The “Style Approach” to leadership is one that focuses on what leaders do and how they act, in relation to managing tasks and managing people. Some leaders manage tasks well, but not people, and vice versa; and some tasks and some people require different leadership styles than others. In your experience, what leadership styles have you observed, or enjoyed, or bristled under? Please share in the comment box below.
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The fundamental premise behind the Style Approach to leadership is, very simply, that there are core behaviors of effective leadership that can be identified. It is true that there are good leaders and bad leaders, effective leaders and ineffective leaders. At times, that fact may well be a result of (or at least influenced by) factors related to followers and circumstances, but it is also likely a result of leader behavior. Therefore, this approach to leadership focuses on identifying leader behaviors – what leaders do and how they act.
A couple of early leadership studies, one at Ohio State University and another at the University of Michigan, first undertook the research to try to identify the core behaviors of effective leadership, and both ultimately arrived at the same results, identifying two essential behaviors (albeit, described in different ways). The Ohio State study concluded that those two behaviors were “initiating structure” (or, an organized approach and framework to managing tasks and goals), and “consideration” (or, the way that the leader considers, involves, and interacts with others). The University of Michigan study concluded that those two behaviors were “product orientation” (or, how you accomplished tasks), and “employee orientation” (or, how you relate to your employees). Do you see the similarity? Both concluded that the two behaviors centered around tasks and relationships. Style Approach says, therefore, that leadership is composed of two general behaviors: task behavior and people behavior. It also follows, then, that more effective leadership does both of those behaviors well.
The Style Approach to leadership is usually portrayed as a grid (“The Leadership Grid” or “The Managerial Grid”) with two axes – Concern for Production/Results (task) and Concern for People (relationship) – and four basic quadrants. Leadership style is a reflection of the combination of high or low task behavior and high or low relationship behavior:
- High task, low people = Authority-Compliance style
- Low task, high people = Country-club Management style
- Low task, low people = Impoverished Management style
- High task, high people = Team Management style
- Mid-task, mid-people = Middle-of-the-Road Management style
- And, there are also combinations of these styles
Here’s what it looks like as a grid:
In essence, the Style Approach boils leadership practice down to two fundamental behaviors: managing tasks and managing people. It is fairly obvious that more effective leaders can manage both tasks and people well, but the most effective leaders are also able to take into account situational and follower factors and adjust their approach to best fit that environment. In other words, some situations and followers require a more authoritative approach, and some require a more supportive and encouraging approach, and a good leader knows which is best in what circumstance, but is also competent in both.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.