Task vs. Relationship Leadership Theories
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Reversing the Extroverted Leadership
The difference between task leadership & social leadership, team development and leadership styles.
- Four Basic Leadership Styles Used by Situational Managers
- A Description of the Characteristics of a High-Performance Workplace
One way to categorize leadership styles involves looking at the value of individual employees. When the skills, strengths and goals of each employee are taken into consideration when assigning tasks, the manager follows a relationship-based leadership approach. However, when task completion remains the most important factor and it doesn't matter who performs the task, leaders follow a task-based style instead.
The Task-Based Leadership Approach
Task-based leadership focuses solely on the steps a manager must take to achieve a particular goal. The manager assigns tasks to employees who are more or less interchangeable. Leaders following a task-based approach don't spend much time getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of their employees. All that's important is for the task to be done on time and to the expected standard.
Efficiency and scalability represent significant advantages of a task-based leadership approach. Once the desired procedure is developed, employees can be trained to perform that procedure, allowing leaders to delegate tasks and track progress easily.
According to employee-recruitment company RFC , the primary disadvantage of task-based leadership is that it stifles creativity and doesn't necessarily allow employees to develop their strengths or interests. Employees may feel like a disposable cog in the machine instead of a valued team member. These conditions can result in low morale and high turnover.
The Relationship-Based Leadership Approach
Leaders who follow a relationship-oriented or people-oriented approach still rely on procedures and assign tasks to employees, but they pay more attention to each employee's strengths, weaknesses and professional goals in the process. Under a relationship-based leadership style, creativity is encouraged. For example, a team leader may describe the desired result but give employees some creative leeway in how they choose to accomplish the task. A team leader might also assign a specific task to someone looking to develop more experience in that area, such as an entry-level marketer getting a chance to work on a print campaign for the first time.
Because this approach encourages leaders to see employees as individuals who have needs and wants, a better work environment and company culture often results. Morale, productivity and engagement remain high. Employees enjoy greater job satisfaction and are less likely to quit for greener pastures.
Ideally, a relationship-based approach still emphasizes the importance of deadlines and high-quality work like task-based leadership does. It addresses the drawbacks of task-based leadership to create a productive, efficient, and enthusiastic workplace. Relationship-based leadership only becomes disadvantageous when relationship-building takes precedence over task completion. Team building and professional growth have to strike a balance between high-quality work and work that's submitted on time.
Which Leadership Style Is Best?
When it comes to a task-oriented vs. people-oriented leadership style, neither approach is inherently best for every situation. As a 2019 article published in the Journal of Leadership Education points out, a blend of both proves most effective, with each style being necessary at different stages of project management. Focusing only on tasks can lead to low morale, but focusing only on relationships could result in nothing getting done. Striking an appropriate balance should be the goal.
It's also important to consider the job at hand. Task-based leadership works just fine for jobs where little creativity is required, such as assembly line or warehouse work. It's helpful for leaders in these industries to get to know their employees to keep morale up and communicate easily, but the task at hand doesn't change much based on each team member's skills, strengths or weaknesses.
On the other hand, a relationship-based leadership tactic works well in situations where employees must often make their own decisions while accomplishing a task, such as design or problem-solving work. It's also a useful approach when one person's extraordinary skill could make a significant difference in quality. For example, an employee who always manages to give persuasive presentations could be in charge of delivering the most important ones.
- RFC: Task vs Relationship Leadership Styles
- Journal of Leadership Education: Project Manager Leadership Behavior: Task-Oriented versus Relationship-Oriented
Cathy Habas has helped several non-profits and marketing businesses from the ground up, including her own freelancing business. Although running a small business presents unique and daunting challenges, Cathy likes breaking these mountains into pebbles with her writing. She has written for Business 2 Community, Credibly, Inside Small Business, and more.
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- 1 Advantages & Disadvantages of People-Oriented Leadership Styles
- 2 Definition of Supportive Leadership Style
- 3 Leadership Styles in Production Management
- 4 Resonant Vs. Dissonant Leadership Styles
Task vs Relationship Leadership Styles
It has become increasingly obvious that effective leadership is hugely important in the workplace. If the leadership is not effective, problems such as poor productivity, low motivation and high turnover can occur. In the current market, there are many new opportunities available for employees and so if employees are not happy it is very likely that they will go elsewhere. Leaders often don’t think about the type of leader they are. Generally they fall into either the task-oriented or relationship-oriented leadership style.
