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12.3 What Do Leaders Do? Behavioral Approaches to Leadership
L E A R N I N G O B J EC T I V E S
Explain the behaviors that are associated with leadership.1.
Iden�fy the three alterna�ve decision-making styles leaders use and the condi�ons under which
they are more effec�ve.
Discuss the limita�ons of behavioral approaches to leadership.3.
When trait researchers became disillusioned in the 1940s, their attention turned to studying leader
behaviors. What did effective leaders actually do? Which behaviors made them perceived as leaders?
Which behaviors increased their success? To answer these questions, researchers at Ohio State
University and the University of Michigan used many different techniques, such as observing leaders
in laboratory settings as well as surveying them. This research stream led to the discovery of two
broad categories of behaviors: task-oriented behaviors (sometimes called initiating structure) and
people-oriented behaviors (also called consideration). Task-oriented leader behaviors involve
structuring the roles of subordinates, providing them with instructions, and behaving in ways that will
increase the performance of the group. Task-oriented behaviors are directives given to employees to
get things done and to ensure that organizational goals are met. People-oriented leader
behaviors include showing concern for employee feelings and treating employees with respect.
People-oriented leaders genuinely care about the well-being of their employees, and they demonstrate
their concern in their actions and decisions. At the time, researchers thought that these two categories
of behaviors were the keys to the puzzle of leadership.See House, R. J., & Aditya, R. N. (1997). The
social scientific study of leadership: Quo Vadis? Journal of Management, 23, 409–473. However,
research did not support the argument that demonstrating both of these behaviors would necessarily
make leaders effective.Nystrom, P. C. (1978). Managers and the hi-hi leader myth. Academy of
Management Journal, 21, 325–331.
When we look at the overall findings regarding these leader behaviors, it seems that both types of
behaviors, in the aggregate, are beneficial to organizations, but for different purposes. For example,
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when leaders demonstrate people-oriented behaviors, employees tend to be more satisfied and react
more positively. However, when leaders are task oriented, productivity tends to be a bit higher.Judge,
T. A., Piccolo, R. F., & Ilies, R. (2004). The forgotten ones? The validity of consideration and initiating
structure in leadership research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 36–51. Moreover, the situation
in which these behaviors are demonstrated seems to matter. In small companies, task-oriented
behaviors were found to be more effective than in large companies.Miles, R. H., & Petty, M. M. (1977).
Leader effectiveness in small bureaucracies. Academy of Management Journal, 20, 238–250. There
is also some evidence that very high levels of leader task-oriented behaviors may cause burnout with
employees.Seltzer, J., & Numerof, R. E. (1988). Supervisory leadership and subordinate burnout.
Academy of Management Journal, 31, 439–446.
Leader Decision Making
Another question behavioral researchers focused on involved how leaders actually make decisions
and the influence of decision-making styles on leader effectiveness and employee reactions. Three
types of decision-making styles were studied. In authoritarian decision making, leaders make
the decision alone without necessarily involving employees in the decision-making process. When
leaders use democratic decision making, employees participate in the making of the decision.
Finally, leaders using laissez-faire decision making leave employees alone to make the decision.
The leader provides minimum guidance and involvement in the decision.
As with other lines of research on leadership, research did not identify one decision-making style as
the best. It seems that the effectiveness of the style the leader is using depends on the circumstances.
A review of the literature shows that when leaders use more democratic or participative decision-
making styles, employees tend to be more satisfied; however, the effects on decision quality or
employee productivity are weaker. Moreover, instead of expecting to be involved in every single
decision, employees seem to care more about the overall participativeness of the organizational
climate.Miller, K. I., & Monge, P. R. (1986). Participation, satisfaction, and productivity: A
meta-analytic review. Academy of Management Journal, 29, 727–753. Different types of employees
may also expect different levels of involvement. In a research organization, scientists viewed
democratic leadership most favorably and authoritarian leadership least favorably,Baumgartel, H.
(1957). Leadership style as a variable in research administration. Administrative Science Quarterly,
2, 344–360. but employees working in large groups where opportunities for member interaction was
limited preferred authoritarian leader decision making.Vroom, V. H., & Mann, F. C. (1960). Leader
authoritarianism and employee attitudes. Personnel Psychology, 13, 125–140. Finally, the
effectiveness of each style seems to depend on who is using it. There are examples of effective leaders
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using both authoritarian and democratic styles. At Hyundai Motor America, high-level managers use
authoritarian decision-making styles, and the company is performing very well.Deutschman, A.
