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Behavioural Theories

The failures of early trait studies led researchers in the late 1940s through the 1960s to go in a
different direction. They began looking at the behaviours exhibited by specific leaders. They
wondered if there was something unique in the way that effective leaders behave. To use
contemporary examples, Siebel Systems Chairman Tom Siebel and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison have
been very successful in leading their companies through difficult times. 14 And they both rely on a
common leadership styletough-talking, intense, autocratic. Does this suggest that autocratic
behaviour is a preferred style for all leaders? In this section, we look at three different behavioural
theories of leadership to answer that question. First, however, lets consider the practical
implications of the behavioural approach.
If the behavioural 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 behavioural
studies were to turn up critical behavioural determinants of leadership, we could train people to be
leaders. The difference between trait and behavioural theories, in terms of application, lies in their
underlying assumptions. Trait theories assume leaders are born rather than made. However, if there
were specific behaviours that identified leaders, then we could teach leadershipwe could design
programs that implanted these behavioural 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.
Ohio State Studies
The most comprehensive and replicated of the behavioural theories resulted from research that
began at Ohio State University in the late 1940s. 15 Researchers at Ohio State sought to identify
independent dimensions of leader behaviour. Beginning with over a thousand dimensions, they
eventually narrowed the list to two categories that substantially accounted for most of the
leadership behaviour described by employees. They called these two dimensions initiating structure
and consideration.
1. Initiating structure refers to the extent to which a leader is likely to define and structure his
or her role and those of employees in the search for goal attainment. It includes behaviour
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
emphasizes the meeting of deadlines. Larry Ellison and Tom Siebel exhibit high initiating
structure behaviour.
2. 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 Warners CEO Richard Parsons rates high on consideration behaviour. His
leadership style is very people-oriented, emphasizing cooperation and consensus-building.16

At one time, the results of the Ohio State studies were thought to be disappointing. One1992 review
concluded, Overall, the research based on a two-factor conceptualization of leadership behaviour
has added little to our knowledge about effective leadership. 17 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 more satisfied with their jobs and
more motivated and also had more respect for their leader. Initiating structure, however, was more
strongly related to higher levels of group and organization productivity and more positive
performance evaluations.
University of Michigan Studies
Leadership studies undertaken at the University of Michigans Survey Research Center, at about the
same time as those being done at Ohio State, had similar research objectives: to locate behavioural
characteristics of leaders that appeared to be related to measures of performance effectiveness.
The Michigan group also came up with two dimensions of leadership behaviour that they labelled
employee- oriented and production-oriented.18 The Leaders who were employee-oriented were
described as emphasizing interpersonal relations; they took a personal interest in the needs of their
employees and accepted individual differences among members. The production-oriented leaders,
in contrast, tended to emphasize the technical or task aspects of the jobtheir main concern was in
accomplishing their groups tasks, and the group members were a means to that end. These
dimensionsemployee-oriented and production-orientedare closely related to the Ohio State
dimensions. Employee-oriented leadership is similar to consideration, and production-oriented
leadership is similar to initiating structure. In fact, most leadership researchers use the terms
synonymously.19
The conclusions arrived at by the Michigan researchers strongly favored the leaders who were
employee-oriented in their behaviour. 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.
Drawing from the Ohio State and Michigan studies, Blake and Mouton proposed a managerial grid
(sometime called the leadership grid) based on the styles of concern for people and concern for
production, which essentially represent the Ohio State dimension of consideration and initiating
structure or the Michigan dimensions of employee oriented and production along each axis.
The grid, depicted in Exhibit 12-1, has 9 possible positions along each axis, creating 81different
positions in which the leaders style may fall. The grid does not show results produced, but, rather,
the dominating factors in a leaders thinking in regard to getting results. Based on the findings of
Blake and Mouton, managers were found to perform best under a 9,9 style, as contrasted, for

example, with a 9,1 (authority type) or 1,9(laissez-faire type) style.21 Unfortunately, the grid offers a
better framework for conceptualizing leadership style than for presenting any tangible new
information in clarifying the leadership quandary, because it doesnt really convey any new
information in addition to the Ohio State and the University of Michigan research.22

Summary of Trait Theories and Behavioural Theories


Judging from the evidence, the behavioural theories, like the trait theories, add to our
understanding of leadership effectiveness. Leaders, who have certain traits, and who display
consideration and structuring behaviours, do appear to be more effective. Perhaps trait theories
and behavioural theories should be integrated. For example, you would think that conscientious
leaders (conscientiousness is a trait) are more likely to be structuring (structuring is a behaviour).
And maybe extraverted leaders (extraversion is a trait) are more likely to be considerate
(consideration is a behaviour). Unfortunately, we cant be sure there is a connection. Future
research is needed to integrate these approaches.
Trait theories and behavioural theories arent the last word on leadership. Missing in consideration
of the situational factors that influence success or failure. For example, it seems unlikely that Martin
Luther King, Jr., would have been a great civil rights leader at the turn of the twentieth century, yet
he was in the 1950s and 1960s. Would Ralph Nader have risen to lead a consumer activist group had
he been born in 1834 rather than 1934,or in Costa Rica rather than Connecticut? As important as
trait theories and behavioural theories are in determining effective versus ineffective leaders, they
do not guarantee a leaders success. The context matters too.