations where we take on more of a Delegating approach and other situations where we need to employ a Directive approach, depending on the employee’s competence and commitment level regarding the task.

In summary, don’t think that one person can fall into just one section of the Situational Leadership model—we have to consider the individual employee in the context of completing a particular task. By adapting the most appropriate leadership style to fit the employee’s development level, this produces goal achievement, relationships are built up, and most importantly, the employee matures professionally to the benefit of the team and ultimately leads to organizational success.

Delegation Decision Matrix Tool

Steps in the Delegation Decision Matrix process:

  1. Make an overview per employee of his / her tasks.
  2. Assess the employee’s development level on each task (D1 – D4).
  3. Decide on most appropriate leadership style per task (S1 – S4).
  4. Discuss what you’re trying to accomplish with the employee (Goal Achievement & Professional Development).
  5. Make a joint plan.
  6. Follow-up, check and correct.