“When the effective leader is finished with his work, the people say it happened naturally.” — Lao Tzu

A skilled leader knows when to provide more help with the task.  A skilled leader also knows when to provide more encouragement or motivation.

An effective leader also know that just because you needed more task help in one situation, does not mean you need more task help  in another.  An effective leader also knows that just because you need more relationship support in one situation, does not mean you need more relationship support in another.

As a leader, your ability to identify a specific task, assess what a follower needs to perform the task , and apply the right combination of task and relationship focus, is a way to lead effectively, from moment to moment, or from situation to situation.  It’s leadership acumen in action.

The Hersey Situational Leadership® Model is a great model for applying the right amount of task-focus, and the right amount of relationship-focus to the goal at hand.  It’s a powerful model too because it helps you stay fluid and responsive, and adjust your leadership style based on what your followers need.


Hersey and Gitomer share three skills for using the Hersey Situational Leadership® Model:

  • Skill 1 – Identify a Specific Task.
  • Skill 2 – Diagnose the Follower’s Performance Needs for the Task.
  • Skill 3 – Apply the Best Combination of Task and Relationship Leader Behaviors.


To show how you can apply the skills, Hersey and Gitomer provide a scenario and give some examples of how you would blend your task-focus and relationship-focus behaviors.

In the example, Pat walks into your office and asks if you have a moment.  The situation is a client has asked Pat to change the ordering process by noon the next day.

Here is how you might respond, to apply the three skills:

  1. Identify the task.You identify the task as “change the order process.”
  2. Diagnose the performance needs.You diagnose the situation.  You know Pat has the skills since she’s changed the order process twice before.  You ask her what is it about this change that you find challenging.  She responds that it’s the time frame.
  3. Apply appropriate amounts of task and relationship behaviors.  You ask the following questions: Is this any more complicated than the other two you did so well on?  How much time will this one take? How much time did the previous two take? Do you need any backup resources? Do we need a plan B?

In this case, asking the questions helps stay connected, while exploring the task-needs and relationship needs that Pat may have.


If your follower needs more task help, you can help provide the who, what, when, where, how, and how much they need to perform.   If you follow needs more relationship help, you can focus on communication, praise, encouragement, or clarity on the “why” behind the task.  Hersey and Gitomer write:

“If the answers to these questions come from Pat, she will come to realize she can handle this and the leader will be able to delegate. (Low Relationship and Low Task.)  If Pat cannot answer the questions and does not respond with a little encouragement (High Relationship and Low Task), the leader can become more involved and provide some structure for meeting the deadline  (High Task and High Relationship).  One of the great things about the Hersey Situational Leadership® Model is how fluid and responsive you can be to follower needs.  This is leadership in the moment.”

You can practice your task and relationship leadership behaviors from moment to moment.  If you master this ability, you will dramatically improve your leadership effectiveness.  This will help you avoid micro-managing, and it will help you maintain trust with your followers.  It will also help you grow and expand your followers’ abilities, while providing the encouragement and emotional support that they need.