Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is a concept that makes intuitive sense. 

Here’s how Adamchik put it: “I have to treat the new guy differently than I treat the senior guy. And if they’re at the same stage of their career? Everyone has different levels of development. And every leader has a preferred style that may or may not match this level of development. So intuitively, it’s easy to get what ‘situational leadership’ means.”

In this discussion, Adamchik and Blount talk about situational leadership and how to practice it effectively.

You need to lead them wherever they are.

Situational leadership means understanding that your new recruit does not have the life experiences that we had. “So you can’t lead them the way you were led,” Adamchik said. “You need the awareness to say, this isn’t working for them. So what do they need at this moment? How do we take this situation and make it work?”

And developmental levels make a difference. You’re going to step in if someone’s giving the new guy attitude without reason, but if the person being hassled is your superintendent with 25 years under his belt? You’re not going to step in, because you know he’s got it covered. 

How do you lead?

Confirmation bias, and a self-fulfilling prophecy

When you’re leading, are you prone to confirmation bias? Here’s an example of how confirmation bias works. Let’s say you believe that everyone new to the workforce lacks a good work ethic. If you hire someone fresh out of college who then comes to work late one day soon after you hired him, you’ll be saying, “See? Kids these days, they can’t work worth a damn.” 

“You don’t want to do that,” Adamchik said. “That’s not leading at all. That’s managing to the lowest common denominator. So okay, the dude came to work late. Ask why. Ask what you can do to help. Because here’s what we know for sure. If you do nothing to help that weak person get stronger, then what you believe about them will happen. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“This is the way we’ve always done it.”

It might be the way you’ve always done it, but if it’s not working, is it really the way to lead? “If what we’re doing isn’t working, an opportunity exists,” Blount pointed out. 

Take onboarding, for example. Too often with onboarding, we give our new recruits a VHS tape from 1979, tell them to go sit in a room by themselves, watch the tape, and fill out the paperwork. Why? Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. 

But what if we send a link to their phone that guides them down a dynamic path that customizes their onboarding? “That’s heresy to the ‘but this is how we’ve always done it’ crowd,” Adamchik said. “But it’s what’s happening in the real world right now. What does it do? It speaks directly to your young, new recruit, who lives on their phone. And maybe it costs a bit more initially, but technology is so responsive nowadays. It’s easy to create opportunities like this.”

Are you investing in labor?

Construction leaders often see a conflict between their people’s needs and the needs of their client or the project. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. It’s about making the conscious decision to also invest in your people, and problem solving from there.

For example, labor is often the largest part of a project’s costs. Yet there’s a reluctance to invest in the things that reduce labor costs. “We’ll balk at putting in an extra $20,000 that will save us money,” Blount pointed out, “but we have no problems making the decision to go out and buy a $1.5 million piece of equipment.”

“And this same piece of equipment is going to need to be taken offline for 50 hours at some point so we can service it,” Adamchik added. “We’re good with that, but we’ll hold training sessions on a Saturday because we don’t want to lose production time.”

How to practice situational leadership effectively.

So how do you practice situational leadership effectively? The following tips will help guide you toward building the level of awareness you need to meet your people where they’re at.

Create a plan, and then do it. When it comes to behavioral change, it’s important to apply whatever you’ve learned. The best way to do this is to decide how you’re going to do it, then write it down. Share your intention with someone else. And then do it.

Use micro goals. Micro goals take less energy than the behavioral change that big goals need. If your goal is to get in shape, don’t plan to run five miles tomorrow. Instead, make a series of micro goals, like buying sneakers and then putting your new sneakers on to walk down the block.  As you reach each micro goal, with its low cognitive load, the neuroscience kicks into action and you begin to get your body and your brain chemistry working for you. 

Have a leader buddy. Enlist a mentor or running mate to help keep you accountable. They’ll come back to you and ask, how did that go? “When you’re trying to lose weight, you get a gym buddy,” Adamchik said. “Want to be a leader? Get a leader buddy. Do a book study together, read a chapter, and then do something. Start moving that needle.”

Enlist your team. Don’t forget about your team. “When I started learning to be a better leader, I would tell my team, hey, this is something I’m working on,” Blount said. “And I’d ask, can you help me with it?” And enlisting your team also positions you as a learner, someone who’s not afraid to admit they don’t have all the answers. 

Know your people. If you’ve ever played a team sport, you understand the importance of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates. The same principle applies on the job. There’s a real advantage in knowing the people on your team, and how they act differently in different situations. This knowledge lets you approach issues from a place of care if you see them struggling. 

Create the space to lead. We’re all busy these days. No one has the time to think about how they’re leading. So leaders need to create space to look back on interactions that didn’t go well. Ask yourself, what could I have done differently? “It’s something we’ve learned with the Navy SEALS, and in triage situations,” Adamchik said. “Do a postmortem and critique each situation. Ask people, 'Is there anything I could have done differently to help you succeed?' It’s about having the kinds of conversations that traditionally we’ve never had.”

Change the leadership conversation

You’ve probably heard it before: “Hey, no one ever did that for me.” “Well, you know what?” Adamchik said. “It’s time to break the cycle.”

For Blount, it’s about extending the grace that we wish we’d been given. “Maybe that’s really how we become aware as leaders,” he said. “Try and think, how would I react? How would I like to be treated? And then try and do it.”

Adamchik points to the military. “If you’ve spent enough time with military leaders, you’ve heard the words,” he said. “Love, humility, grace. The 'I love my brother in the foxhole' kind of thing. Why can’t we have that on a construction job? And the answer is, we can.”

As it turns out, that’s the differentiator. Companies are making money these days by changing the leadership conversation and engaging with people in a different way. 


Situational leadership means understanding that you have to lead people in a way that matches where they’re at. You need to be able to assess the situation, and ask what the person you’re leading needs at that moment. 

So take a look at how you’re leading. Is it working? If it’s not, see that as the opportunity it is. And take the time to put what you know about situational leadership into practice:

  • Create a plan, then do it
  • Use micro goals to get where you want to go
  • Get a leader buddy
  • Enlist the help of your team
  • Know your people
  • Create the space you need to lead

As Adamchik put it, the leadership conversation needs to change. It’s time to break the cycle.


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