Task Oriented Leadership
This type of leader focuses on the tasks that needed to be carried out in order to reach goals. The leadership style here can be described as autocratic. Autocratic leaders don’t involve their team in decision making. Task-orientated leadership involves some task management features. This involves placing emphasis on administrative activities, co-ordinating job-related activities, preparing financial reports etc. As we can see leaders who opt for this style focus on completing tasks in order to reach targets. This type of leader doesn’t really care about relationship building or the employees who are needed to reach these goals. They are more concerned with following their plan to reach organisational targets.
One of, if not the biggest strength of this type of leadership is that all tasks are completely to a high standard in a timely manner. These leaders set an example for employees by focusing on the necessary procedures in relation to how tasks as completed. As a result, they can delegate work and make sure that tasks are completed on time to a high standard. This style of leadership would be suitable in well-structured environments like for example manufacturing assembly lines where repeating well-defined processes produces high levels of both productivity and quality.
Some of the weaknesses associated with this leaderships style involve a fear of breaking the rules among employees, this may lead to a lack of creativity, low morale and as a result high turnover. A lack of innovation which can come from a fear of taking risks, means employees who are naturally creative can become demoralised and eventually leave the organisation to find a more appealing opportunity.
This type of leadership focuses on creating success as a result of building lasting relationships with employees and the motivation, job satisfaction and work-life balance of their employees. They still care about getting tasks done, however they believe that work culture is more important. Leaders who use this style concentrate on motivating, supporting and developing their employees. Relationship oriented leaders also promote collaboration and teamwork, by encouraging communication and building positive relationships. The welfare of employees is the top priority for these leaders and as a result, they put time and effort into meeting their employees individual needs.
One of the strengths of this leadership style is that these leaders establish teams that all employees want to be a part of. Members of these teams are often more productive and willing to take risks because they understand that they will get support from the leader if necessary. Another strength is that employees are in an environment where they know their leader cares about there welfare. These leaders know that work place productivity requires creating a positive environment where employees feel motivated. As a result, these leaders prioritise people in order to ensure that issues such as personal conflicts, dissatisfaction and turnover are low.
One of the weaknesses of this leadership style is that focusing on creating team spirit may get in the way of completing tasks and reaching goals. Some leaders can put the development of their team above tasks.
Over the years, studies have been conducted in order to determine if one type is better than the other, however no one behaviour is instrumental to the success of a leader in every situation. The dynamic nature of leadership determines that if a leader is effective, they should be able to balance both types of leadership styles which should be applied in response to a particular situation. This involves some level of self-awareness, you need to work out which style you fall under and take note of when you may need to change up your style to suit a particular situation. If for example you are task oriented you need to soften up, this can be difficult, but it is very important. Start by trying to brush up on your ‘soft’ skills such as listening. For relationship-oriented leaders, they need to do the opposite and toughen up. This could be by being more decisive and setting standards.
Penn State (2013) Balancing Task and Relationship Behaviors [online] https://sites.psu.edu/leadership/2013/05/20/balancing-task-and-relationship-behaviors/
Bell, S. (2017) Task-Oriented vs. People-Oriented Leadership Styles [online] https://bizfluent.com/info-12137619-taskoriented-vs-peopleoriented-leadership-styles.html
Larman, A. (2015) Task-Oriented Vs People-Oriented Leadership Styles [online] http://ezinearticles.com/?Task-Oriented-Vs-People-Oriented-Leadership-Styles&id=9253531
Ruzgar, N. (2018) The Effect of Leaders’ Adoption of Task-Oriented or Relationship-Oriented Leadership Style on Leader-Member Exchange (LMX), In the Organizations That Are Active In Service Sector: A Research on Tourism Agencies. Journal of Business Administration Research . Vol 7:1 pp50-60
PSYCH 485 blog
Relationship Vs. Task Leadership style
February 17, 2022 by nmr5634
Task vs. relationship leadership
We all have to identify who in our lives are our leaders and who we are leaders to. Whether that may make you go on a “power trip”, you should identify and understand that both the leader and follower of that specific organization, group, company etc. are all in it for the same end goal. How would the style of that leader benefit from its followers? Would it be by getting straight to the point or getting to know their followers to achieve that goal?
