by Dave Sharpe,
Community Development Specialist

Montguide: 8404
Montana State University Extension
Bozeman, Montana

The leadership style you adopt in different situations can influence both how well your group accomplishes its goals and how well it maintains itself.   Your leadership style in a given situation consists of your behavior patterns as you deal with the group. These patterns emerge as you succeed or fail in confronting group events. Eventually, most of us develop a dominant style for all group situations. Through experience, group members expect-even predict-certain behavior patterns from us. Our style is the one that they perceive us to display when we lead. It is not what we believe our style to be that is important, but what our followers believe it to be. They react according to their concept of our style.

Leadership Studies   The focus of leadership studies has shifted considerably over the last century. Early studies attempted to determine inherent traits of leaders that set them apart from the general public. These attempts resulted in lists of "essential" leadership traits. However, the "essential" traits varied considerably from list to list and there were exceptions to all the essential traits.   By the 1940s general dissatisfaction with the failure to isolate essential leadership traits led researchers to change their focus from the leader to the situation in which leadership occurred. They realized that different people might emerge as leaders in different situations and that a person who was successful in one leadership situation might not be in another. A successful business leader might not be as successful serving as a P.T.A. president or as commander of a combat unit. A person might be a leader at work and a follower at home. Researchers saw that different situations called for different leadership styles.   The concept of shared leadership was born. Leadership came to be seen as the property of the group rather than of a designated leader. As group conditions changed, various group members assumed positions of leadership. The success of the group in accomplishing its goals and maintaining itself became the responsibility of the group instead of a single leader. Groups became teams in which the contributions of each member affected the success of the whole. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, business and military groups were reorganized into teams whose members played assigned roles. (For discussion of group member roles, see MontGuide 8402.   Still, in many groups a designated leader is expected to lead under a variety of situations. For these leaders to be most effective, they must switch leadership styles as the situation demands. Several theories of leadership style were proposed during the 1970s to help leaders match style to situation. The theories can be roughly grouped into three categories: autocratic vs. democratic leadership, task vs. maintenance leadership, and leadership role typologies.

Autocratic vs.  Democratic Leadership   One way of differentiating among leadership styles is to put them on a continuum ranging from autocratic to laissez-faire.

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At one extreme is the autocrat who makes all decisions, then tells subordinates how to implement them.

The autocrat may or may not consider what the subordinates feel about the decision. Subordinates have no opportunity to participate in decision making.   On the other extreme is the laissez-faire leader who plays no leadership role at all. This leader gives the group all decision making responsibility and has no more authority than any other group member.

Democratic leadership falls toward the right end of the continuum. Democratic leaders involve members in decision making either by reaching consensus or by using parliamentary procedure. They pursue open, trusting, follower-oriented relationships.   Numerous studies have compared the impact of authoritarian vs. democratic leadership on group effectiveness. Results are mixed. In general, authoritarian styles are superior when the leader has much more information regarding the task, when time is limited, and immediate productivity is required. Democratic leadership ordinarily produces higher member satisfaction and morale. It also results in higher quality decisions when members have as much or more knowledge than the leader regarding a particular problem.

Leader Task/Maintenance Orientation

Another way of differentiating among leaders is by their task or maintenance orientation. Every group has to accomplish tasks and maintain itself if it is going to continue to function. Leaders exhibit task behavior when they explain what, when, where and how members are to accomplish the job. They show maintenance behavior through two-way communication with members, providing social and psychological support to group members and helping them function as a group.   An Ohio State study revealed some leaders concentrated on directing members' activities to accomplish the task. Others concentrated on maintaining personal relationships between themselves and their followers. Some demonstrated both task and maintenance behavior. Still others provided little task or maintenance leadership. Thus, task and maintenance behaviors need not be an either/or style. They can be combined in varying degrees, as shown in the following chart:  

High Maintenance and Low Task High Maintenance and High Task
Low Maintenance and Low Task Low Maintenance and High Task
Low - task behavior providing direction



Hersey and Blanchard argue that the correct mixture of leader task/maintenance behavior depends on how mature the group is in a particular situation. They define maturity as the capacity to set high but attainable goals, willingness and ability to take responsibility, and education or previous experience of the group. These variables apply only to a specific task. As the level of the group's maturity increases the leader should reduce task behavior and increase maintenance behavior. So, as the group matures, the leader would move from quadrant D to quadrant C to quadrant B to quadrant A.

