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Theories of Leadership

Task orientation or people orientation?

All leaders share in common the need to:

. make sure that the task is completed to the required standards within the specified schedules, deadlines, budgets, targets and other constraints - e.g.


- relocate the business to the new factory unit by 10th June 2005.

. make sure that relationships with the people involved are built and maintained in such a way that everyone working on the task performs to the best of his or her ability - e.g.

- encouraging, motivating, monitoring, informing, developing, supporting staff, colleagues and customers.

Each leader, depending on his or her character, personality, past experience and personal inclination, will give either.

. more attention to the task, and less attention to people and relationships;


. less attention to the task, and more attention to people and relationships.

Considerable research has been carried out on the role and attitudes of leaders, and the way in which individual leaders adopt an approach which is either task or people orientated.

The most well known theories are:

. Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1958)

The Autocratic to Democratic Model, which suggests that leaders adopt a position somewhere between:

-using their authority as the leader

- allowing freedom for their subordinates.

. Douglas McGregor (1960)

McGregor's Theory X' and 'Theory Y' model is based on the idea that:

- 'Theory X' managers believe that, generally, workers are lazy, disinterested and need to to be pushed to achieve; whereas

- 'Theory Y' managers believe that, generally, workers are interested in what they do, are keen to do well and will respond to encouragement and praise.

. Kerr and Schriesheim (1974)

The Ohio State Leadership model, which uses the ideas of leaders which:

- initiate structure

- show consideration

. Blake and Mouton (1964, 1978, 1984)

The Managerial Grid, which suggests that leaders adopt a position which either emphasises:

- concern for production


- concern for people.

. John Adair (1984)

Focuses on Task, Team and individual which split the leadership role three ways:

- achieving the task

- building the team

- developing the individual.

. Hersey and Blanchard (1988)

Situational Leadership, which refers to the way in which leaders adopt.

- task behaviour


- relationship behaviour.

in essence, all of the ideas are similar, in that leaders either focus on:

1. getting the job done, regardless of how this affects relationships


2. keeping relationships in good order, so that the job gets done.

Looking back on your own leadership experiences to date, have you:

. focused on getting the job done to the detriment of working relationships?

. focused on building and maintaining working relationships, to the detriment of getting the job done?

. achieved a good balance of focus on both task and relationships?

'Theory X' and 'Theory Y'

According to research carried out by Douglas McGregor in the 1960's, managers and leaders tend to hold one of two views - 'theory X' or 'theory Y' - about their colleagues and staff.

'Theory X' leaders believe that people:

. are basically lazy and, given a choice, will choose to do as little as possible

. generally, put their own needs first

. learn from experience, so punishment often produces the best results

. are not really interested in the work they do

. are basically dishonest

. will respond best to discipline and control

. generally dislike responsibility

'Theory Y' leaders believe that people:

. basically enjoy working and achieving

. generally take account of other people's needs and interests

. do not respond well to punishment

. generally are interested in the work they do

. are basically honest

. generally respond best when given freedom of action

. generally enjoy responsibility
'Theory X' leaders believe that in order to get the best results - because people are generally lazy, lacking in ambition and drive - the best way to lead is by using power, control and direction.

"Theory Y' leaders believe that in order to get the best results - because people are generally responsible, trustworthy and keen to do a good job - the best way to lead is by providing encouragement, support, trust and responsibility.

Excerpts from The University of Leicester Diploma in Management Resource Development International (RDI) Jamaica.
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