Basic Style Theory – Leadership Theories Series

Use basic style theory to identify your default leadership style: are you a task or person-oriented person?

In the 1940s the University of Michigan suggested that leadership behavior could be described as either person or task oriented. Person oriented leaders are concerned with maintaining good relationships with staff and believe in a participative and democratic approach to leadership.

Task-oriented leaders are more concerned with results and outputs than people’s feelings. They are target driven, directive and controlling. They seldom listen to staff.

Michigan University depicted these two archetypes as residing at the opposite ends of a single continuum. This implied that leaders could only be concerned with people or achievement of task but not both.

Ohio University developed the basic style theory and argued that employee and task orientation did not reside on a single continuum but on two separate continua each of which ran from low to high. This meant that it was possible for a leader to have one of four leadership styles.

The basic style theory states these leadership styles are available to a leader:

  1. a high concern for staff and task;
  2. a high concern for staff and a low concern for task;
  3. a low concern for both staff and task;
  4. a low concern for staff and a high concern for task.

How to use basic style theory

If you currently emphasize getting the job done over concern for staff, don’t abandon your drive and passion for performance but add to it a concern for the staff’s well-being.

Improve your relationships with staff by taking the time to get to know them. Chat with them for a couple of minutes before you get down to business. You will be amazed at how much this will improve the atmosphere at work.

Involve staff in discussions about how work is scheduled and organized as a means of getting them to own targets and become self-monitoring.

If you currently emphasize the needs of staff over getting the job done ask yourself: Do I get enough productivity out of my staff? If the answer is ‘no’ move towards a more task-oriented approach.

Start by recognizing that you are not the staff’s friend, councilor or shrink. You are their manager and although you can be friendly with them you are paid to ensure that they do their job.

Set a small number of key targets and deadlines for all staff and insist that they be met. Once these have been accepted build upon them until you have an equal concern for both staff and task.

Aim to act in a firm, fair, friendly and supportive manner at all times. There will be occasions when you have to demand maximum effort from staff. But people aren’t stupid. They know when a job is important or urgent and if you have a good relationship with them they won’t want to let you down.

If you have no interest in the task or your staff get out of management.

Question to ask

  1. Do I lack the confidence to be directive and give orders when required? Or do I appear aggressive to staff?
  2. Do I need assertiveness training?
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