How Many Leadership Styles Do You Need – Life Cycle Leadership

How Many Leadership Styles Do You Need – Life Cycle Leadership

This is a new version of a very popular post on this site.

I’ve written a lot about how teams behave and my approach has been based on Tuckman’s Team behaviour theory – you can find links to these articles at the bottom of this post. Tuckman’s approach and the leadership theories of Hershey-Blanchard and Adair can be brought together into one simple model.

This shows how different Leadership styles are required across the life cycle of any group activity.

  1. Telling – at the start an activity, task or project, the individual, team or group usually know little about what is required of them and they can be confused and uncoordinated! Generally, they lack the specific skills required for this particular piece of work and they may not know each other. Lacking knowledge and confidence, they are anxious and unwilling to take responsibility for the task. The leader needs to go into “Telling” mode. This means being more directive; focusing on the task, promoting ownership by the individual team member and promoting their confidence. This Telling stage is characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines the roles of the individual or group and provides the what, how, when, and where to do the task.
  2. Selling – as the group develops, the leader focuses on coaching to get them into the delivery stage! They agree how they will behave to complete the task! But in doing this there may be conflict and a leader may need a facilitative approach to lead them to resolution. They are still not able to take on responsibility; but, they are willing to work at the task. While the leader is still providing the direction and focusing on the task, he or she is now focusing as well on individuals using two-way communication – listening as well as giving instruction. The leader provides the coaching and support needed to help the individual or group buy into the process.
  3. Participating – as the individual or team becomes more confident and self managed the leader concentrates on leading the team overall and develops a delegating style! The team are experienced and able to do the task but may still lack the confidence to take on full responsibility. There is now shared decision-making about how the task will be accomplished and the leader generally provides far less instruction, concentrating instead on strengthening bonds and commitment within the group.
  4. Delegating – when the group is fully mature, the leader is still involved in decisions; but responsibility for how the task will be accomplished has been passed to the group. The leader stays involved to monitor progress. But the group are experienced at the task, and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. They are able and willing not only to do the task, but to take responsibility for its completion.

I have described the stages in terms of group behaviour but the same cycle is seen in the development of individuals when they take on a new role.

No one style is right for any leader all the time. Good leaders need the confidence to be flexible, and to adapt themselves according to the situation. The right leadership style will depend on the person or group being led.

If you would like support in developing your own leadership style, get in touch – my email address is below.

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Wendy Mason is a Life and Career Coach.  She helps people have the confidence they need to be successful at work and to change career while maintaining a good work/life balance. You can email her at

Wendy’s earlier articles on how teams behave

  • Team Work; forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning with Dr Tuckman
  • Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming,Performing and Adjourning. Part 1 – Managing the Forming Stage
  • Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Part 2 – Managing the Storming Stage
  • Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning Part 3 – Managing the Norming Stage
  • Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Part 4 – Managing the Performing Stage
  • Team Work; Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. Part 5 – Managing the Adjourning Stage

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