(2004, September). Googling for courage. Fast Company, 86, 58–59; Welch, D., Kiley, D., Ihlwan, M.
(2008, March 17). My way or the highway at Hyundai. Business Week, 4075, 48–51.
Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (shown here) are known for their democratic decision-making
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ Image:Sergey_Brin,_Web_2.0_Conference.jpg.
The track record of the laissez-faire decision-making style is more problematic. Research shows that
this style is negatively related to employee satisfaction with leaders and leader effectiveness.Judge, T.
A., & Piccolo, R. F. (2004). Transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic test of
their relative validity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 755–768. Laissez-faire leaders create high
levels of ambiguity about job expectations on the part of employees, and employees also engage in
higher levels of conflict when leaders are using the laissez-faire style.Skogstad, A., Einarsen, S.,
Torsheim, T., Aasland, M. S., & Hetland, H. (2007). The destructiveness of laissez-faire leadership
behavior. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 80–92.
Leadership Assump�ons about Human Nature
Why do some managers believe that the only way to manage employees is to force and coerce
them to work while others adopt a more humane approach? Douglas McGregor, an MIT Sloan
School of Management professor, believed that a manager’s actions toward employees were
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dictated by having one of two basic sets of assumptions about employee attitudes. His two
contrasting categories, outlined in his 1960 book, The Human Side of Enterprise, are known as
Theory X and Theory Y.
According to McGregor, some managers subscribe to Theory X. The main assumptions of
Theory X managers are that employees are lazy, do not enjoy working, and will avoid expending
energy on work whenever possible. For a manager, this theory suggests employees need to be
forced to work through any number of control mechanisms ranging from threats to actual
punishments. Because of the assumptions they make about human nature, Theory X managers
end up establishing rigid work environments. Theory X also assumes employees completely lack
ambition. As a result, managers must take full responsibility for their subordinates’ actions, as
these employees will never take initiative outside of regular job duties to accomplish tasks.
In contrast, Theory Y paints a much more positive view of employees’ attitudes and behaviors.
Under Theory Y, employees are not lazy, can enjoy work, and will put effort into furthering
organizational goals. Because these managers can assume that employees will act in the best
interests of the organization given the chance, Theory Y managers allow employees autonomy and
help them become committed to particular goals. They tend to adopt a more supportive role,
often focusing on maintaining a work environment in which employees can be innovative and
prosperous within their roles.
One way of improving our leadership style would be to become conscious about our theories of
human nature, and question the validity of our implicit theories.
Source: McGregor, D. (1960). Human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw Hill.
Limita�ons of Behavioral Approaches
Behavioral approaches, similar to trait approaches, fell out of favor because they neglected the
environment in which behaviors are demonstrated. The hope of the researchers was that the
identified behaviors would predict leadership under all circumstances, but it may be unrealistic to
expect that a given set of behaviors would work under all circumstances. What makes a high school
principal effective on the job may be very different from what makes a military leader effective, which
would be different from behaviors creating success in small or large business enterprises. It turns out
that specifying the conditions under which these behaviors are more effective may be a better
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K E Y TA K EAWAY
When researchers failed to iden�fy a set of traits that would dis�nguish effec�ve from ineffec�ve
leaders, research a�en�on turned to the study of leader behaviors. Leaders may demonstrate
task-oriented and people-oriented behaviors. Both seem to be related to important outcomes, with
task-oriented behaviors more strongly rela�ng to leader effec�veness and people-oriented behaviors
leading to employee sa�sfac�on. Leaders can also make decisions using authoritarian, democra�c, or
laissez-faire styles. While laissez-faire has certain downsides, there is no best style, and the
effec�veness of each style seems to vary across situa�ons. Because of the inconsistency of results,
researchers realized the importance of the context in which leadership occurs, which paved the way to
con�ngency theories of leadership.
E X E R C I S ES
Give an example of a leader you admire whose behavior is primarily task oriented, and one whose
behavior is primarily people oriented.
What are the limita�ons of authoritarian decision making? Under which condi�ons do you think
authoritarian style would be more effec�ve?
What are the limita�ons of democra�c decision making? Under which condi�ons do you think
democra�c style would be more effec�ve?
What are the limita�ons of laissez-faire decision making? Under which condi�ons do you think
laissez-faire style would be more effec�ve?
Examine your own leadership style. Which behaviors are you more likely to demonstrate? Which
decision-making style are you more likely to use?
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