Can leadership behavior make a difference in the success of a team or an organization? How about the opposite? Can leaders display self-defeating behaviors that hinders the success of a team or an organization? In this blog, I will be discussing the Style Approach, also known as the Behavioral Approach, and how leader behavior affects the followers and the leadership situation. First, we will discuss how the style approach differs from the trait theory, what researchers discovered in studying leadership behavior, and how the theory works (Penn State University World Campus [PSU WC], 2016, L. 5). Finally, I will provide a real-world case study discussing how a leader’s self-defeating behaviors can hinder an organization’s success in reaching its goals.
What advantages does the style approach offer over the trait theory? In the traditional sense, when we think about leadership, we often think about a leader’s traits, such as her intelligence or personality type. As I discussed in my recent blog comment, the trait theory intuitively makes sense; however, similar to other leadership theories, it has its weaknesses. First, the behavioral approach promotes the idea that effective leadership behaviors can be learned, whereas with the trait approach, one is either born with the successful traits or not. Second, unlike the trait theory, the behavioral approach seems to have a direct impact on leadership effectiveness. According to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), leadership traits, such as intelligence or personality types “may only have an indirect relationship with leadership effectiveness” (p. 4) whereas Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2012) posit that leadership behaviors seem to have a direct impact on leadership effectives (as cited in PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). Third, one could use the behavioral approach to develop recruiting strategies and career development programs, which could help with identifying and developing successful leaders for their organization (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). Forth, in contrast with the trait theory, one could directly measure and observe leadership behaviors (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). For example, it is much easier to observe how a leader treats his or staff members, as compared to trying to observe a leader’s personality style (e.g., her openness to experience). Finally, according to Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2012), the style approach takes into account the “leader, follower, and situation,” whereas the trait theory is mainly focused on the leader (as cited in PSU WC, 2016, L. 5).
So what are these leadership behaviors? Researchers have identified two general types of leadership behaviors: task behaviors and relationship behaviors (Northouse, 2016; PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). Task behaviors are involved with accomplishing goals; relationship behaviors are involved with follower’s relationship “with themselves, each other, and with the situation” (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5, p. 4). The primary purpose of the behavioral approach, according to Northouse (2016), is how leaders combines these two behavior types to influence their followers in accomplishing the organizational goals. Many studies have investigated the style approach – most notably are the studies by The Ohio State University, University of Michigan, and Blake and Mouton (Northouse, 2016). Instead of discussing the details of these studies, my blog will focus on the findings that each of them contributed to our understanding of the style approach.
The Ohio State University studies found two broad types of leadership behavior: “initiating structure and consideration,” (Northouse, 2016, p. 72). Initiating structure are the task behaviors and consideration are the relationship behaviors we discussed earlier (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). More specifically, initiating structure involves work organization, providing task structure, “defining role responsibilities,” and scheduling assignments; consideration includes “building camaraderie, respect, trust, and liking between leaders and followers” (Northouse, 2016, p. 72). According to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), leaders provide their followers with structure and support. That said, The Ohio State University studies viewed the two as separate behaviors, meaning that a leader could be rated high or low in initiating structure and high or low on consideration (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). So which combination of behaviors is most effective? According to Northouse (2016), it depends on the situation; high consideration can be effective in some situations, high structure is effective in others, and combination of both high structure and high consideration seems to be the best.
The University of Michigan studies also found two broad types of leadership behavior: “employee orientation and production orientation,” (Northouse, 2016, p. 73). Employee orientation, which is “similar to consideration behaviors” (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5, p. 6) describes leaders “who approach subordinates with a strong human relations emphasis” (Northouse, 2016, p. 73). According to Bowers and Seashore (1966), these leaders show interest in their followers, respect their individuality, and give consideration to their followers’ personal needs (as cited in Northouse, 2016). Production orientation, which is “similar to initiating structure behaviors” (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5, p. 6) describes leaders who are concerned with the “technical and production aspects” of their followers’ jobs (Northouse, 2016, p. 73). According to Bowers and Seashore (1966), leaders view their followers “as a means for getting work accomplished” (as cited in Northouse, 2016, p. 73). In contrast with the Ohio State University researchers, the Michigan researchers saw these two leadership behaviors “as opposite ends of a single continuum” where a leader who scored high in employee orientation would be low in production orientation and vice versa (Northouse, 2016, p. 73). However, Kahn (1956) reconceptualized these two behaviors as separate constructs, and the two orientations are considered independent of each other (as cited in Northouse, 2016).
Blake and Mouton developed a model based on managerial behavior called the Managerial Grid®, later renamed to the Leadership Grid®, and is based on two factors: “concern for production and concern for people” (Northouse, 2016, p. 74). The model describes how leaders help their organizations reach their objectives (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). Even though the model describes these factors as leadership orientations, they closely mirror the task and relationship behaviors that we have discussed so far. According to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), concern for production refers to how leaders are concerned with achieving organizational goals and concern for people refers to how leaders treat their followers in goal attainment. The Leadership Grid is comprised of two axes; the horizontal axis shows the leader’s concern for production and the vertical axis shows the leader’s concern for people (Northouse, 2016; PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). Each axis is based on a 9-point scale; “1 represents minimum concern and 9 represents maximum concern” (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5, p. 7). Accordingly, the Leadership Grid “portrays five major leadership styles” as illustrated in the following graphic.
