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).

QuadrantDescriptionAnalysis and StrategyExamples and Real-World Applications
Quadrant 1High Skill, High Will Individuals in this quadrant possess both the skills and the motivation needed to excel. They require minimal supervision and can take on complex tasks autonomously.Analysis: Quadrant 1 members are highly capable and self-motivated. They are valuable assets to the team and organization. – Strategy: Empower and provide opportunities for growth. Encourage leadership roles and autonomy. Recognize and reward achievements. Offer challenges and responsibilities that align with their skills and motivation.– A software development team with experienced developers who are enthusiastic about tackling complex projects independently. – High-performing sales representatives who consistently meet and exceed targets without close supervision.
Quadrant 2High Skill, Low Will These individuals have the necessary skills but lack motivation. They may need encouragement, recognition, or a change in roles to reignite their enthusiasm.Analysis: Quadrant 2 members have the required skills but may be experiencing a lack of engagement or burnout. They have the potential to excel if motivated effectively. – Strategy: Motivate, recognize achievements, or address underlying issues affecting motivation. Understand their interests and career goals. Provide clear goals and a sense of purpose. Consider role adjustments or challenges to reignite their enthusiasm.– A seasoned marketing manager who, despite having the skills, is demotivated due to repetitive tasks. Motivation and recognition could help rekindle their enthusiasm. – An experienced engineer who is feeling uninspired in their current role. Exploring new project opportunities might reignite their motivation.
Quadrant 3Low Skill, High Will People in this quadrant are motivated but lack the required skills. They benefit from training, guidance, and skill development to become more effective.Analysis: Quadrant 3 members are motivated and enthusiastic but lack the necessary skills to perform their roles effectively. They have the potential for growth. – Strategy: Invest in training and skill development. Provide mentorship and guidance. Set clear expectations and goals. Create opportunities for skill acquisition and growth.– An entry-level marketing coordinator with a strong desire to contribute but lacking the skills for advanced marketing campaigns. Providing training and mentorship can help them grow into the role. – A recent graduate joining an IT team with high motivation but limited technical skills. Investing in training programs can accelerate their development.
Quadrant 4Low Skill, Low Will Individuals in this quadrant have both low skills and motivation. They may require close supervision, coaching, or a reevaluation of their fit within the team.Analysis: Quadrant 4 members may present challenges in terms of both skills and motivation. Their contribution may be limited, and their fit within the team should be assessed. – Strategy: Evaluate role fit and alignment with team goals. Provide clear expectations and consequences. Offer coaching and support if there is potential for improvement. Consider reassignment or alternative roles if necessary.– An employee who consistently underperforms, lacks motivation, and demonstrates a poor fit with the team’s dynamics. A performance improvement plan or role realignment may be needed. – A team member who is disengaged, unskilled, and struggling with tasks. Assessing whether a different role or team might be a better fit is essential.

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.

Case studies

1. Software Development:

Problem Articulation: Software teams often comprise members with different experience levels and motivation. Identifying the right approach for each can optimize team productivity and morale.

  • Guide (High Will/Low Skill): A recent graduate eager to contribute but unfamiliar with the company’s coding standards. Managers should pair them with a mentor, provide resources to learn, and celebrate their first successful code commits.
  • Delegate (High Will/High Skill): A senior developer who has a proven track record and shows initiative. Managers can assign them leadership roles, like leading a new project or mentoring younger team members.
  • Direct (Low Will/Low Skill): A junior developer who is struggling with both technical tasks and motivation. Managers should identify the root cause, offer training, and set clear performance expectations.
  • Excite (Low Will/High Skill): A seasoned developer, technically adept but showing signs of burnout. Managers might provide them with challenging tasks, offer opportunities for skills enhancement, or even sabbaticals.

2. Retail Management:

Problem Articulation: Retail employees have varying customer service skills and motivation to sell. Tailoring management strategies can enhance sales and customer satisfaction.

