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Managers are essential to any organisation, and as "leading" is one of the four functions of management, it is expected that managers be leaders as well. However this is not always the case and this article discusses reasons for this as well as explore the characteristics, behaviours, theories and models associated with leadership.

[1] Leadership can be defined as the ability to empower and motivate a group to achieve a goal. Notice that this definition does not mean that leaders have to be formally appointed and as a result leaders can arise spontaneously from groups and situations.

This article is a topic within the subject Managing Organisations and People.


Required Reading

Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012), pp. 399 - 431 (Chapter 11).

Early Theories of Leadership

[2]The early bodies of research concerned with leadership involve Trait Theories and Behavioural Theories, both of which focus on the characteristics that leaders posses and their behaviour in terms of how they interact with group members.

Trait Theories

[3]Trait theorie attempted to isolate characteristics or traits that differentiated leaders from others. Despite their best efforts, these theories could not find a set of characteristics that "defined" leaders or that all leaders posses. However they found that seven main characteristics are associated with leadership. They are:

  1. Drive - Leaders exhibit high effort level, high desire to achieve, show initiative and are ambitious
  2. Desire to Lead - Leaders are willing to take responsibility and have a desire to influence others
  3. Honesty and Integrity - Leaders develop trust and lasting relationships with followers by being truthful and consistent between word and action
  4. Self Confidence
  5. Intelligence - Leaders need to be able to gather and analyse information to make correct decisions and solve problems
  6. Job Relevant Knowledge - Leaders need this knowledge in order to make well informed decisions
  7. Extraversion - Leaders are rarely silent or withdrawn, instead they are social and assertive

Behavioural Theories

[4]While Trait Theories conclude that attributes are shared by leaders, they do not in themselves identify effective leaders. Trait Theories ignored situational factors and interactions between leaders and groups that may have made leaders with those traits effective or not effective. Therefore Behavioural Theories of leadership have risen, trying to work out whether effective leadership had to do with what effective leaders did. In addition, the Behavioural Theories differed from Trait Theories in that their conclusion was no that there are effective leaders out there, but rather that people can be trained to be effective leaders.

There are four main bodies of research into leadership behaviour. These are the University of Iowa Studies, the Ohio State Studies, the University of Michigan Studies and the Managerial Grid.

The University of Iowa Studies

[5]The University of Iowa Studies found three main styles of leadership:

  1. Autocratic Style - Leaders dictate work methods, make unilateral decisions and limit employee participation
  2. Democratic Style - Leaders involve employees, delegate authority and use feedback
  3. Laissez-Faire Style - Leaders allow the group to make decisions and finish work in whatever ways the group sees fit

The research found that the democratic style contributed to both good quantity and quality of work. However later research found mixed results between the autocratic and democratic styles. When employee satisfaction was taken into account however, more consistant results were found, where the democratic style achieved higher employee satisfaction.

The Ohio State Studies

[6]The Ohio State Studies found two important dimensions of leader behaviour:

  1. Initiating Structure - the extent to which a leader defines and structures their and group member's roles in order to achieve goals
  2. Consideration - the extent to which a leader has trust and respect for their group members and their ideas and feelings

The research found that leaders scoring highly on both of these dimensions resulted in high group task performance and employee satisfaction, but not necessarily highly on positive results.

The University of Michigan Studies

[7]The University of Michigan Studies identified two leadership behaviours:

  1. Employee Oriented - Leaders take an interest in their group members, listen to their needs and accept differences
  2. Task Oriented - Leaders are focused on completing work and treat employees as means to an end

These studies concluded that leaders who are employee orientated are able to achieve both high performance and high employe satisfaction

The Managerial Grid

[8]The Managerial Grid is essentially a matrix that compares "concern for people" (y-axis) with "concern for production" (x-axis) with a scale of 1 to 9 for both and scores leadership behaviour on the grid. The Grid focuses on five combinations:

  1. Impoverished Management, score of (1,1)
  2. Task Management, score of (1,9)
  3. Middle-of-the-road Management, score of (5,5)
  4. County Club Management, score of (1,9)
  5. Team Management (9,9)

However, this theory is not substantiated (in stating that a score of (9,9) is the best) and offers no answer as to what makes a good leader.

Contingency Theories

[9]The failure of early leadership theories to explain who would be, or what makes a good leader has given rise to the assertion that good leadership is context related. A leader that understands the situation in which they are in, as well as behaviours and traits, is generally seen as a good leader. This is the basis of Contingency Theories of Leadership which analyse leadership under "if-then" contingencies. The different theories are examined below.

The Fielder Model

[10]The Fielder Contingency Model is based on the premise that good leadership rises from the correct match of leadership's style of interaction with followers with the right degree to which the situation allows the leader to control and influence. Fiedler proposed that leadership style corresponds to whether the leader is task oriented or relationship oriented.

To find out which style a leader falls under, Fielder developed the Least-Preferred Co-Worker Questionnaire or (LPC) which was a series of 18 questions about a leader's least favourite co-workers. The questions asked the leader to rate (out of 8) the co-worker against opposing adjectives, such as pleasant-unpleasant, and the score would indicate the leader's style. If the leader gave a high score (64 or above), then they would be seen as relationship orientated, whereas a low score (57 or below) would imply the leader is task orientated.

