Style Theory

What Is The Style Theory Of Leadership?

Style theory differs drastically from trait or skill theories. Instead of focusing on who leaders are, style theories consider what leaders do. At the core of all style theories is the idea that leaders engage in two distinct types of behavior: task behaviors and relationship behaviors. How leaders combine these two behaviors determines their leadership effectiveness. Style theory refers to three main theories or lines of research: the Ohio State University studies, the Michigan University studies, and the Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid.

Both the Ohio State and Michigan studies sought to identify the best combination of the leadership behaviors (although each used differing terms). Their research leads to a myriad of research attempting to define leadership behaviors that worked in every situation. However, the results of this research are inconclusive, suggesting that there is not one best style of effective leadership.

Blake and Mouton ran with this idea, developing a model for training leaders that describes leadership behaviors as plots on a grid with two axes: concern for results (task behaviors) and concern for people (relationship behavior). The model outlines five main plots on the managerial grid: authority-compliance (9,1), country club management (1,9), impoverished management (1,1), middle-of-the-road management (5,5), and team management (9,9).

While style theory represents a step forward in understanding leadership, there are some strengths and weaknesses. In addition to enhancing understanding of leadership, style theory is supported by a large body of research. Style theory also works to identify two main behaviors, task and relationship, which can be learned and cultivated. However, style theorists have yet to come to consensus on an optimal style of leadership. The theory implies that a high task, high relationship style will yield the best results, but this implication has yet to be supported by research.


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David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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