Behavioural styles of leadership, as outlined by Blake and Mouton. Developing an understanding of behavioural leadership styles.
Table of contents
6. Team Style
10.1. James Scouller Biography
Two crucial - though often ignored - factors in influencing leadership styles are:
- The need to adapt behaviour/style/methods according to different situations
- The psychological make-up of the leader.
To account for this, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton created their 'Managerial Grid' model in 1964, in their book, The Managerial Grid: The Key to Leadership Excellence.
I am grateful to James Scouller, an expert coach, thinker, and writer on leadership, for the contribution of most of the technical content on this article, and for the collaboration in editing it and presenting it here. Aside from what follows here, Scouller's expertise in leadership theory is evidenced particularly in his 2011 book "The Three Levels of Leadership", which I commend to you.
Blake and Mouton depicted their model as a grid with two axes:
- Concern for People
- Concern for Production
Note: 'Concern for Production' might be replaced with 'Concern for Task/Results'.
The Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid identified five kinds of leadership behaviour, of which they suggested that the Team Style is the ideal.
High People: Low Task - Here the leader has a high concern for and usually involvement with people, but a low concern for the task. There is usually an overly friendly relationship between the leader and the led group. So although leaders like this appear to care about their people and want to create a comfortable and friendly environment, this style is often not good for creating producing results. People feel good and happy, but the task lacks priority. Ironically the group suffers ultimately because they fail to achieve. The style is common among leaders who are afraid of upsetting people, and/or who fear rejection and being disliked.
Low People: LowTask - Here the leader has both a low concern for people and a low concern for the task. You may ask who would adopt this approach because it is obviously doomed to fail. The answer typically is 'leaders' who care mainly about themselves and are afraid of making mistakes. Not surprisingly, Blake and Mouton said this is the least effective approach to leadership.
Mid People: Mid Task. This is essentially an ineffectual compromise. There is some concern for the task and, equally, some concern for people, but we might also say there is not enough of either. Leaders adopting this behavioural approach try to address
the needs of the task and their followers to some extent, but do so without conviction, skill or insight and therefore reduce their effectiveness. Leadership generally requires a good degree of natural authority and decisiveness, so a style which
lacks these aspects has much room for improvement.
Low People: High Task. Here we see a high focus on the task with little or no concern for people. This style is often referred to as autocratic. Leaders using this style seek to control and dominate others. A leader like this will commonly take the view
that staff should be grateful to be employed and paid a salary. Motivation is often attempted through a threat of punishment, such as being sacked. This is a dictatorial style. In extreme cases it would be rightly regarded as ruthless. Sadly it can
be effective in the short term, and interestingly, where a group is failing to react suitably to a serious crisis then it may actually be a viable style for a short period, but the approach is not sustainable, especially where followers have the option
to walk away.
This reflects Theory X in Douglas McGregor's X-Y Theory; with the leader often operating under the assumption that individuals are naturally
lacking in motivation, and require an external stimulus to inspire productivity.
High People: High Task. This style combines a high concern for and involvement in the group with a strong well-organized and communicated focus on achieving the task. Blake and Mouton saw this as the ideal behavioural approach. Leaders who behave like this manage to blend concern for both people and organizational aims by using a collaborative teamwork approach, and plenty of consultation enabling the development of a shared (not imposed) motivation to achieving the organization's goals. This style normally requires that followers/the group are suitably mature and skilled for a high level of involvement. The style is difficult to use, and may be inadvisable when leading inexperienced people to produce challenging and vital results in a new or strange area.
This reflects Theory Y in Douglas McGregor's X-Y Theory; with the leader often operating under the assumption that individuals are naturally
self-motivated and happy to work so long as they are led well and provided with enough freedom to do so.
- Blake and Mouton noted that Team Style was preferable in an ideal world.
Following Mouton's death in 1987, Blake and his team created two additional managerial styles which are often considered to be a combination (dependent on the situation) of the previous five. These are known as Paternalistic and Opportunistic.
Paternalistic managers are described as switching regularly between the Country Club and Produce-or-Perish styles of leadership. They are often supportive and encouraging, caring for the needs of individuals
within their team, whilst simultaneously being very defensive of their decisions. They will generally not delegate any true responsibility for tasks, and will not consult on decisions with team members, but will instead dictate the terms of a role.
The Opportunistic manager can be found anywhere across the Managerial Grid, depending on the situation. These leaders will favour their own individual needs, moving themselves from quadrant to quadrant on the grid to align themselves with a style which
will suit them at any one time. They are manipulative, and will utilise their flexible managerial style to get what they need from individuals at the time.
It is important when contextualising your managerial style in accordance with the Managerial Grid, to remain objective. By analysing your individual strengths and weaknesses you can begin to plan your personal development with the aim of achieving the ultimate goal as a Team Leader.
You can break down the development process into a few simple steps:
- Identify your managerial style. Consider several recent situations when you were required to utilise your role as a manager or leader. Evaluate how you acted during these situations in accordance with the task and the team members, and position yourself along the Managerial Grid.
- Identify areas for leadership development. Now, considering where your results generally centred around, identify the particular style of styles you most closely associate with. Do these suit the context of your role or the situations that were at hand?
- Consider the skill or style gaps between you and becoming a Team Leader. If you believe yourself too Results-oriented, perhaps begin to include team members in decision-making more often, improve your communication, or maybe even delegate more responsibility. If the opposite is true, and you are strongly Person-oriented, maybe work on improving your project management or scheduling skills, or how you clearly communicate roles and tasks. Practice your new skills consistently, do not allow yourself to fall back into your previous, weaker managerial style.
- Contextualise your grid position based on the situation. The key to the Managerial Grid is retaining a level of behavioural flexibility. Some situations will require most of a Results focus than another, and vice-versa. For example, if your team is going through a major change, or a new member arrives, it may be more suitable to focus on their needs during this period. However, if the organisation is in a phase of uncertainty or struggle, it may be more suited to prioritise results slightly over the individual need for the time being.
However, as James Scouller and others have noted, the model does not naturally or fully address two particularly important dimensions of leadership:
- The need to adapt behaviour/style/methods according to different situations
- The psychological make-up of the leader
In more detail, to paraphrase Scouller:
Adopting the Team Style of leadership will not always be appropriate - for example at times of major crisis when the task is necessarily more important than people's/worker's interests, or when leading very inexperienced people towards a tough aim and tight deadline, who under such circumstances normally require very direct and firm instruction.
Also, concerning the leader's own personality make-up, not every leader can or will adopt the ideal Team Style, even after training, because of inner psychological blocks or basic personality. Some leaders are simply much more skilful in 'non-people' areas, such as strategy, visioning, building systems and structures, innovating, etc., than they are when relating to others. It is not sensible to imply that such leaders, many of whom can very effectively delegate the people/team aspects of leading, are not good leaders.
Scouller addresses these points in more detail within his Three Levels of Leadership model.
All that said, Blake and Mouton's work is highly significant.
Their thinking warrants a section in its own right within this leadership models sub-group - and it remains a very important advance in leadership theory.
I am grateful to James Scouller for his help, patience, and expert contribution in producing this leadership guide.
James Scouller is an expert coach and partner at The Scouller Partnership in the UK, which specialises in coaching leaders. He was chief executive of three international companies for eleven years before becoming a professional coach in 2004. He holds two postgraduate coaching qualifications and trained in applied psychology at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London.
James Scouller's book is called "The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill". It was published in May 2011. I commend it to you, and his thinking too.
You can learn more about James Scouller's book at three-levels-of-leadership.com.
Details of James Scouller's executive coaching work are at TheScoullerPartnership.co.uk.