A fault in the model lies in the assumption that a leader that is relationship orientated will always be relationship orientated regardless of the situation. Also, the model agrees that some leaders do not fall in one style (if they give a score between 57 and 64) and so the model is not complete.

Once leadership styles are known, Fielder's model looks at situations and tries to match the right style with the right situation. Fiedler found three key situational factors for determining leader effectiveness. They are:

  1. Leader-member relations - the degree of trust and respect followers had for their leader, rated good or poor
  2. Task structure - the degree to which jobs were assigned and formalised, rated high or low
  3. Position power - the degree of influence a leader had over power-based activities such as the ability to hire, fire, discipline and promote, rated strong or weak

Fielder then combined the different possibilities of leadership dimensions and found 8 different possibilities, which he divided into three categories of favourable, moderate and unfavourable situations. Fiedler found that task orientated leader performed well on both favourable and unfavourable situations, while relationship orientated leaders performed better in moderate situations. Fiedler's theory concluded that in order to improve leadership one can either find a new leader that matches the situation or to change the situation to fit the leader.

[11]Fielder's model has had a lot of evidence supporting it but the main criticisms are:

  1. It is unrealistic to assume that leaders dont change their style to fit the situation
  2. The Least Preferred Co-Worker (LPC) test is unreliable
  3. It is difficult to assess contingency variables such as leader-follower relationships, task structure or degree of influence

The Hersey Situational Leadership Model

[12]The Hersey Situational Model, also known as the Situational Leadership Model, focuses on the readiness of followers in assessing leadership. The model defines four types of "readiness":

  1. R1 - followers are both unable and unwilling. They lack the skill and are not confident
  2. R2 - followers are unable but willing. They lack skill but are confident and are willing to learn
  3. R3 - followers are able but unwilling. They have the skill but don't want to do the job or are insecure
  4. R4 - followers are able and willing.

The model also utilises the the leadership dimensions that Fiedler found (task and relationship orientated) and combines them into four leadership styles:

  1. Telling (high task-low relationship) - the leader defines roles and tells followers where, how and when to complete them
  2. Selling (high task-high relationship) - the leader provides both support and direction
  3. Participating (low task-high relationship) - the leader shares decision making with followers and their main role is to facilitate and communicate
  4. Delegating (low tak-low relationship) - leader provides little direction or support

The model then matches the leadership style to the readiness of followers where:

  • If followers are unable and unwilling (R1) then the leader needs to provide clear directions (telling)
  • If followers are unable but willing (R2) then the leader needs to provide direction to compensate for the lack of skill, as well as provide support to motivate the followers into the leaders desire (selling)
  • If the followers are able but are unwilling (R3) then the leader needs to provide participation and support to his followers (participating)
  • If the followers are both able and willing (R4) then the leader can turn over responsibility and tasks (delegating)

The model is quite intuitive and has found a lot of support by both academics and organisations. Some academics argue though that it is inconsistant or that the model's assumptions are unsupported. However it remains very practical and intuitive and therefore has gained a lot of popularity amongst managers.

The Leader-Participation Model

The Leader-Participation Model Argues that leader behaviour must be adjusted to reflect the task structure based on a sequential set of rules that determine the form and amount of follower participation in a given situation.

Path-Goal Theory

[13]The Path-Goal Theory argues that it is the leader's responsibility to assist their followers in attaining goals and to provide direction and support to ensure their goals are compatible with the overall objectives of the organisation. The theory believes that leaders need to clarify goals and and make the journey to achieving those goals clear of roadblocks or pitfalls. The theory identifies four types of leaders:

  1. Directive Leader - explains what is expected of followers, schedules work and provides guidance as to how to complete tasks
  2. Supportive Leader - friendly and shows support to followers
  3. Participating Leader - consults followers and uses their suggestions in decision making
  4. Achievement Orientated Leader - sets high goals and expects followers to perform at their highest levels

It is important to note that the model differs from Fiedler's model by assuming that leaders can change their style to fit the situation. It proposes two contingency variables, environmental (outside of the control of followers) and the personal characteristics of the followers (such as experience, locus of control and perceived ability). Environmental factors determine what the type of leaders actions required for maximised performance while personal follower characteristics determine how the environment and leader behaviour are interpreted. For example:

  • Directive leadership should be used when tasks are ambiguous as followers are not sure what to do so the leader needs to give direction. It won't work however when tasks are well defined as followers know what to do and find it condescending when a leader tells them what to do
  • Supportive leadership provides high satisfaction and performance when tasks are well structures as followers know what to do but simply need support
  • Followers with high internal locus of control prefer participating leading as they believe that they are in control of results and hence want to participate in decisions
  • Achievement orientated leadership should be implemented when tasks are ambiguously structured as challenging goals will give an indication of the expectations

The model is very well accepted and like the Situational Leadership Model finds that leadership is intuitive and should compensate for shortcomings in task structure.


This is the end of this topic. Click here to go back to the main subject page for Managing Organisations and People.


"Textbook" refers to Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012).

  1. Textbook p. 402
  2. Textbook p. 402
  3. Textbook p. 402
  4. Textbook p. 403
  5. Textbook p. 404
  6. Textbook p. 404
  7. Textbook p. 404
  8. Textbook p. 405
  9. Textbook p. 408
  10. Textbook p. 408
  11. Textbook p. 410
  12. Textbook p. 410
  13. Textbook p. 412
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