Behavioral approaches to Leaderships

If the behavioral approach to leadership were successful, it would have implications quite different from those of the trait approach. Trait research provides a basis for selecting the ‘right’ persons to assume formal positions in groups and organizations requiring leadership. In contrast, if behavioral studies were to turn up critical behavioral determinants of leadership, we could train people to be leaders. The difference between trait and behavioral theories, in terms of application, lies in their underlying assumptions. Trait theories assume leaders are born rather than made. However, if there were specific behaviors that identified leaders, then we could teach leadership we could design programs that implanted these behavioral patterns in individuals who desired to be effective leaders. This was surely a more exciting avenue, for it meant that the supply of leaders could be expanded. If training worked, we could have an infinite supply of effective leaders.

The most comprehensive and replicated of the behavioral of the behavioral theories resulted from research that began at Ohio State University in the late 1940s. Researchers at Ohio State sought to identify independent dimensions of leader behavior. Beginning with over a thousand dimensions, they eventually narrowed the list to two categories that substantially accounted for most of the leadership behavior described by employees. They called these two dimensions initiating structure and consideration.

Initiating structure refers to the extent to which a leader is likely to define ad structure his or her role and those of employees in the search for goal attainment. It includes behavior that attempts to organize work, work relationships, and goals. The leader characterized as high in initiating structure could be described as someone who assigns group members to particular tasks, expects workers to maintain definite standards of performance and emphasized the meeting of deadlines. Larry Ellison and Tom Siebel exhibit high initiating structure behavior.

Consideration is described as the extent to which a person is likely to have job relationships that are characterized by mutual trust, respect for employees’ ideas and regard for their feelings. The person shows concern for followers’ comfort, well being, status and satisfaction. A leader high in consideration could be described as one who helps employees with personal problems, is friendly and approachable and treats all employees as equals. AOL Time Warner’s CEO Richard Parsons rates high on consideration behavior. His leadership style is very people oriented emphasizing cooperation and consensus building.

At one time, the results of the Ohio State studies were thought to be disappointing. One 1992 review concluded overall the research based on a two-factor conceptualization of leadership behavior has added little to our knowledge about effective leadership. However, a more recent review suggests that this two factor conceptualization was given a premature burial. A review of 160 studies found that both initiating structure and consideration were associated with effective leadership. Specifically, consideration was more strongly related to the individual. In other words, the followers of leaders who were high in consideration were satisfied with their jobs and more motivated and also had more respect for their leader. Initiating structure was more strongly related to higher levels of group and organization productivity and more positive performance evaluations.

Leadership studies undertaken at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center, at about the same time as those being done at Ohio State, had similar research objectives: to locate behavioral characteristics of leaders that appeared to be related to measures of performances effectiveness.

The conclusions arrived at by the Michigan researchers strongly favored the leaders who were employee oriented in their behavior. Employee-oriented leaders were associated with higher group productivity and higher job satisfaction. Production oriented leaders tended to be associated with low group productivity and lower job satisfaction. Although the Michigan studies emphasized employee-oriented leadership (or consideration) over production oriented leadership (or initiating structure), the Ohio State studies garnered more research attention and suggested that both consideration and initiating structure are important to effective leadership.