The Behavior Perspective - Principles of Management

The behavior perspective on leadership tries to link effectiveness of leaders with their behavior toward subordinates. The assumption is that certain leadership behaviors result in greater commitment on the part of subordinates and hence higher performance in pursuit of organization goals. Various empirical studies have distilled two clusters of leadership behaviors, or styles, from literally thousands of leadership behavior items.

One cluster represents people-oriented behavior , which is a leadership style that includes showing mutual trust and respect for subordinates, demonstrating a genuine concern for their needs, and having a desire to look out for their welfare. Leaders with a strong people-oriented style listen to employee suggestions, do personal favors for employees, support their interests when required, and treat employees as equals. (One might argue that leaders who engage in people-oriented behaviors have a high degree of emotional intelligence.)

The other cluster represents task-oriented behaviors and includes behaviors that define and structure work roles. The style of leaders who engage in task-oriented behavior is to assign employees to specific tasks, clarify their work duties and procedures, ensure that they follow company rules, and push them to reach their performance capacity. Task-oriented leaders establish stretch goals and challenge employees to push beyond those high standards.

Should leaders be task-oriented or people-oriented? This is a difficult question to answer because each style has advantages and disadvantages. Research suggests that both styles are positively associated with leader effectiveness, but differences are often apparent only for leaders who score either very high or very low on a particular style.

Generally measures of subordinate performance such as absenteeism, grievances, turnover, and job dissatisfaction are worse among employees who work with supervisors with very low levels of peopleoriented leadership, suggesting that leaders who lack a people orientation are ineffective. However, job performance is also lower among employees who work for leaders who do not engage in task-oriented behaviors.

In general, however, this research has failed to show clear patterns linking these different behaviors to leadership effectiveness. One problem may be that the two clusters are not mutually exclusive. Effective leaders may display both people-oriented and task-oriented behavior. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, routinely used both types of behaviors. He was a very task-oriented leader, setting goals and holding subordinates accountable for attaining those goals.

But he could also be very people-oriented, sending handwritten notes to managers, inquiring about their personal lives, and offering to help managers in trouble. A second problem with the behavioral leadership perspective is that the two categories are broad generalizations that mask specific behaviors within each category, and the specific behaviors may be more important than the broad form.

A final problem with the perspective is that the appropriate behaviors may be context dependent. Different situations may require leaders to emphasize different styles—sometimes it may be best to be task-oriented, other times people-oriented. The contingency perspective on leadership tries to address this issue.


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