When examining a leader and their styles is good to categorize them by what they value as a leader. A leader who is mainly about achieving a specific goal regardless of other circumstances, then he/she are most likely a task-based leader. A leader who encourages on relying on procedures and assigning tasks based on the employee’s strengths and weaknesses is going to be categorized as a relationship-based leader. According to Northouse, task leadership considers the elements involved in task accomplishments from organizing work and defining roles to determining policies and procedures to facilitate production (Northouse, 2021, pg. 85). A better understanding of what this leadership is according to Northouse is that the task-oriented style is the opposite from what the relationship orientation style of leadership. Relationship oriented leadership behaviors focus on the well being of its followers and how they all relate with one another (Northouse, 2021, pg. 85). In this blog, behaviors of both task and relationship styles will be explored as well as, examples from real world scenarios will be explained.
First and foremost, when we think of our favorite leaders, we often think of the ones who motivate, encourage, and relate with us the most. When we think of bad leaders, we often think about the ones who may act like they don’t want to be there, inconvenience staff (aka, the followers), and don’t care about guests or customers. The list could go on in many different directions. When we think about a good leader and how they are with their employees, a good foundation for their work is getting to know their staff and how to implement the tasks needed to reach their goal. In the Ohio State studies, it was believed that the results of studying leadership as a personality was pointless and rather so, they decided to analyze how individuals acted when leading a group instead (Northouse, 2021, pg. 85). In a questionnaire, given to the leader’s followers, they had to rate the behavior of that leader. Examples of those questions asked were:
“He/She lets subordinates know when they’ve done a good job.
He/She sets clear expectations about performance.
He/She shows concern for subordinates as individuals.
He/She makes subordinates feel at ease. (PSU WC, 2022, L.5).”
This questionnaire that was used is called the Leader behavior description questionnaire (LBDQ). This questionnaire was to analyze and depict the kind of behaviors used during their leadership. Followers categorized the behaviors into two clusters, and those were if they initiated structure or consideration for the followers. The Ohio state studies came to a conclusion that a leader can be either high in initiating structure or high or low on consideration (PSU WC, 2022, L.5). Based on these studies, a way to determine if a leader is task oriented or relationship oriented in their leadership style is based on the Ohio studies is to see how followers answered the questions and if the leader scored high on the consideration aspect of the questionnaire. A leader who got a higher score would mean that they are nurturing to their followers and associate their success with the importance of their trust, respect and liking amongst themselves with their followers. Someone who scored higher on the initiative of structure may focus mainly on assigning roles, organization, and schedules (PSU WC, 2022, L.5).
Along with determining whether someone’s leadership style is task oriented or relationship oriented, these all come with certain traits that distinguish the two apart. According to Northouse, there are five major leadership traits and those are: intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability (Northouse, 2021, pg. 32). Out of those five traits, the one that would most likely resonate with task-oriented leaders would be determination. “Determination is the desire to get the job done and include characteristics such as initiative, persistence, dominance and drive (Northouse, 2021, pg. 33).” A task-oriented leader would need to contain this trait in order to even be considered a “task oriented” leader. Hence, the description of “getting things done.” On the other hand, a relationship-oriented leader would need the sociability trait out of those five traits. “Sociability is a leader’s inclination to seek out pleasant social relationships (Northouse, 2021, pg. 34).” Connecting with followers and understanding them to work toward the end goal that is shared among the leader and other followers is important. A leader who is oriented this way finds it easier to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their followers as mentioned before. By doing this, it is easier to assign specific roles to the followers liking. This also enhances the follower’s motivation to completing a task.
Personally, I have worked with both task-oriented leaders and relationship-oriented leaders. Traits that come out from task-oriented leaders from my experiences were one’s that were determined and had self-discipline. They took the responsibility for being in charge or their followers and made sure that all tasks were done correctly. On the other hand, a relationship-oriented leader that I had also was very successful because of the relationships amongst the followers (employees). When you build that trust and connection with those who need to take orders from, they respect you more to do it right. Many employees will do the bare-minimum work because of that lack of connection between them and their leader. I think that is a common issue among leaders and followers and that is their lack of respect and integrity. Another trait that most of those relationship-oriented leaders contain is a high level of emotional intelligence and extraversion. Those traits help leaders become closely connected with their followers. I think this because without that emotional intelligence trait, leaders wouldn’t be able to understand the needs of their followers.
