Improving Leadership Impact at a Glance: How the Situational Leadership II Model Helps Leaders Develop Followers into Autonomous, Committed Contributors

CorpLearning Training & Development Leave a Comment

Susan Cain, Ed. D, The Corporate Learning Institute

Infographics are useful tools to help leaders become more effective. And an often-overlooked leadership model developed in the 1970’s also may hold the key to helping leaders visualize how to have a more effective impact on follower performance.

Situational Leadership Theory (Hersey & Blanchard,1977) first appeared in Training and Development Journal as the Life Cycle of Leadership (Hersey & Blanchard, 1969). The model has since undergone several changes. Here at CLI, we employ Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II Model© in select leadership training engagements that we design and facilitate.

Here is the essential model. In terms of saving leader’s training time, the model is a useful infographic, showing leaders how to match their leadership style to follower’s needs. To “read’ the model, start with the follower development levels at the bottom. Notice that the arrow reads right to left.



A new employee, or a follower who has changed roles or is approaching a new task will start at the “D1” level. They would then progress from right to left along a continuum on their way to becoming “D4’s”— content experts

It is interesting to note that while a new hire may be enthusiastic, they don’t necessarily possess the skills needed to perform in their new role. As they progress in competence from right to left, their leadership needs change. The concept is for any follower to be valuable, they will need to evolve toward being “D4’s.”

Now look at the larger graphic on top. Notice how leaders have four leadership profile preferences; reading from right to left they are directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating. Effective leaders match the needs of their followers, and the initial “Directing” style matches the “D1” need for structure and detail. The “Coaching” leadership style matches the “D2” need for encouragement and detail. The “Supporting” leadership style matches the “D3” need for continued support and lower direction, and the “Delegating” leadership style matches the needs of the “D4” for autonomy.

The model-at-a-glance informs leaders that they will need to shift their own leadership style to develop competency and commitment in followers. This is why the model was originally called the Leadership Lifecycle Model. This alone is useful for leaders to process and apply to their own approach. Developing followers into autonomous, committed contributors is the job of any leader.

Here at CLI, we often assess leader’s styles using the SLII Leadership Behavior Analysis (LBAII©), a useful tool to help leaders understand their style preferences. The assessment also indicates how flexible a leader is at changing styles as needed. Many leaders discover that have two profile preferences and some even possess a third as a backup style.

But many leaders possess a blind spot with a style that they don’t employ often enough or prefer to not use at all. This causes performance lags and even relationship glitches with followers.  

Imagine the difference it would make to followers for a leader to match their developmental needs. In addition, a leader who mismatches follower style reduces follower’s performance effectiveness. A good example is a leader who prefers the “Supporting” leader role and neglects to give enough detail and directions to a “D1” follower. Another mismatch example in many organizations occurs when a leader over-manages others, using a high degree of control for a follower who is a “D4” contributor.

A Case Study in Mismatched Styles

Jake is a leader who has been with his organization for over 10 years. He prides himself on staying current on all the latest technology available in his field.  He manages a staff of 7 employees. Recently, another employee joined the team.

Her name is Karen, and she is a part-time position and considers herself to be on the verge of retirement. The company hired her because of her considerable software expertise. Karen has been asked to train others on the use of the software as soon as possible.

Jake values what Karen brings to the team, and knows that she brings knowledge and skills that are currently missing on the team. But Karen feels uneasy at her new role. She is unsure how to proceed with the team, doesn’t want to be a know-it-all, and is unsure how to apply the software within her new setting.  She feels isolated, and wonders why Jake has not taken the time to train her on essential information.

Think about Jake’s style and Karen’s current follower level. Karen is the content expert, and was hired so that she would bring new skills to the team. But she is unfamiliar with the organization and expectations of her. Jake’s is to be hands-off and treat Karen like the content expert that she is. What is the missed opportunity here?

This case study represents a mismatch, because Karen’s needs as a new contributor are not being met. With coaching, Jake could learn how to meet the needs that Karen has so that she can quickly adapt and move forward developmentally in her new role. Karen could use some basic on-boarding, information on the organization, technology insights and an understanding of the team’s dynamics. Jake could benefit from acknowledging the need to be more directive and to provide the information that Karen needs to understand best how to contribute.

We have found that the introduction of the Situational Leadership II Model to be beneficial to our clients. For first-time or seasoned leaders and managers. Leaders can quickly identify the leadership styles needed to help followers at all developmental level succeed.

The Corporate Learning Institute develops customized training and coaching to match your own training needs. Request a proposal for the training or coaching that you need! Find us at



Graeff, Claude L. (1997) Leadership Quarterly, 8(2),153-170.


This month, the Corporate Learning Institute is offering a free Coaching Session which includes a DiSC Assessment. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to win! Simply visit

CorpLearningImproving Leadership Impact at a Glance: How the Situational Leadership II Model Helps Leaders Develop Followers into Autonomous, Committed Contributors

Leave a Reply