Essential Situational Leadership Books to Guide You to Greater Success

Not all leadership is the same. What works well for one scenario will not necessarily do well with others even if it is a similar event. The slightest change of a situation may require an impromptu change of leadership style for the moment. Someone who was a terrific leader of one group of people may struggle with a different group. 

Situational Leadership Theory is all about being able to adapt your leadership to the situation as is necessary to complete a goal. The situation can be altered due to a personnel change, instruction change, or even a force majeure. Since adaptability is a key to success, it only stands to reason that being able to adapt your leadership is a key to greater success as a leader.

Leadership Styles.

Generally speaking, there are four main ways to manage a team: tell, sell, participate, delegate.


Usually the first thing to come to mind when it comes to management, “telling” is the direct imperative style of leadership. You literally tell your subordinates exactly what to do. “Clean the soda fountain.”


Selling is a spin of telling wherein you are essentially rallying the group to support your idea and to work on it, accordingly. “It would be great for someone to tackle the soda fountain while this is going on.”


The dream most envision when talking about good leaders, this is when the manager leads by doing. It is the most hands-on form of leadership. “Let’s get this soda fountain clean!”


This is a less-involved form of leadership wherein the leader will divide chunks of the task to sub-groups with the understanding that each of these groups will take full responsibility for their parts. “The soda fountain needs to be cleaned. Someone get the grate, someone get the nozzles…”

Essential Situational Leadership Books 

Great leaders have a tendency to share their knowledge. There are a number of successful leaders across multiple industries who have divulged the secrets to their ways. Many have combed through the countless stories that were told over the years and have compiled what they feel are the common factors. Each have their own focus on important pieces of the puzzle. 

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Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

Everyone is their own worst enemy. Denial can keep people trapped in undesirable circumstances for years. This same denial people may have about personal issues can also have an effect on your leadership capabilities. Leadership and Self-Deception, written by The Arbinger Institute, covers the practices of breaking through your own self-imposed box to allow your leadership to grow.

The idea behind this book is that most of anyone’s poor performance is, for one reason or another, usually your own fault. One of the most common examples of this is with a breakdown of communication. It isn’t unusual for someone to be upset at not being given a phone call when it was just as easy for that person to make the phone call. 

The book also touches on the craving for conflict, and how that drives people. The competition can fuel self-deception by creatively justifying your actions. The “I’m right” mentality that encourages superiority complexes in such destructive manners by creating such shortsightedness that you wind up sacrificing the long-term win for a short-term victory.

It is important for any situational leader to not be too in-the-box to be able to solve pop-up issues. Being in denial about the issues at hand will set any leader up to fail at a task simply due to overlooking key facts. It sometimes takes a hard, honest look at a situation for you to be able to address it adequately. Always be ready to do that.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

After spending years with the most influential CEOs at the top of their game, Stephen R. Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to share the common threads that he observed. A lot of the core emphasis of this book is looking at your inner core and addressing your motives. The 7 Habits® can be summarized:

  • Be proactive – Take action, don’t sit around and wait for something to happen;
  • Start with the conclusion in mind – Have an idea of what you want the end game to be so that you can dissect how to get there;
  • Put first things first – It is important to take the time to do the important things even if they are not urgent;
  • Think win/win – Every interaction with another person should benefit both people;
  • Seek to understand before being understood – It is much easier to communicate with someone when you can understand them;
  • Learn to synergize – You must be able to work with others in order for there to be harmony; and
  • Sharpen the saw – Do sufficient preparation so that when it is time to perform the task, it can be done efficiently.

In order for a situational leader to be successful, a regular practice of these seven habits can impact how you interact with your team and how well you motivate them to accomplish the goal.

Start with Why

Simon Sinek integrates his background in advertising with his BA in Cultural Anthropology to explain the motivations of people, and how leaders can access that. In Start with Why, Simon explains how emotions beat logic every time. Hence, why understanding someone’s Why is so important – it drives all of their decision-making.

Simon also explains how the excited worker is the backbone of the company. Motivated, appreciated employees do more than employees who do not feel this way. Sure, stringent deadlines and the need for a paycheck are motivating, but those are external. By finding someone’s Why, you can tap into the intrinsic motivation of others. 

Your own “Why” is important because if that fizzles, your own motivations will die. It is impossible to be an excellent leader if you do not even inspire yourself.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0

The emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) is more about reading people and emotions than it is about other, more solid, forms of intelligence (IQ). It stands to reason that reading and understanding people is a vital part of leading them. In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Joan Greaves attest that there are four components to EQ:

  • Self Awareness – Understanding what makes you tick, individually;
  • Self Management – Being able to apply what you know about yourself to control yourself, for better or worse;
  • Social Awareness – Understanding what makes others tick and what is really going on in their words; and
  • Relationship Management – The ability to apply self and social awareness in order to have productive relationships with others.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 offers strategies to enhance your own self-awareness. By understanding how individuals act and respond, yourself included, it will enhance your ability to understand the others in your life. Being better able to understand others makes it easier to relate and communicate with them, which improves your relationships all around. This helps make for a more inspiring leader.

Pros and Cons of Situational Leadership

Every leadership technique has positive aspects and negative aspects to it. A part of being an exemplary leader is understanding what advantages and disadvantages are at play in any challenge. For example:


Flexibility. Since principles of situational leadership are just that – based on situations – a leader isn’t frozen to a single method or ideology. 

Intuitive. Because of the lack of the rigid structure, much of the leadership can be tweaked as the project progresses. 


Flexibility. Some managers who are fond of a heavily-regimented structure will not do well as situational managers unless there is a pre-written strategy for every possible scenario that could occur.

Small picture. Because of how tasks are broken up, the leadership style can not likely apply across the “big picture” idea of any project. 

There are as many ways to lead a team as there are leaders in the world. Some have accomplished great things, some have become such jokes that cartoons have written songs to make fun of them. All have something that you can learn from their experiences. But, it is certain that the best leaders have all got common practices (as do the worst). These essential situational leadership books will help you be an influencer people mimic rather than mock.

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Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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