When you look at both of these approaches and combine them together, you find a very great leader who is able to get jobs done while also gaining the trust and respect from their followers.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2022). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style and situational approaches. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2177519/modules/items/33991684
February 21, 2022 at 6:53 am
Leadership style consists of an individual’s traits and behaviors, and how they utilize those to influence others. Identifying a leader as either relationship oriented or task oriented is critical to understanding their leadership behaviors and as such, is the foundation for the behavioral approach to leadership. Using the situational approach, specifically, Blanchard’s SLII model, the task-oriented leader you describe would utilize directive behaviors (Northouse, 2021). As you referenced by citing Northouse (2021), task leadership relies on understanding the components necessary for completing a task and then putting plan in place to facilitate goal achievement (nmr5634, 2022). The use of directive behaviors enables task-oriented leaders to assist followers in achieving tasks by providing directions, establishing goals, setting timelines, and defining roles (Northouse, 2021, p. 110).
Alternatively, under the situational approach, the relationship-oriented leader you describe would utilize supportive behaviors. You identify relationship-oriented leaders as those who influence their followers through support and by assigning tasks based on followers’ strengths and weaknesses (nmr5634, 2022). This suggests a leader who takes the time to know and understand his followers, and who leverages those relationships for success. The use of supportive behaviors enables relationship-based leaders to assist followers in achieving tasks by making them feel comfortable about themselves, their peers, and the situation they are in (Northouse, 2021, p. 110).
What is evident between the two styles is that task-oriented leaders are more directive in their approach, making clear what needs accomplished and the expectations for doing so, while relationship-oriented leaders are more supportive in their approach, focusing on making connections with their followers (Northouse, 2021, pg. 85). I like that in your conclusion, you suggest a blend of task oriented and relationship-oriented leadership styles creates an effective leader who can accomplish goals while simultaneously, earning trust and respect from followers.
Upon reading your post, I found myself curious to know which of the styles you found most effective. Additionally, to what extent do you believe that situation plays a role in leader-follower success? I believe it is helpful to use situational approach to expand upon the behavioral approach when trying to explicate effective leadership styles. The SLII model helps to demonstrate how directive and supportive behaviors interact to create blended leadership styles; high directive-low supportive, high directive-high supportive, high supportive-low directive, and low-supportive-low directive (Northouse, 2021, pp. 110-111). This approach appeals to me the most because it focuses on the situation and emphasizes leader flexibility in choosing the most effective approach within the given situation (Northouse, 2021, p. 115).
Great post nmr5634 and thank you for sharing!
nmr5634. (2022, February 17). Relationship Vs. Task Leadership Style. Leadership. Retrieved from https://sites.psu.edu/leadership/2022/02/17/relationship-vs-task-leadership-styles/
Northouse, P.G. (2021). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 9th Edition. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-1-5443-9756-6.
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Task vs. Relationship Leadership Theories
In today’s competitive climate, small business management seeks to understand what accounts for the success of some companies and the failure of others. Many factors, such as business strategy and business processes, influence a company’s financial and operational performance. However, it's the company’s leadership that often determines if a company survives the startup years and grows to be a regional or national corporate power. The manner in which a leader accomplishes these goals can vary greatly. For example, a task-oriented leader will define roles and business goals, and plan, organize and monitor work. In turn, a relationship-oriented leader will create and maintain supportive relationships as he encourages teamwork.
The accomplishment of goals and work-group effectiveness are the primary concerns of task-oriented leaders. As a result, this type of leader focuses on task structure, process standards, desired outcomes and meeting deadlines, rather than interpersonal relationships. These directive leaders use conditional reinforcement to manage the performance of employees. For example, the leader rewards the performance of tasks and evaluates employees according to the relative value of their contributions to the accomplishment of group objectives. The task-oriented leader also applies disciplinary measures to correct unacceptable behavior. In addition, the degree to which an employee contributes to the accomplishment of group goals -- rather than personal goals -- determines the degree of work-related support he will receive from his manager.
