What Is The Skill Will Matrix? The Skill Will Matrix In A Nutshell

The skill will matrix was created by behavioral scientist Paul Hersey and business consultant Ken Blanchard in the 1970s. The skill will matrix is a tool used to assess the skill level and willingness of an individual to perform a specific task based on four key profiles: Guide (high will/low skill), Delegate (high will/high skill), Direct (low will/low skill), Excite (low will/high skill).

Understanding the skill will matrix

The matrix, which is based on a situational leadership model, is used by managers to assess the skill and willingness of a subordinate to complete a specific task.

The manager then uses feedback from the assessment to determine a style of leadership most likely to increase subordinate performance. 

Before moving to the next section, it may be helpful to first define skill and will:


Or any ability enabling the subordinate to do something well.

This may be prior experience, training, knowledge, or natural talent.


Or the determination to do something despite difficulties or opposition. How motivated is the subordinate in performing a task?

What is their attitude? Will is typically influenced by organizational culture, professional aspirations, and the personal life of the employee.

The four quadrants of the skill will matrix

Varying degrees of skill and will can be represented on a 2×2 matrix with four quadrants.

Though individuals rarely occupy a single quadrant the majority of the time, managers can use each quadrant to define a coaching style most likely to result in subordinate success.

Let’s now take a look at each of the four coaching styles/quadrants below:

Guide (high will/low skill)

These individuals are enthusiastic and energetic but lack the necessary skills to do a good job.

The manager should discuss and establish methods, provide training and feedback, and accept beginner mistakes as a tool for growth.

Tasks should also be structured to minimize possible risks to the company and any small successes should be praised or rewarded.

Delegate (high will/high skill)

Individuals who are highly competent and motivated represent the best return on investment for the organization.

Managers need to invest in enabling these individuals to reach their full potential.

This may involve extra delegation, responsibility, or a role in the development of other team members.

Given their value to a company, strategies should focus on retention by maintaining enthusiasm.

Direct (low will/low skill)

Here, the focus must be on building both skill and will.

This starts with the manager identifying the reason a subordinate is in this situation.

They may have an underlying attitude problem or simply be in the wrong role.

It’s important management resist the urge to discipline the subordinate or consign them to the too hard basket.

In many cases, competence and motivation can be increased by giving individuals the chance to improve with highly directed action, feedback, and incentivization.

Excite (low will/high skill)

These are capable subordinates who are most likely meeting performance targets and otherwise satisfying the requirements of their role.

However, individuals in this quadrant are sometimes called “grumpy experts” because they may demonstrate behaviors or attitudes that negatively impact others.

This is particularly true for stalwarts, or long-term members of an organization who have become comfortable in their roles and may be looking for a promotion.

To counter this, management should give extra responsibility and authority to the subordinate in line with their competence or skill level.

In the event this strategy fails, the underlying reasons for the lack of motivation should be identified and addressed.

Key takeaways

  • The skill will matrix is a tool used to assess the skill level and willingness of an individual to perform a specific task. It was developed in the 1970s by behavioral scientist Paul Hersey and business consultant Ken Blanchard.
  • The skill will matrix measures the skill and will level of an employee. Skill can be defined as any knowledge, talent, or ability enabling the employee to do something well. Will is the ability to perform a task despite difficulties and is influenced by motivation, culture, and personal attitude.
  • The skill will matrix defines four quadrants, with each quadrant defining a coaching style most likely to result in subordinate success. The four quadrants are guide, delegate, direct, and excite.

Leadership Frameworks

Hierarchical Organizational Structure

In a hierarchical structure, you have a company organized in a vertical manner, where groups follow a top-down decision-making approach, where most decisions flow from the top to the bottom of the organization. One example is Apple’s organizational structure today.

Flat Organizational Structure

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A holacracy is a management strategy and an organizational structure where the power to make important decisions is distributed throughout an organization. It differs from conventional management hierarchies where power is in the hands of a select few. The core principle of a holacracy is self-organization where employees organize into several teams and then work in a self-directed fashion toward a common goal.



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Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

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Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

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