||:Leaders Creating:||
7 min readMar 2, 2021



written by Gary Rupert, Leadership Coach & Cultural Strategist ||:Leaders Creating:||

Have you ever begun a DIY project, only to quit in a fit of frustration because you had the skill, but you lacked the appropriate tools to complete it? Success in life depends on more than just intention and effort. It requires tools specific to the task. And of course, the ability to use those tools appropriately. In a similar way, success in leadership requires more than just effort. You need multiple tools in your toolbox. More importantly, you need to know the tool that is specific to the situation.

As undergraduates, we were taught that we have multiple learning modalities; visual, auditory, or tactile. While we each have a preferred modality, it is likely that we actually use some combination of the three when learning. The young educator will often present information in his or her preferred modality and then wonder why some students fail to assimilate it. The insightful teacher will find a way to present material using as many of the modalities as possible, thus ensuring a higher rate of understanding and learning.

In a similar way, we have multiple approaches to leadership; servant, value-driven, principle-centered, just to name a few. Just as in the case of learning modalities, we all have a leadership style with which we are the most comfortable. More importantly, our students have a leadership style to which they will be the most responsive. While I think it is important to create a program based primarily on the Director’s preferred leadership style, the insightful leader will recognize the importance of adapting his or her style to initially engage students who respond to the style most accessible to them.

Situational leadership

Situational leadership, first introduced to us by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the 1960’s, is an adaptive leadership style that encourages us to take stock of our students, weigh the many variables involved, and choose a leadership style that best fits their goals and circumstances. It is based on the premise that there is no singular or best style of leadership, and it all depends on the situation. It has become one of the most widely used leadership approaches because it helps improve student commitment and retention. Different situations require different types of leadership, often with the same student.

In his 1980’s update to Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership, Blanchard suggests that situational leaders must learn three skills:

1) How to set clear goals

2) How to diagnose the development levels of the individuals they lead

3) How to match the appropriate leadership style to provide the individuals with what they need to be successful.

Let us take a deeper look at each of these areas…

Setting Clear Goals

Experience has taught me that most young people lack a clear and focused approach to goal setting. Blanchard offers a useful model based on the acronym S.M.A.R.T. The S stands for specific. Goals should state exactly what the person is responsible for and when it needs to be done. M stands for motivating. For people to do their best work, the goals that are set need to tap into what your kids enjoy doing. The A stands for attainable. You want to stretch your kids, but you do not want to make the goals so difficult that they are not attainable, causing them to lose commitment. The R stands for relevant. A goal is relevant if it addresses an activity that makes a difference for the band and the student. Finally, the T stands for trackable. It is important that goals are trackable so that the student can measure his or her growth toward the accomplishment of the goal.

Diagnosing Development Level

The second skill, the diagnosis of student development, is based on the combination of competence and commitment. Here, Blanchard offers an extremely useful tool to identifying four developmental levels:

Blanchard goes on to describe the D1 as an enthusiastic beginner. This is someone who has high commitment but is inexperienced. They are new to the task or goal and therefore have a low level of competence. The D2 is described as a disillusioned learner. This is the student who demonstrates little or no competence along with little commitment. This is the student who can easily become frustrated and perhaps ready to quit. D3’s are capable but cautious contributors. They demonstrate some level of competence and commitment but lack the confidence in working independently. The D4 is identified as a self-reliant achiever. This student demonstrates a high level of both competence and commitment. While this is an extremely helpful model, it is only part of the equation.

Matching Appropriate Leadership Style

The last piece is the situational leader’s ability to match the appropriate leadership style with the development level of the student. According to Hersey and Blanchard, for many years it was felt that there were two basic leadership behaviors that leaders used when trying to influence others: directive behavior and supportive behavior. Four words can be used to define directive behavior: decide, teach, observe, and feedback. Four different words are used to describe supportive behavior: listen, involve, facilitate, and encourage. They later decided that there are four distinct leadership styles:

Style 1 — Directing

High directive behavior and low supportive behaviorThe leader provides specific direction about goals, demonstrates and tells how they can be achieved, and closely monitors the individual’s performance in order to provide frequent feedback on results.

Style 2 — Coaching

High directive behavior and high supportive behavior — The leader continues to direct goal or task accomplishment but also explains why, solicits suggestions, and begins to encourage involvement in decision making.

Style 3 — Supporting

Low directive behavior and high supportive behavior The leader and the individual make decisions together. The role of the leader is to facilitate, listen, draw out, encourage, and support.

Style 4 — Delegating

Low directive behavior and low supportive behavior — The individual makes most of the decisions about what, how, and when. The role of the leader is to value the individual’s contributions and support his or her growth. Blanchard offers the following graphic as a model of the intersection between student development and leadership style:

To apply this to band education, the S1 directing leadership style is better with enthusiastic beginners (D1), whereas an S2 coaching is the right style for disillusioned learner (D2). S3 supports D3, while S4 aligns with D4. It is important for us to recognize that these are simply starting points. The true work happens AFTER we have identified where the student is developmentally, and the leadership style to which he or she will best respond. Then your strategy as a leader is to adjust your leadership style over time from directing to coaching to supporting to delegating as your student’s performance improves.

Final Thoughts

Clearly situational leadership offers a more flexible approach to leading, encourages collaborative work, and encourages adaptability as students move through varying levels of development. It is important to note, however, that its major focus is on short-term goals. There must be continued clarity as the leader adjusts his or her style to encourage and stimulate student growth over time.

Success in the trades is dependent to a great degree on having (and being able to yield) the right tools. In the same way, success as a leader is dependent upon our ability to select the appropriate tool for the job. Situational leadership is one such tool. The value in this approach is in our ability to seamlessly move through the appropriate leadership styles as our students move through the four levels of development. We owe it to them to make sure we have the appropriate tools in our toolbox….and we know how to use them!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at ||:Leaders Creating:|| value the opportunity to engage with our readers, clients, colleagues, and friends. Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!

Gary L. Rupert was a music educator for 40 years and was most recently the Band Director at Smithsburg High School in Smithsburg, Maryland where his bands consistently achieved Superior ratings at local, state and national levels. He is a sought-after conductor and adjudicator in the areas of symphonic bands and jazz ensembles. An avid blogger whose daily entries are followed by people in over 57 countries, Mr. Rupert is the author of a daily inspirational book for students and teachers, “Today, No Every Day.” He is also a sought after speaker on leadership, motivation and creating a positive learning environment.

Gary Rupert has been named an Outstanding Maryland Music Educator, a Teacher of Excellence in both the Frederick and Washington County public schools, and has been twice nominated as a Disney Teacher of Excellence.

Gary can be reached at garyr@leaderscreating.com

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