Effects of Task Leadership
A task-oriented leader often has a thorough understanding of business processes and procedures, which contributes to the appropriate delegation of work and the accurate and on-time completion of work tasks. In addition, a task-oriented leader imposes deadlines and standards on team members who may lack self-motivation, which contributes to the timely accomplishment of business objectives. However, the leader's apparent indifference to the personal concerns of employees might serve to demotivate employees and lead to personnel retention issues.
Unlike the task-oriented leader, the relationship-oriented leader exhibits support for and acceptance of their employees as individuals, rather than as production factors. These leaders focus on the professional and personal welfare of subordinates, rather than task structures and deadlines. The relationship-oriented leader provides support to all employees, which is not based on job performance or compliance with standards. For example, the leader provides positive feedback as a means to build the confidence of employees. In addition, these leaders take steps to improve employee satisfaction and capabilities by supporting the employee's personal goals. The leader also works to establish positive relationships with and between group members, which supports teamwork and collaboration.
Effects of Relationship Leadership
A relationship-oriented leader positively affects business relationships and creates a collegial work environment, which contributes to the accomplishment of business objectives. The leader also works to minimize interpersonal conflicts and job dissatisfaction that can negatively affect productivity and quality. By offering a high level of employee support, the leader attracts productive team members. However, team development and interpersonal relationships may become the leader's priorities at the cost of task accomplishment, leading to missed deadlines.
- The University of Rhode Island: Leadership Overview
- Task: How Can You Balance Task Oriented Leadership and People Oriented Leadership?
- Mind Tools: Leadership Styles
- Change Factory: Leadership; Is It Better To Be People or Task Oriented?
Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.
Voices of the Global Community
Relationship-oriented and task-oriented advising: balancing skillsets.
Lynsey Thibeault , University of Southern Maine
The NACADA Academic Advising Core Competencies Model (NACADA, 2017) guides professional development and practice among advising professionals. The model is based on three foundational components for “effective advisor training programs and advising practice—the conceptual, informational, and relational” (Farr & Cunningham, 2017, p. 4). The conceptual component includes concepts advisors should understand, including relevant advising theory, advising strategy, and the role of advising within higher education. The second and third components closely relate to the aforementioned relationship-building and task-related skillsets. The informational component, i.e. institutional knowledge, curriculum comprehension, familiarity with campus resources, etc., aligns well with focusing on important advising tasks. While the relational component, i.e. creating rapport, effectively communicating, goal setting, etc., clearly ties into the relationship building skillset.
While I love building relationships and probably wouldn’t be an advisor if I didn’t, the balance of my skillset leans ever so slightly to the task-related components of the job. I know I would not enjoy the job without the relationship building aspects; however, I have found that I need to work more diligently to maintain those competencies. Problem and puzzle solving engage my strengths and interests and come quite naturally to me when working with students. They do, however, use a different part of my brain and can take me out of relationship-building mode. I think whether, as advisors, our balance leans towards naturally building advising relationships or toward the tasks involved, advisors have to be able to transition between these two skillsets in order to meet the diverse needs of students.
Looking Toward the Leadership Field
Relationship and task orientations have been discussed heavily in the field of leadership. Fiedler (1967) was one of the first to define this dynamic as a leader’s motivational structure. That is, whether the leader’s goal is to build a relationship with those they are leading or their goal is to accomplish the task at hand. While Cowsill and Grint (2008) report that a review of the literature shows that this inclination toward task or relationship orientation is a preference , they then go on to argue that there is more to this dichotomy than simply preferring one style over the other. When applying task and relationship orientation to advising, creating balance between the two perspectives may be the most effective option.
Advisors as Leaders
One of the often overlooked roles that advisors take on is that of a leader. Leadership appears in our relationships with students as we help them meet their academic goals and ultimately the goal of graduation (Paul, Smith, & Dochney, 2012). Knowledge, authority, experience, etc. are among the many reasons that students come to advisors for support in working towards their aspirations. A task-oriented leader may rely on the completion of certain tasks to determine whether a goal has been met, whereas a relationship-oriented leader may focus more on the individual performing the tasks.
