Although the different approaches we have studied so far have their own assumptions, predictions and practices, some of them have an obvious trend that is hard to overlook. Although they all provide different theories, the style, situational, contingency, and path-goal approaches all use two leadership aspects to explain how a leader can perform effectively – tasks and relationships. Each theory uses these two aspects differently in order to explain what effective leadership involves (Northouse, 2013).
The style approach assumes that there are two kinds of leader behaviors that influence followers. First, task behaviors emphasize goal achievement. Second, relationship behaviors emphasize comfort and confidence (Northouse, 2013). In this theory, different combinations of both behaviors help a leader influence the group to reach goals in an effective way. Northouse (2013) describes three different studies that used these two behaviors to attempt to predict what combinations work best. The Ohio State Studies provided a framework for Stodgill (1963) to develop the LBDQ-II, an instrument that tried to understand the frequency of certain leadership behaviors. He summed up the style approach by describing two clusters of behaviors – initiating structure, focusing on task behaviors, and consideration, focusing on relationship behaviors. Then, the University of Michigan tried to explain the relationship between leaders and small groups. They found that employee orientations and production orientations can be combined at differing levels to influence followers. Finally, Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid (1960) attempted to combine the findings from both studies to explain how leaders help organizations succeed through concern for people and concern for production. They devised a 9-poit scale that determined 5 major styles of leadership based on how concerned the leader is about tasks and relationships. These 5 styles include authority-compliance (high task 9, low people, 1), country-club management (low task 1, high people 9), impoverished management (low task 1, low people 1), middle-of-the-road management (moderate task 5, moderate people 5), and team management (high task 9, high people 9). Although this approach does not provide applicable information, all of the studies of have led to the same descriptive assumption; leadership is dependent on two behaviors, tasks and relationships, in order to be successful (Northouse, 2013).
Like the style approach, the situational approach assumes that tasks and relationships encompass how a leader behaves. Directive and supportive dimensions are defined in this theory too parallel the two behaviors in the style approach. The two dimensions are used interchangeably and sometimes simultaneously at different levels in response to what the situation calls for. Unlike the style approach, the situational approach requires that leaders are flexible and adaptive. They must be able to read situations and act accordingly, while the style approach just describes how specific task and relationship behaviors create different leadership styles. Leaders need to evaluate employees’ competence and commitment in order to change how much of each dimension they use to lead them. Northouse (2013) outlines the Situational Leadership II (SLII) Model, developed by Blanchard, which illustrates the different combinations of the two dimensions that are possible. They include directing (high directive, low supportive), coaching (high directive, high supportive), supporting (low directive, high supportive), and delegating (low directive, low supportive). Which style is used depends on different development levels the followers possess, all varying in levels of competence and commitment (Northouse, 2013). This approach moves past the descriptive nature of the style approach, while utilizes the same two aspects, tasks and relationships, and makes a more practical and prescriptive approach (PSU WC, 2014, L. 5).
Like the style and situational approaches, the contingency theory utilizes tasks and relationships to match appropriate leaders with appropriate contexts. So, unlike the style approach that deems certain behaviors work best to influence groups, and unlike the situational approach that tries to explain that different situations call for different leadership styles, the contingency theory tries to place leaders in situations where they will succeed rather than fail. It assumes that if the leader’s style does not match the situation, they will be unsuccessful in influencing subordinates and reaching goals. The leader’s style is based on how much tasks and relationships motivate them. Using the Least Preferred Coworker Scale, it can be determined if a person is more task motivated or relationship motivated. Determining the levels of these two aspects leads to the ability to place the leader in certain situations based on three factors – leader-member relations, task structure, and positive power. Leader-member relations refer to group atmosphere, confidence and loyalty. Task structure refers to how well defined a task is. And positive power refers to legitimate authority of the leader. Varying levels of leader motivations work best at varying levels of each factor, which are defined in 8 different categories. These categories stress the importance of task and relationship aspects in the contingency theory (Northouse 2013).
The path-goal theory utilizes the same task and relationship aspects; the difference lies in the fact that this theory, unlike the other approaches, attempts to explain how these aspects motivate individuals. Leaders attempt to behave in ways that complement or supplement the needs to the subordinates and situation. The motivational needs to the group involve how capable followers feel and whether or not they feel that payoffs of the task are worthwhile. The four leadership behaviors of this theory are to be used interchangeably and sometimes simultaneously at varying degrees in order to reflect subordinate characteristics, such as need for affiliation, preference for structure, desire for control, and self-perception of ability, and task characteristics, such as design of the task and formal authority system of the organization (Northouse, 2013). The directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented behaviors of this theory encompass tasks and relationships just like the other approaches, only in this theory they are used to motivate and support during task completion (Northouse, 2013).
It is clear that all four approaches utilize the same two leader aspects in order to try to define and explain effective leadership. The style approach uses the two behaviors to show that combinations of each influence followers. The situational approach uses directive and supportive dimensions to explain how a leader needs to be adaptive in order to be successful. The contingency theory tries to match leaders to situations based on task and relationship motivations. And finally, the path-goal theory stresses that leaders must be adaptive in their directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented behaviors in order to motivate employees (Northouse, 2013). This trend does not surprise me. The two main concepts of work are tasks and relationships. It makes sense that effective leaders need to manipulate these two aspects in order to influence and motivate. While each theory clearly has pros and cons, I think that a general rule has emerged – certain behaviors pertaining to tasks and relationships need to be used in the work place. I believe that the flexibility aspects of the situational and path-goal theories ring more true than the style and contingency approaches. In my eyes, it is important that leaders be able to evaluate themselves, their subordinates, and the situation in order to adapt to different needs.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2014). Psych 485 Lesson 5: Style and Situational Approaches. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa14/psych485/001/content/05_lesson/printlesson.html