Situational Leadership: There’s No One-Size-Fits All Approach to Management


By David Workman,

Over the last 20 years, there have been many articles written on the subject of how to best organize, direct and manage employees. In fact, the word “manage” itself has undergone a lot of criticism because it seems to imply overseeing employees without necessarily getting involved in the process. Other approaches to management have, therefore, been suggested such as empowering, mentoring, coaching, and directing.

The fact of the matter is that when it comes to best practices for leading employees it is not a case of either/or; it’s an all of the above approach. There is a time to empower, a time to mentor, a time to coach, and a time to direct. This is referred to as Situational Leadership.

If employees are highly motivated and highly skilled, managers can empower them. Instead of constantly looking over the shoulders of employees, especially those who are doing a great job already, managers can give them opportunities to grow on their own and lead others. For example, you can set up a plan for growth and reward them as they advance. Rewards don’t necessarily need to be financial—even a “thank you” goes a long way. Try to budget resources toward management and personal development training. And allow them to make some mistakes along the way. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

If employees are highly skilled but have low motivation, managers should act as mentors. One of the main reasons employees lose motivation is that they don’t understand the connection between


they are doing and


they are doing it. A mentor must, therefore, help employees understand the big picture. One of the best motivators is acknowledging employees’ accomplishments once they’ve achieved what you have asked.

If employees are highly motivated but have low skills, managers can coach them. Coaching is a way to provide any on-the-job training employees need in order to complete their tasks effectively. It’s important, first of all, to find out what employees already know. Once you have established their knowledge base, you must not only present the information to them; you must demonstrate it. To ensure they understand, find a way to evaluate their learning and provide feedback accordingly. Then, periodically make sure the employees are applying their newfound knowledge and skills to their tasks. And don’t forget to acknowledge their successes.

If employees have low motivation and low skills, you direct them until you can build their skills and motivation. Directing employees requires combing both coaching and mentoring techniques.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to management. Companies are comprised of individuals with varying skill sets and levels of motivation. To learn how to embody a management style to optimize the performance of all your employees, contact me at or call (949) 887-4721.