In an advising meeting where an advisor prefers a task orientation, the discussion may include a credit count to review requirements met and remaining requirements and a discussion of course options for the upcoming semester. In an advising meeting where an advisor prefers a relationship orientation, the discussion may include open-ended questions about the student’s hopes and dreams. Advisors might prefer one orientation over the other but ideally see the need for and can tap into both perspectives. Our goals as advisors for a student meeting are likely the same, to make sure the student is set up for success and to help them progress to graduation; however, the styles we use to help lead the student there may be different.
At the University of Southern Maine, our advising office utilizes assessment to identify areas of strength and opportunities for growth within our department. While most of our assessment is based on student learning outcomes, we also assess certain outcomes for advisors. For example, USM’s Advisor Learning Outcomes document outlines expectations for advisors including “recognize each of my advisees as a whole, unique individual” and “use the advising relationship and proactive intervention to encourage student success” (USM Assessment Committee, personal communication, 2007). One of the ways in which we qualitatively measure ourselves against these outcomes is through our Peer Partner Program where we pair up to each observe a student advising meeting with a colleague. After the student meeting is complete, advisors meet to talk about observations and reflect on the experience. The experience is not reported to a supervisor nor is it a part of any performance review. The exercise is truly meant to be an opportunity to learn from each other.
This year’s Peer Partner experience unexpectedly helped inform my own views on task and relationship orientation, as I was unintentionally partnered with an advisor who is a natural relationship builder. Our biggest observations of each other’s meetings were the differences associated with these two approaches. My meeting was focused mostly on what I refer to as graduation math, where we reviewed how many credits per semester my senior-level business student planned to complete and how many general electives he would need in order to meet minimum graduation requirements. My partner’s meeting with a sophomore-level psychology student included a discussion of how her classes related to one another and took on a very academic tone. The differences within our conversations certainly arose from the students’ different personalities and needs within those meetings. Undoubtedly though, some of it was due to the differences in how my partner and I utilized our relationship and task orientations. In the end, my partner decided to incorporate a version of graduation math into her next meeting and I got some great ideas for some more open-ended questions to help my next student reflect on his learning.
Strengthening Balance Between Skillsets
As stated earlier, both relationship building and tasks to achieve graduation are important regardless of a preference towards one or the other. An advisor can expand their skill set with the following strategies.
To develop the relationship building orientation:
- Observe an advising meeting with a colleague who is especially strong in building relationships.
- Ask students open-ended questions to get the student talking and reflecting on their experiences.
- In addition to asking how classes are going, also ask students about what they are learning to bridge academics into the advising conversation.
- Build trust with students by completing any follow-up within 24 hours.
- Acknowledge when the advisor has learned something from the student. Their experiences in and outside the classroom can help to inform the advising practice.
To develop the task orientation:
- Observe an advising meeting with a colleague who is especially strong in the task-oriented parts of advising.
- While preparing in advance for appointments, a lot of the task-oriented items can be prepped ahead of time so that they are then simply being reviewing with the student during the meeting and not created on the spot.
- When unsure or uncomfortable about confirming requirements, let the student know that follow-up will occur within 24 hours. This will allow a check and recheck of the graduation math and even allow time to run the requirements past a colleague or their major department if needed.
- Write down any goals for a particular advising meeting and check the list before the student leaves to make sure the goals have been accomplished.
- Create systems that allow staying on top of tasks: i.e. to-do lists, bookmarking frequently visited websites, and committing to writing meeting notes during or immediately following the student meeting.
The diversity of advisors’ styles and skillsets, not only in relationship and task orientation, but in other aspects as well, can only serve to help other advisors to learn and grow. It is important to connect with each other to learn from our strengths. The growth and development of advisors is key to our success in ultimately helping our students meet their goals.
Lynsey Thibeault Academic Advisor Advising University of Southern Maine [email protected]
Cowsill, R., & Grint, K. (2008). Leadership, task and relationship: Orpheus, Prometheus and Janus. Human Resource Management Journal , 18 (2), 188–195.
Farr, T. & Cunningham, L. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies guide . Manhattan, KS: NACADA, The Global Community for Academic Advising.
Fiedler, F. E. (1967). A theory of leadership effectiveness . New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
Paul, W. K., Smith, K. C., & Dochney, B. J. (2012). Advising as servant leadership: Investigating the relationship. NACADA Journal, 32 (1), 53.
