Skill Will Matrix: Leadership Tool

In the cult-classic film, Kill Bill, the character Beatrix Kiddo possesses two qualities that earn her the top performance spot according to The Skill Will Matrix. Albeit a fictional character, for Kiddo, those qualities would be a fierce will and “a particular set of skills.” The score that any manager would give this high-will/high-skill team member is a no-brainer: Empowered! You’re ready for more, and to teach others what you know.

As it turns out, battling our inner demons of career self-sabotage may be harder than neutralizing a team of assassins. Beatrix did the latter, but your team members may need a little help to get their career out of a coma. That’s where you as the manager or leader come in. But before you can put out a contract on mediocrity, you need to know what’s at the root of your employee’s sub-par performance. Is it a lack of will or a lack of skill – or both? Even with a high-will/high-skill team member, there’s always room for improvement. Enter: The Skill Will Matrix assessment tool. Let’s dive into this useful leadership tool.

Skill Will Matrix

Skill Will Matrix Origins and Definition

The Skill Will Matrix is derived from the model of situational leadership created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the 1970s. By definition, Skill depends upon an individual’s capabilities based on his or her experience, training, knowledge, and natural ability. Will depends on an individual’s desire to succeed based on attitude, incentives, confidence, and personal feelings.

There’s no question that possessing both will and skill is key. However, being the smartest person in the room doesn’t always equate to a team member being a company asset. With genius often comes a certain degree of dysfunction. A “my way or the highway” kind of confidence can be tolerated in certain places, but not on your team. Humility, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn and play well with others are key companions to a strong skill set. Combined, they make a winning combination for your team – a combination that you can help develop in your employees. That’s where the Skill Will matrix assessment tool comes in. As you will discover, the benefits of using the Skill Will matrix are numerous.

Four Categories of Employees and How to Coach Them

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Use this Skill Will Matrix example to first diagnose your team member’s skill/will balance. From there, identify the appropriate style of interactive coaching. For example, if your team member is low on will, but high on skill, you’ll want to use more of a “cheerleader” approach. The next step is to come to a consensus with your team member as to which coaching style you’ll be using and why. Once implemented, both you and your team member will quickly discover the benefits of the Skill Will Matrix. Invariably, both morale and performance will improve.

Read through the following four different Skill Will Matrix assessments and determine where each of your team members fit on this matrix. Also, think about which Skill Will Matrix category is most likely to impact your organization in a negative way and what you can do if one or more of your team members happen to fall into that category.

Quadrant 1: High Skill/Low Will

Skill Will Matrix Score: Competent, but missing the mojo. Needs motivation.

Key Coaching Words: Motivate, Excite, and Support

Skill Will Matrix Assessment: He’s got the skills, but is lacking in the motivation department. The first step is to identify the reason for your team member’s lack of motivation. Is it specific tasks? Management style? Personal factors? To help make this competent but low-on-the-excitement curve team member get his groove back, a stimulating management style works best.

Skill Will Matrix Coaching Tips:

    • Lots of consultation and persuasive coaching
    • Underscore abilities (and your team’s need for them)
    • Analyze and reason together specific situations where they experience setbacks
    • Help build self-awareness; this builds confidence
    • Monitor assigned tasks and give feedback

Possible Coaching Pitfalls: You become his shrink. Resist this temptation. Instead, think and act more like a baseball coach. Show your team member how to hit all the bases vs. analyzing why he “chokes up” or is in a slump. Your main job is to get your unmotivated team player back on the field in full play, fully engaged. You do this by getting them pumped with a “You can do this!” affirmative style of coaching. For the high-skill/low-will team member especially, the main benefit of the Skill Will matrix will quickly become obvious: peak performance.

Quadrant 2: High Skill/High Will

Skill Will Matrix Score: Empowered. They’re ready for more, and to teach others what they know.

Key Coaching Words: Challenge, Delegate, and Promote

Skill Will Matrix Assessment: You don’t want a Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill who was talented and proactive but driven by their own agenda rather than the company’s success. You do want a skilled, easily managed, and highly motivated employee who is also your company’s biggest cheerleader. This team member can lead because she knows how to be led. For this person, delegating and having them involved in decision-making is key.

Skill Will Matrix Coaching Tips:

    • Provide freedom to execute their job
    • Set objectives, not methodologies
    • Involve in decision making
    • Use empowering “what are your thoughts on this?” kind of language
    • Give them more opportunities to be stretched
    • Be clear about expected outcomes, time limitations, budget, etc.
    • Encourage them to become mentors
    • Request check-ins at key milestones or when employee has questions

Possible Coaching Pitfalls: Getting lazy and letting them do all the leading – this could make your job obsolete. You want to give these rock stars relatively free rein, but remember who will be held accountable and take the appropriate ownership.

Quadrant 3: Low Skill/Low Will

Skill Will Matrix Score: Not good! Pink slip in the making unless they can make the grade.

Key Coaching Words: Direct and Supervise

Skill Will Matrix Assessment: Low skills and low willingness to succeed can be a demoralizing combination. Often these aren’t people who are looking for a little guidance, but a “free ride.” They want the role without the risk. The manager’s approach is crucial with these folks who require close supervision and a more structured approach. It’s a tricky balance because you have to supervise and inspire them at the same time. Discovering the root cause of their problem also becomes more critical here. Because of this, be prepared for a time and energy drain, but also know that it should only be temporary. But when it just won’t work, you have two options. The first one is to find another position in the company for that team member. If that’s not an option, then showing them the proverbial door is best for all concerned.

Skill Will Matrix Coaching Tips:

    • Strengthen the will first… then build skill.
    • Identify motivations
    • Develop a vision for future goals and job performance
    • Close supervision—more micro than macro.
    • Exert tight control
    • Give clear expectations, frequent feedback, and direction
    • Structure tasks
    • Praise and nurture

Possible Coaching Pitfalls: You run the risk of becoming authoritarian. It’s easy to slip into telling these low-skill/low-will team members exactly what they should do at each stage. You may also decide it’s too much of an emotional and/or time suck. To counter these tendencies, require frequent check-ins early on during any given project, but relax control as your team member shows progress.

Quadrant 4: Low Skill/High Will

Skill Will Matrix Score: A+ for Attitude, but a C or B for Needs a Better Bag of Tricks (Skills)

Key Coaching Words: Coach and Guide

Skill Will Matrix Assessment: They don’t quite have the skills to match their unflagging enthusiasm. The good news: you can work with this. For this person, you’ll want to invest time with them early on. It’s your task to give this team member the answers to the how, what, when, where, and to what extent of a task, helping to develop the foundation to their “want to.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Skill Will Matrix Coaching Tips:

    • Delegate responsibility for the pieces of tasks they can do
    • Give frequent feedback—with loads of encouragement
    • Identify and provide needed training
    • Answer all questions and explain thoroughly
    • Create a risk-free environment
    • Be patient. Think of a toddler learning to walk. After all, you wouldn’t chastise them for falling a few times before they get to their destination.

Possible Coaching Pitfalls: The potential exists for you to start patronizing the employee almost as if they’re an intern. After all, these low-skill/high-will employees already have some experience in the organization, but could still learn more. It’s also a joy to coach people with potential whose promise is only exceeded by their positivity. That’s why you want to champion them, not crush them with a condescending attitude.


Your team member may be an eager beaver neophyte, a know-it-all expert, a shining star, or a “You can’t make me do it” type. With the Skill Will matrix assessment, you can determine where each team member falls. From there, you can develop the most appropriate coaching strategy for each type. With the right coaching, your team can fulfill its potential – and more.


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Filed Under: Consulting skills, Corporate Training, Leadership & Management