Posted on: 1/18/2023

Leadership Style & Substance – How will you shift gears?


Perhaps the most over-used and potentially pointless question that an interviewer or assessment professional can ask you is, “What’s your leadership style?”.

“I’m a transactional leader”. . . said no one ever.

“I’m a transformational leader”. . . say many who simply are not.

How many leadership styles are out there in the ether of management theory? 10? 20? From laissez-faire, to transformational, to charismatic, to compassionate, to servant, the nomenclature alone does little to help us understand how to be more impactful leaders.

Labelling a leadership style is neither new nor particularly helpful. And asking someone to describe their own style is next to useless if you don’t validate that with peer reviews and significant evidence. I’m regularly asked what type of leader is the best? And what ‘style’ should a person adopt to be a great leader?

The first and most obvious response to that, of course, is that a leader needs to be authentic. ‘Choosing’ a style isn’t a realistic approach, especially if the style you prefer is dramatically different than how you move through the world. But if I had to nail my colours to the mast and pick a style that I’ve seen prove successful over and over, say Situational Leadership potentially trumps all.

There’s no need to go into the four areas of the Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Model in detail. Simply, Situational Leadership suggests the ability to switch between directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating styles to match the context and individual. Simple hey?

When we assess outstanding leaders, they all tend to have one thing in common: their ability to seamlessly shift leadership gears, authentically, and with a clear focus of vision and articulation of purpose.

Future-ready leaders able to adapt in this way are becoming more and more in demand as complexity and speed of change increase exponentially. The last few years have highlighted the importance of being nimble, as the business landscape is constantly in flux.

Great leaders, Situational Leaders included, tend to have high self-awareness and a genuine belief that people are at the heart of their success – superpowers that are hard to fake. They are incredible problem solvers, credible communicators, and unashamedly results oriented. And their clarity of purpose and vision is crystal clear.

The primary skill required for situational leadership is knowing when to ‘adapt and move’, and the only way to accelerate the acquisition of this capability is to have advanced understanding of your team – the individuals and their receptiveness, stress levels, capabilities, and performance preferences. Many of the most effective leaders we see adapt their style to fit the performance readiness of those on their team. . . and they do it naturally. HR expert Josee Larocque Patton reaffirms this in a recent Forbes article. She says, If we want to be great leaders, it is not the responsibility of others to adapt to us, it is our responsibility to adapt to them.”

While becoming a Situational Leader may take patience and practice, you can take the first step by learning how to best relate to each of the members of your team. Need help? Contact SRI’s consulting practice for a conversation about your executive coaching or assessment needs.


Helen Soulsby

Managing Director, Global Talent Consulting