  • Guide (High Will/Low Skill): A new sales associate eager to help customers but unfamiliar with the products. Managers can provide product training, shadowing experienced associates, and positive reinforcement for initial sales.
  • Delegate (High Will/High Skill): An experienced sales associate who consistently meets sales targets and knows the products inside out. Managers can entrust them with leading product launches or training sessions for new hires.
  • Direct (Low Will/Low Skill): A sales associate neither familiar with the products nor motivated to sell. Managers should clarify job expectations, offer training, and perhaps set up a performance improvement plan.
  • Excite (Low Will/High Skill): A seasoned associate, excellent in sales but lacking enthusiasm lately. Managers could provide them with new challenges, like visual merchandising or even involve them in inventory decisions.

3. Education:

Problem Articulation: Teachers in a school have different teaching skills and motivation levels. Effective school leadership tailors support based on these differences.

  • Guide (High Will/Low Skill): A new teacher passionate about teaching but struggling with classroom management. School leadership can pair them with mentor teachers, offer workshops, and celebrate small classroom victories.
  • Delegate (High Will/High Skill): A seasoned teacher who excels in both curriculum delivery and student rapport. School leadership can involve them in curriculum design, mentorship programs, or even school committees.
  • Direct (Low Will/Low Skill): A teacher who is struggling with both teaching and motivation. School leadership should provide clear feedback, offer professional development opportunities, and set clear expectations.
  • Excite (Low Will/High Skill): A veteran teacher, skilled but showing signs of burnout. School leadership might offer them opportunities to lead workshops, sabbaticals, or even research opportunities.

4. Healthcare:

Problem Articulation: Healthcare teams consist of members with different specialties and motivations. Tailoring management strategies can optimize patient care.

  • Guide (High Will/Low Skill): A recent medical school graduate eager to help but still gaining practical experience. Senior doctors can supervise their cases, provide hands-on training, and celebrate their successful diagnoses.
  • Delegate (High Will/High Skill): A senior nurse or doctor who is highly skilled and takes initiative. Hospital management can involve them in patient care strategy, mentorship programs, or leading specific hospital units.
  • Direct (Low Will/Low Skill): A healthcare professional struggling with both technical tasks and motivation. Hospital management should identify the reasons, provide training, and set clear performance goals.
  • Excite (Low Will/High Skill): A seasoned doctor or nurse, highly skilled but showing signs of disinterest. Hospital management could provide them with challenging cases, research opportunities, or even administrative roles.

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.

Key Highlights

  • Understanding the Skill Will Matrix:
    • Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, the matrix assesses skill and willingness to perform a task.
    • Managers use the matrix to determine the appropriate leadership style to enhance subordinate performance.
  • Skill and Will Defined:
    • Skill: The ability, knowledge, or talent enabling the employee to perform a task effectively.
    • Will: The determination to perform a task despite challenges, influenced by motivation and attitude.
  • Four Quadrants of the Skill Will Matrix:
    1. Guide (High Will/Low Skill): Energetic individuals lacking necessary skills. Managers should provide training, feedback, and support, praising small successes.
    2. Delegate (High Will/High Skill): Competent and motivated individuals offering the best ROI. Managers should invest in their development and retain their enthusiasm.
    3. Direct (Low Will/Low Skill): Focus on building both skill and will. Identify reasons for their situation, offer support, feedback, and incentives to improve.
    4. Excite (Low Will/High Skill): Capable subordinates meeting requirements but displaying negative behaviors. Provide extra responsibility and authority, address lack of motivation if necessary.

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

In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.


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.



Change Management


Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.


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.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

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.

Connected Business Matrices

SFA Matrix

The SFA matrix is a framework that helps businesses evaluate strategic options. Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes created the SFA matrix to help businesses evaluate their strategic options before committing. Evaluation of strategic opportunities is performed by considering three criteria that make up the SFA acronym: suitability, feasibility, and acceptability.

Hoshin Kanri X-Matrix

The Hoshin Kanri X-Matrix is a strategy deployment tool that helps businesses achieve goals over the short and long term. Hoshin Kanri is a method that seeks to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. Strategic objectives are clearly defined and the goals of every level of the organization are aligned. With everyone moving in the same direction, process coordination and decision-making ability are strengthened.

