The Behavioral Approach to leadership

by Sree Rama Rao on February 2, 2009

When it became evident that effective leaders do not seem to have a particular set of distinguishing traits researchers tried to isolate the behavior characteristics of effective leaders. In other words, rather than try to figure out who effective leaders are, researchers tried to determine what effective leaders do, how they delegate tasks, how they communicate with and try motivate their followers or employees, how they carry out their tasks, and so on. Behaviors, unlike traits, can be learned so it followed that individuals trained in appropriate leadership behaviors would be able to lead more effectively. These researchers have focused on two aspects of leadership behavior: leadership functions and leadership styles.

Leadership functions:

Researchers exploring leadership functions came to the conclusion that to operate effectively groups need someone to perform two major functions task related or problem solving functions and group maintenance or social functions. Group maintenance functions include such actions as mediating disputes and ensuring that individuals feel valued by the group.

An individual who is able to perform both successfully would be especially an effective leader. In practice, however, a leader may have the skill or temperament or time to play only one role. This does not mean that the group is doomed. Studies have found that most effective groups have some form of shared leadership one person (usually the managers or formal leader) performs the task function while another member performs the social function.

Leadership Styles:

The two leadership functions – task related and group maintenance tend to be expressed in two different leadership styles. Managers who have a task-oriented style closely supervise employees to be sure the task is performed satisfactorily. Getting the job done is given more emphasis than employees’ growth or personnel satisfaction. Managers with an employee oriented style put more emphasis on motivating rather than controlling subordinates. They seek friendly trusting and respectful relationships with employees, who are often allowed to participate in decisions that affect them. Most managers use at least a little of each style, but put more emphasis on either tasks or employees.

How a manager leads will undoubtedly be primarily influenced by his or her background, knowledge, values and experience (forces in the manager). For example a manager who believes that the needs of the individual must come second to the needs of the organization is likely to take a very directive role in employees’ activities.

Through experience, Steve Braccini leaned not to take an overly directive role in employees’ activities. As founder and CEO of pro Fasteners Inc., an industrial parts distributor based in San Jose, California, Braccini confronted the challenge of increasing the quality of the company’s products. Pro had become accustomed to accepting mistakes. Since customers rarely became particularly upset, the company did not feel compelled to reach for higher standards. Then, in the early 1990s., Braccini noticed tremendous market opportunities, but realized that Pro would have to decrease errors to only a few per million parts shipped in order to be eligible for the lucrative long term contacts that were becoming available. He first attempted the directive approach. He supposed he has to follow a lot of his peers in thinking that his job was to control anything and everything about this company. Braccini confessed. He soon realized though, that he alone could not improve quality; the employees had to take ownership of their work. He began selling the employees on this idea that this was their company he explained that they needed to run this company. And it was through this by taking a less directive approach that Pro was able to reach the desired quality standards.

Finally a manager’s choice of leadership style must address such situational forces as the organization’s preferred style; the size and cohesiveness of specific work group, the nature of the group’s task, the pressures of time and even environmental factors all of which may affect organizations members’ attitudes toward authority. Most managers for example lean toward the leadership style favored by the organization’s top ranking executives.





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