Jason Wenzel - TP3 Senior Learning Consultant
Contemporary business theory suggests that leaders who are more interpersonally oriented and those with participative styles have followers with higher levels of satisfaction and morale. That’s true from my own experience, where I’ve learned that the ability to communicate effectively and engage with team members is the most important skill for leaders.
Researchers Richard Hall, from the University of New York at Albany, and Cornell University’s Pamela Tolbert agree. They reveal in their 2009 study into organisational structures, processes and outcomes that a significant amount of earlier studies showed evidence that characterise effective leaders — and the first characteristic is found in those leaders who accentuate the accomplishment of specific tasks of their workers.
This trait in effective leaders essentially gives employees the sense they are genuinely appreciated for the actual work that they do, not simply by way of a general “thank you” which could be, perhaps cynically, viewed as meaningless discourse.
All for one, one for all
The second characteristic of effective leaders found by Hall and Tolbert is an ability to emphasise the expressive activities and interpersonal activities. Here, James Manktelow and Amy Carlson of leading management and leadership training firm Mind Tools describe people-oriented leaders as being completely focused on organising, supporting and developing the people within their team.
The reverse of task-oriented leadership, this participatory style is inclined to encourage effective teamwork and creative collaboration. People-oriented leaders treat all members of the team alike. Manktelow and Carlson go on to say that people-oriented leaders are approachable and friendly, pay attention to the wellbeing of everyone in their group, and make themselves available when team members need help or advice.
The advantage of this leadership style is that people-oriented leaders build teams that everyone wishes to be part of.
Even more, members of these team are, typically, more productive and willing to take risks because they know intrinsically that their leader will give them support if they need it. According to author and researcher Catherine Bush, people-oriented style is one by which the leader provides a more supportive role in order to create a positive work environment where workers can truly maximise their productivity. Also known as participative leadership, this leadership style is closely associated to transformational leadership theories — but that’s a subject for another day.
(The disadvantage of the people-oriented leadership style, however, is that some leaders can take this approach to the extreme — placing the development of their team above important tasks or project initiatives. In Catherine Bush’s terms, this is often referred to as transactional leadership, or management which is in contrast to the term “leadership.”)
Research at Ohio State University recently identified two additional and distinct styles of leadership. They involve consideration and initiation structure, concepts which are closely related to the notions of people-oriented and task-oriented behaviours. For Catherine Bush, consideration is “the degree to which a leader shows concern and respect for followers, looks out for their welfare, and expresses appreciation and support”.
This, I believe, is the essence of the people-oriented leadership style.
Consideration is key
So to summarise, and using Catherine Bush’s list of behaviours, here are the characteristics of leaders who are effective in no small part because their leadership style is strong in consideration. They:
- are friendly and approachable
- do little things to make it pleasant to be a member of the group
- put suggestions made by the group into operation
- treat all group members as their equal
- give advance notice of changes
- make themselves accessible to group members
- look out for the personal welfare of group members
- are willing to make changes
- explain their actions
- consult the group when making changes.
A major paradigm shift of thinking related to people-orientated leadership is taking place. Whereas much of our working lives has revolved around the leader telling employees — often with varying degrees of intimidation — what they must do, this is not so with this new style of leadership.
People-orientated leadership style brings with it a remarkably positive feeling. In essence, it revolves around the source of motivation. Gone is the threat to get something done; rather it has been replaced by the offer of support. Instead of a leader having the “Do as I say” attitude the people-oriented leader has a “What can I do to help you?” attitude. This approach works on a reciprocal basis as well — individuals under this style of leadership will often be far more likely to help each other to achieve a joint goal. Indeed, there cannot be any true team spirit unless the leader is in there helping as well.
It takes a far greater sacrifice to relinquish the grip on the title of “leader” rather than the true responsibilities that come with it. And yet by easing this grip the rewards can far outweigh any disadvantages, and only true leaders will sacrifice ego in the place of results.
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Bush, C. (2012). Leadership Style: Initiating Structure and Consideration. (Retrieved 4/3/2013 from http://www.chsbs.cmich.edu/leader_model/development/media/Targeted%20Lessons/leadership_style.htm)
Manktelow, J. & A. Carlson (2013). Mind Tools. Leadership Styles. (Retrieved 4/5/2013 from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_84.htm)
Hall, R., & Tolbert, P. (2009). Organizations: Structures, Processes, and Outcomes. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.