Cite this article using APA style as: Thibeault, L. (2018, September). Relationship-orientated and task-orientated advising: Balancing skillsets. Academic Advising Today, 41(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]
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Task vs. Relationship Leadership: Do you need to shift your focus?
Much has been written about Task vs. Relationship Leadership . Of course, there are benefits to both leadership styles, and it is generally understood that leaders need to utilise both. Yet, as a coach working with senior executives, I see that many leaders remain too focused on the task side of leadership. Nothing has made this more apparent than the coronavirus pandemic (which I will discuss in a minute).
The Task vs. Relationship Leadership spectrum is an important lens for mid- and senior-level leaders to apply when assessing their effectiveness. However, there are three reasons why this tool may be underutilised:
- A general lack of awareness among leaders of this management concept. Some may understand it intuitively but may not have clarity around how it applies to them or how they can leverage it to become a better leader.
- Too many leaders remain habitually focused on only the task side of the spectrum. This gives them a huge amount of strength—because they are results-focused and driven. They make things happen through action (but it ignores the strengths that the relationship side offers).
- Many senior leaders still believe that in order to make things happen, the task-oriented style is the correct focus. Why might this be?
- During junior and middle leadership, they may have been rewarded and promoted because of their ability (and sometimes their preference) to primarily work on the task side.
- Their family backgrounds instilled task-focused values and behaviours (sometimes at the expense of their emotional intelligence). Given this, part of the journey of any senior leader is an excavation of the past, never more so for those who don’t understand why it can be so difficult to work relationally.
- They believe that ‘ If “I” am not doing, “I” am not creating value’. For many, it’s counterintuitive for them to ‘let go’ of the task, because they believe that their significance and accountability equals ‘I’m doing’.
Note: Executive coaching offers tools and techniques that enable leaders to work more relationally
The pandemic has enabled some leaders to shift more attention to the relational side of the spectrum because they are forced to confront their own and others’ emotions and psychology around the crisis. It’s simply unavoidable. Unprecedented uncertainty, and constantly changing conditions, means the ability to pivot and flex at pace across the spectrum has become paramount to effectively leading people.
But this shift is not easy for everyone. One leader I coach took on a new GM role a few months prior to the pandemic. He’d been given the role because he was a results-driven problem-solver with a track record for driving change. In spite of this, he still found himself struggling to get his people to understand why they should focus their efforts on improving the business. Why? Because he had not invested the time to understand his people’s motivators and blockers.
As the coronavirus struck, his task-focused leadership enabled him to refocus the business from bricks-and-mortar to online offerings for customers. Despite his ability to proffer clear steps and solutions to his team, some of his people were stuck and unable to move—frozen by fear and anxiety. One senior team member, overwhelmed by her fears, literally did nothing for weeks with any of their agreed actions.
Because this leader was primarily task focused, he was missing the opportunity to facilitate conversations that would enable his staff to articulate and process their emotions and become ‘unstuck’. In order to achieve his desired outcomes, he needed to focus on ‘the people’, not ‘the project’. In short, he needed to create the time and space for his people to adjust psychologically to new circumstances.
His story illustrates the fact that—pandemic or not—many senior leaders remain over-focused on the task-oriented approach to leading people.
Naturally, there are situations that call for leaders to be 100% focused on the task side of the equation—especially in times of acute crisis. If four of your factories go down in southern China, you need go into ‘command and control’ mode. You recalibrate product orders, redirect people and logistics and reroute supply chains—ideally, within 24 hours. However, in times of chronic crisis, as we are experiencing now, we need to see an evolution of leadership that moves more towards working relationally. The paradox is when leaders spend more time on the relationship side of the spectrum, output on the ‘task’ side increases.
Use the graphic below to assess where you spend most of your time in any given week. Now think about where you spend your time month-to-month. Senior leaders ideally spend 60-80% of their time on the Relationship side of the spectrum.
Ask yourself three questions:
- ‘Where am I spending my time?’
- ‘What is my average weekly or monthly ratio?’
- ‘What do I need to do differently to improve as a leader?’
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About Steven Peng
Steven has an international background in executive coaching, leadership training & development and team coaching. View Steven's Profile
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