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Kayak Rolls and Situational Leadership II®: Understanding Development Levels

3 Minute Read

As a Channel Partner with Ken Blanchard Companies, I frequently teach Situational Leadership II® to corporate clients. In the first morning of class, I share a personal example that shows how I went through the Development cycle in my efforts to learn how to roll a kayak. This is one of my favorite parts of teaching this model.

I explain to the class that when I was 19 years old in college, I dated a professional kayaker. I bought a small, white water kayak, so that we could paddle together. I had been sea kayaking since I was a 8 years old, and had never capsized or learned how to roll a kayak completely over and back up again. This was a new lesson for me!

When we look at the Development levels in the Situational Leadership II® model, here is a quick overview:

  • D1—The Enthusiastic Beginner

  • D2—The Disillusioned Learner

  • D3—The Capable, but Cautious, Performer

  • D4—The Self-Reliant Achiever

(Source: Ken Blanchard Companies, 2011)

My Story:

According to Development Level 1 from the Situational Leadership II® model, it is common for folks at that level to have a positive attitude and excitement, but very little skill. This correctly described me, as I happily climbed into my kayak in the college swimming pool to learn.

As I explain to my corporate participants, Level 1 didn't last very long for me. As I put on my spray skirt and tipped the boat over, following the instructions I was given, I was not successful at all! I had to bail out of the boat. My nose filled up with water, and I was pretty embarrassed. Very quickly I moved to Development Level 2 where my skill level was still a beginner, but now I was frustrated and lacked motivation (and bought nose plugs!).

We continued to practice for number of weeks, and my skills became stronger. I built confidence in the process of rolling the kayak. As my confidence and skills increased, I became successful some of the time at rolling my kayak in the pool. I had the skills to do it, but was often still nervous and not as confident. This describes me at Development Level 3. At Level 3, participants often have mastery of a skills, but don't believe they can do it.

With additional months of practice, my success rate began to increase and I became 90% successful, meaning that most of the time I could roll the kayak completely. After about one year of lots of practice, I became a Level 4,  where I had both of confidence and the skill to roll my kayak consistently. Sometimes learning a new skill doesn't happen overnight. Neither does having enough confidence to think we can do it on our own.

A few years later, after I graduated from college, I joined a kayak club and taught kayaking in the winter in a swimming pool as a volunteer. Because I had mastery of rolling the kayak and many other paddling skills, I became one of the instructors. For fun, I would do synchronized kayak rolls with friends in the pool! Check out the video below to see what this looks like. I'm all the way to the right in the red boat.

In closing, it is important to remember that we're going to be at different Development Levels depending on our experience with the task or skill, as well as our attitude and motivation. It's important for leaders to correctly diagnose the Development Level of their direct report, so they can be most effective at managing and leading.

I welcome you to share a story below that walks readers through your development levels as you mastered a skill.

*As an approved Channel Partner within the Blanchard Partner Network, Sarah A. Scala Consulting is licensed to market, sell, and train Situational Leadership® II and Situational Leadership® II Experience.

*As an approved Channel Partner within the Blanchard Partner Network, Sarah A. Scala Consulting is licensed to market, sell, and train Situational Leadership® II and Situational Leadership® II Experience.

 Questions? Let’s connect. I would love to hear your success stories. Please send them to: or visit

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