Kepner-Tregoe Matrix

The Kepner-Tregoe matrix was created by management consultants Charles H. Kepner and Benjamin B. Tregoe in the 1960s, developed to help businesses navigate the decisions they make daily, the Kepner-Tregoe matrix is a root cause analysis used in organizational decision making.

Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a tool that helps businesses prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance, named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States from 1953 to 1961, the matrix helps businesses and individuals differentiate between the urgent and important to prevent urgent things (seemingly useful in the short-term) cannibalize important things (critical for long-term success).

Action Priority Matrix

An action priority matrix is a productivity tool that helps businesses prioritize certain tasks and objectives over others. The matrix itself is represented by four quadrants on a typical cartesian graph. These quadrants are plotted against the effort required to complete a task (x-axis) and the impact (benefit) that each task brings once completed (y-axis). This matrix helps assess what projects need to be undertaken and the potential impact for each.

TOWS Matrix

The TOWS Matrix is an acronym for Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths. The matrix is a variation on the SWOT Analysis, and it seeks to address criticisms of the SWOT Analysis regarding its inability to show relationships between the various categories.

GE McKinsey Matrix

The GE McKinsey Matrix was developed in the 1970s after General Electric asked its consultant McKinsey to develop a portfolio management model. This matrix is a strategy tool that provides guidance on how a corporation should prioritize its investments among its business units, leading to three possible scenarios: invest, protect, harvest, and divest.

BCG Matrix

In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

Growth Matrix

In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

Ansoff Matrix

You can use the Ansoff Matrix as a strategic framework to understand what growth strategy is more suited based on the market context. Developed by mathematician and business manager Igor Ansoff, it assumes a growth strategy can be derived by whether the market is new or existing, and the product is new or existing.

Kraljic Matrix

The Kraljic matrix is a framework that analyzes and classifies a company’s supplier base. Kraljic’s matrix is used by purchasers to maximize supply security/minimize supply risk and reduce costs. In so doing, it encourages them to see procurement as a strategic activity and not one that is simply transactional. The Kraljic matrix is divided into four quadrants based on varying degrees of supply risk and profit impact. Each quadrant defines a type of supply item and a strategy that reduces risk and cost. The quadrants encompass leverage items, bottleneck items, non-critical items, and strategic items.

Product-Process Matrix

The product-process matrix was introduced in two articles published in the Harvard Business Review in 1979. Developed by Robert H. Hayes and Steven C. Wheelwright, the matrix assesses the relationship between The stages of the product life cycle (from ideation to growth or decline) and The stages of the process (technological) life cycle.

Mendelow Stakeholder Matrix

The Mendelow stakeholder matrix is a framework used to analyze stakeholder attitudes and expectations and their potential impact on business decisions.

Requirements Traceability Matrix

A requirements traceability matrix (RTM) is a vital part of the lifecycle of any embedded system, helping organizations ensure their products are safe and meet intended standards. While the matrix has long been associated with medicine, technology, and engineering, the approach works well for any project regardless of industry. A requirements traceability matrix is a tool used to identify and maintain the status of project requirements and deliverables.

Value/Effort Matrix

The value/effort matrix is a feature prioritization model used to build effective product roadmaps. The value/effort matrix allows product managers to prioritize their product backlog using a confident, structured approach. The product team learns how to plan an effective roadmap, identify boundaries of work, and differentiate between needs and wants.

Decision Matrix

A decision matrix is a decision-making tool that evaluates and prioritizes a list of options. Decision matrices are useful when: A list of options must be trimmed to a single choice. A decision must be made based on several criteria. A list of criteria has been made manageable through the process of elimination.

Cash Flow Statement Matrix


Grand Strategy Matrix

The grand strategy matrix was created by American business theorist Paul Joseph DiMaggio in 1980. The matrix, which first appeared in the Strategic Management Journal, was initially used as a strategic option tool for managers.  The grand strategy matrix helps organizations develop feasible alternative strategies based on their competitive position and the growth of their industry.

Main Free Guides:

About The Author

Scroll to Top