One of the markers of an effective leader is the ability to size up a situation and make decisions based on what is the best thing to do. A leader who is able to adjust his response to fit the situation is ahead of one who cannot shift between leadership styles. Factors in situational decisions include the motivation and level of competency of the followers. There are four developmental levels of followers who have significant impact on the final outcomes of the situation. The four levels are: the enthusiastic beginner, the disillusioned learner, the reluctant contributor and the peak performer.
An enthusiastic beginner has a high level of enthusiasm and commitment and a low level of experience and competence. Leaders who are faced with followers such as this need to be direct and autocratic in their leadership style as the followers are eager and want to please, but often do not know how. The autocratic leadership style provides goals, strategies and deadlines for followers to meet.
Someone who is a disillusioned learner exhibits both low competence and enthusiasm or commitment. Individual or groups of disillusioned followers are difficult to motivate as they believe there is no way to change the situation; that it is hopeless. A leader who has disillusioned followers may be most successful adopting an autocratic leadership style that provides leadership expectations that could override low motivation and competence.
A reluctant contributor is someone who has a high level of competency with low commitment. In this situation, utilizing a participative style of leadership may provide the motivation to participate. The participative leadership style brings everyone's opinion and ideas into the decision-making process. Many competent individuals have low motivation because they feel under-utilized and under-appreciated. The participative style of leadership often makes them feel valued and ready to contribute.
Someone functioning at the peak performance level has high motivation and high competence. Using an autocratic leadership style with this individual is ill-advised and generally only causes resentment and low morale. A laissez faire leadership style is sometimes successful, as this individual has the capability to take the lead and manage the situation herself. The participative leadership style works quite effectively with the peak performer and actually results in a situation being resolved quickly and effectively.