Source: Boss, R. (2012). What is Blake Mouton’s managerial grid? Retrieved July 1, 2016 from http://www.riskmanagement365.com/2012/12/22/what-is-blake-moutons-managerial-grid/.
Authority-Compliance leadership style is high on task/job requirements and low on concerns for people – with the exception that people are seen as tools for accomplishing the organizational goals (Northouse, 2016; PSU WC, 2016, L.5). Communication with subordinates mostly involves giving instructions; the leader is often controlling and hard driving (Northouse, 2016).
Country-Club Management leadership style is low on task accomplishment and high on concerns for relationships (Northouse, 2016). According to PSU WC (2016, L.5), these leaders mostly focus “on the personal and social needs of followers”; the leader is seen as agreeable and comforting (p. 7).
Impoverished Management leadership style is low on both task and concerns for relationships (Northouse, 2016). The leader performs their leadership duties, but does not get involved and acts withdrawn (Northouse, 2016). The leader is often seen as indifferent and resigned (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5).
Middle-of-the-Road Management leadership style are medium on both concerns for tasks and people (Northouse, 2016). According to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), the leader is interested in progress, but avoids disagreements.
Team Management leadership style are high on both concern for tasks and people (Northouse, 2016). According to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), these leaders promote team participation, set clear priorities, and are willing to discuss open issues with their followers.
According to the Leadership grid, leaders who are highly concerned with people and production are the most successful; however, research has not fully supported this idea (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). There are situational variables that seem to be at play that determine which type of leadership style is best for which situation (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5); for more information on this topic, please see my previous blog on Contingency Theory.
Now that I have laid the foundation for the style approach, let us talk about how it works. Similar to the trait approach, this framework is descriptive, meaning it does not prescribe how a leader should behave; instead it describes the leader’s behavior (Northouse, 2016; PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). According to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), this leadership approach informs leaders that their actions toward their followers “occur on both task and relationship levels” (p. 8). Some situations warrant the leader’s focus on tasks, while others require the leader’s focus on relationships, and others require the leaders to focus on both (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). In other words, according to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), some followers want more task direction, others need social support, and some need both.
Finally, let us discuss self-defeating leadership behaviors that can negatively affect a leader, his team, and the organization. In an earlier blog, titled “The Dark Side of Personality,” I described a dysfunctional leader who displayed dark-sided traits. In this blog, I will talk about that leader’s self-defeating behaviors.
According to PSU WC (2016, L. 5), researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership wanted to study why certain leaders failed. Their research, along with contributions from other researchers, revealed that “five groups of leader behaviors contributed to leadership failure:” 1) “inability to build relationships,” 2) “failure to meet business objectives,” 3) “inability to lead and build a team,” 4) “inability to adapt,” and 5) “inadequate preparation for promotion” (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5, p. 9). Starting with the first group of ineffective leadership behaviors, Tom shows no regard for his followers’ needs. Moreover, he keeps them out of key meetings and is overly demanding of their time – to the expense of his followers having to work overtime to accomplish their other assigned duties. Second, Tom does not properly address the company’s setbacks in attaining the organization’s sales goals. Instead of making strategic adjustments, he blames the salesmen, the economy, and even the CEO for our poor results. He easily gets distracted and is not focused on improving the sale team’s productivity. Third, Tom does a poor job at building effective teams. If you read my earlier blog on dark-sided personality traits, you might have noticed that Tom’s strength is in alienating team members, instead of building cohesion. Forth, Tom is unable to adapt to the changes in the industry (oil & gas) and attempts to use old strategies that clearly do not address the current economic changes; in effect, Tom is lacking flexibility in changing with the new situation. Finally, Tom lacks the technical understanding of our business and is unable to influence the team with proper direction. As a result, Tom has been unable to improve the sales department’s productivity. Unfortunately, according to the PSU WC (2016, L. 5), many leaders like Tom are unaware of these self-defeating behaviors and how they negatively affect others. As a result, it is very hard to address these self-limitations and properly guide them toward productive behaviors (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). That said, I am personally results-oriented. If I am not getting the results I want, I start by paying attention to the internal/external factors that are at play. As a leader who would not be gaining traction with my followers, I would be open to feedback and start addressing these limitations one by one. For example, I would get coaching on how to be better at building relationships. Instead of blaming others, I would accept more responsibility for my behaviors. I would hire competent employees and provide them with hands-on management, instead of micromanagement. Finally, I would adopt my style to the situation and the followers’ needs and make adjustments as necessary.
In summary, the style approach helps us see how leader behavior is comprised of both task and relationship behaviors and that the situation influences whether one should be more task focused or relationship focused (PSU WC, 2016, L. 5). More importantly, PSU WC (2016, L. 5) posits that the “style approach suggests that leaders are made, not born” (p. 10). Finally, as we saw earlier, self-defeating behaviors can negatively impact a leader’s effectives in leading his or her team.
What are your thoughts about this approach? Please share any relevant experiences that contribute to this blog.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style and situational approaches. Retrieved July 1, 2016 from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/su16/psych485/001/content/05_lesson/03_topic/01_page.html.