Five Leadership Roles

Jerry Robinson developed a quite different approach to describing leader behavior. He designated five leadership roles: cavalier, martyr, abdicator, controller and activator. While his roles represent extremes of particular styles, they help us envision the range of leadership styles.

The cavalier is a pleasure-seeker. The cavalier believes people work best if they are having a good time. The cavalier tells a lot of jokes because he or she needs acceptance and approval. The cavalier is extremely flexible, non-directive and non-judgmental.   People will work for the cavalier because this leader is easy to respond to. The level of output, however, is likely to be low. If the cavalier leaves the group, either the fun and games increase or the group may be so frustrated at doing little but fun and games all the time that they knuckle down and output increases. The cavalier maintains the group. Someone else then has to provide the task leadership. On the autocratic-democratic continuum, the cavalier places near the laissez-faire end.   The cavalier is especially helpful to the group in reducing tension created by intense effort on the task at hand.

The martyr works beyond reasonable expectations. Arriving first at the office in the morning and leaving last at night, this leader is always willing to assume one more task. Martyrs may feel they are setting good examples for the group and wonder why other members do not take on similar loads.   The martyr tries to win people over by appealing to their puritan work ethic. He or she tries to motivate people by making them feel guilty for not doing more. This approach may be successful for a while. People may work for the martyr to ease his or her burden. But after too long a time, followers tend to build defenses against the guilt trips. They tire of his constant search for pity and may eventually wind up avoiding the martyr altogether.   Martyrs have a high task orientation. They also attempt to have high maintenance orientations. But their maintenance orientation is so negative it actually works against maintaining a healthy group. On the autocratic-democratic continuum martyrs fall in the "sells" area.

The abdicator is a leader in title only. Though the designated leader of the group, the abdicator never takes on the leadership role. The abdicator withdraws from situations that require action and responsibility. The major problem or task may be ignored. The abdicator waits for others to tackle a problem. Major decisions are delayed in the hope they will go away, or someone else will make them.   The abdicator motivates the group by frustrating it with inactivity. Members eventually become so frustrated by the lack of action that they take over the leadership functions. The abdicator creates a power vacuum that others must fill if the group is to succeed.   Abdicators rate low in both task and maintenance orientation. Their own fear of failing is their primary concern. On the autocratic-democratic continuum they represent the extreme laissez-faire style.

The controller uses power to frighten the group into action. The controller believes people are basically lazy and must be closely supervised. Controllers feel accomplishing the mission is their responsibility. They decide what the group's mission will be and how it will be carried out. Then they assign members the tasks required to implement their plan. Members are closely supervised to ensure they conduct their tasks exactly as instructed.   Controllers attempt to use their power to motivate people. They attack people's basic security needs, threatening their jobs or salary increases. People work for fear of losing what they have rather than from a desire to extend themselves. Individual and group creativity tends to be low. When the controller leaves the group, the group is apt to resort to fun and games.  It may even post a look-out to warn of the controller's return.   The controller is likely to be effective only when he or she has considerable power over the members and the members recognize it. A person who tries to assume a controller role is likely to get little cooperation among adult community groups.   Controllers have a high task and low maintenance orientation. They are extreme examples of the autocratic style on the autocratic-democratic continuum.

The activator tries to involve others when confronting a group problem or situation. The activator believes in team work. The activator feels contributions of all members are necessary if the group is to reach its goal.

