Two Leader Behaviors That Really Make a Difference

One of the most consistent research findings of the past century suggests that there are two types of leader behaviors that are associated with effective leadership: Task-focused and relationship-focused behaviors.

Just after World War II, leadership researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan discovered two types of leader behaviors that were consistently related to effective leadership.

The first was task-focused behaviors. These are behaviors that put structure into the work setting – creating operating procedures, focusing on measuring outcomes, making important decisions, and the like.

The second category of effective leader behaviors focuses on the followers and the relationship between leaders and followers. These include showing concern for followers’ feelings and needs, showing appreciation, giving them a voice in decision-making, and bolstering their self-esteem.

Research over the next 70 years has consistently shown that these two broad categories of leader behaviors are important. So, what is the implication for leaders and their effectiveness?

Leaders should do a self-assessment and note how often their behaviors focus primarily on the task and the incidence of their relationship-oriented behaviors. Research by Fred Fiedler and others suggests that leaders may prefer one over the other – becoming almost preoccupied with getting the task done, or alternatively, with building the leader-follower relationship. For example, if a leader’s self-assessment suggests that he or she is over-emphasizing task-oriented behaviors, then balance may be needed by making sure to also focus on the relationships with team members. Over-focusing on relationships can lead to a lack of structure with can reduce the team’s efficiency and output.

Sometimes, simple research results (and those that seem to be almost common-sense) are important because they give us insight into our patterns of behavior in the workplace. The best leaders realize that they can always improve. They reflect on what they are doing well as well as on their shortcomings, and they strive to constantly get better.


            Riggio, R.E.  (2017).  Behavioral approach to leadership.  In S. Rogelberg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Industrial/Organizational Psychology (2nd ed), (pp.102-104).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Originally published at Psychology Today

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