When To Use Task-Oriented vs. Relationship-Oriented Leadership Styles
“People are more easily led than driven.” — David Harold Fink
When you lead other people, you tend to have a natural preference to either focus on the task at hand (task-oriented) or to focus on the people that will be doing the work (relationship-oriented.) Knowing this can help you lead more effectively in any scenario. You can first read a situation, and then you can either adapt your leadership style for the situation, or you find a situation that better suits your style.
According to Fiedler’s Contingency Model, there are three key factors to evaluate for a scenario:
- Leader-Member Relationship – This is whether group members are supportive, respective, and loyal to the leader.
- Task Structure – This is whether the task has a lot of clarity or ambiguity. If the task is clear, it can be structured. If the task has a lot of ambiguity, meaning you’re not exactly sure how to go about the work or what good will look like, then it will tend to be unstructured.
- Leadership Position Power – This is the degree of power in terms of rewards and punishment the leader is able to control.
8 Scenarios and Their Matching Successful Leadership Style
This table summarizes the scenarios and whether task-oriented or relationship-oriented tends to be more successful:
|ID||Leader-Member Relationship||Task Structure||Leadership Position Power||Successful Leadership Style|
Here are some key take aways:
- You can use the chart to help you see what scenarios your style is well-suited for.
- A relationship-oriented style tends to work well for three out of the eight scenarios.
- A task-oriented style tends to work well for five out of the eight scenarios.
While leadership is often more art than science, I think this lens is helpful for thinking through whether to adapt your style because of the nature of the work in front of you (structured vs. unstructured) or because your relationship with the people (good or poor), or because of your leadership position power (strong or weak.)
Photo by bfhoyt.