The activator motivates others by involving them both in setting the group's goals and determining how they are to be achieved. Activators believe people are more likely to support and actively pursue goals they have created for themselves.  The activator introduces topics to stimulate discussion and actively listens to the group's response. The activator seeks to facilitate an open, secure, non-judging group climate in which all members feel safe to contribute. in the absence of the activator, the group is likely to continue its productivity since it is pursuing its own goals.   The activator has both a high task and high maintenance orientation. Activators try to stimulate the group to set and pursue its own tasks. They also seek to maintain the group by encouraging group and individual growth. On the autocratic-democratic scale, the activator rates in the middle regions of "testing," "teaching" and "consulting."

Factors Influencing Appropriate Leadership Styles   Several factors determine the best leadership style for a given situation.

Leader personality. Most of us adopt a particular leadership style and use it in all situations. Even after we have been exposed to a range of possible leadership behaviors and feel they would be appropriate for given situations, we find it difficult to play some of the roles. If we are not naturally jovial and friendly, our attempts to play the cavalier are likely to ring hollow, especially if the group perceives us as a controller. In a situation calling for a cavalier, we might better abdicate to someone in the group who is a natural cavalier.

Group maturity. Hersey and Blanc hard recommend that the leader move. around the task maintenance grid in response to the group's maturity in dealing with a specific situation. Group maturity is a measure of group growth and development.  Groups go through stages of development: from dependence to counter-dependence to independence.   During dependency, the group relies on the leader for guidance. Members are unsure of their roles, how they will benefit, and how they will fit into the group. The group is likely to accept autocratic, task-directed leadership at this stage.   The counter-dependent stage is one of rebellion against the designated leader's authority. Power struggles take place as members try to gain influence. Leaders need to recognize this stage as natural in group development and not take the rebellion personally. The wise leader moves to a more activating role during this stage, encouraging members to assume the leadership positions they seek, stimulating them to pursue responsibility as well as influence.   Interdependence is the mature stage of group development. Members work together to maintain the group and accomplish its goals. They recognize the contributions of each member and the importance of  these for the group. At this point the group can function well with minimal leadership. Members share the leadership responsibilities. The group can succeed with a democratic or laissez-faire leadership style.

Time available. The leadership style also may vary with the amount of time available for decision making. Generally, it takes longer to make decisions through group involvement. If time is critical, as in emergencies, the leather may need to be autocratic- a controller who makes the decision, issues orders and worries about how the group feels later.

Power. The amount of power the leader has over followers also limits the choice of leadership style. This relates especially to autocratic, task-oriented, controller behavior. The power of leaders over followers is largely dictated by the circumstances of the group. The leader has considerably more power when he or she can eliminate the member from the group, reduce his status or decrease his benefits. Such situations are rare in voluntary, non-profit, community groups. Nevertheless, many community group leaders try to be controllers, usually unsuccessfully.

Concern for Member Satisfaction   Having satisfied members is important to the health of most groups, particularly non-profit community groups. The only rewards most community groups can offer their members are acceptance and satisfaction from pursuing worthwhile goals.   Comparisons of satisfaction between autocratically-led groups and democratically-led groups have shown:

1) democratic leadership resulted in higher levels of group satisfaction; 2) autocratic leadership creates hostility and aggression among members; 3) discontent, which did not appear on the surface, occurred in the autocratic groups; 4) dependency was higher and creativity lower in the autocratic groups; 5) there was greater orientation to group needs and greater acceptance of others in the democratically led groups.

A leadership style is the way a leader leads. If the leader chooses inappropriate ways of leading, he or she is likely to fail at the task at hand, as well as fail to maintain positive relationships with group members.
Members respond to leaders based on leader behavior. If the members see a leader as a cold autocratic-controller, they will respond according to that impression.
A leader needs to analyze personal abilities, the group and the situation, then select the best leadership style. A leader who analyzes the situation, chooses the most appropriate style and has the self-discipline to adopt it is likely to maximize the group's success.

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