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Style approach

This approach to leadership focuses on the leader’s behaviours by identifying what they do and how they act.

This approach assumes that one style of leadership behaviour cannot be effective in all situations (Northouse 2013). Therefore, the performance of the leaders may sometimes be affected or influenced by their followers or other circumstances.

McCaffery (2004) identified two kinds of behaviours:

  • Task-oriented behaviour: facilitate goal accomplishment and help group members achieve objectives.

  • Relationship-oriented behaviour: helps group members to feel comfortable with themselves and others in different situations.

Seminal studies on behaviour

Some of the influential studies on the style approach include The Ohio State University Study, The University of Michigan Study and Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid.

The University of Michigan and Ohio State University studies undertook research to identify the core behaviours of effective leadership. Both universities identified the same results, identifying two essential behaviours, namely task and relationship behaviour (Northouse 2013).

Blake and Mouton’s managerial grid

Blake and Mouton’s managerial grid has been highly influential in the style approach to leadership. It presents five alternative behavioural styles of leadership and illustrates two behavioural dimensions: the ‘concern for people’ and the ‘concern for results’.

Blake and Mouton’s managerial grid. Concern for production is the x-axis and concern for people is the y-axis; each axis ranges from low to high. On to this grid are mapped four leadership styles. 'Impoverished management' is in the bottom corner of the grid with low concern for both people and results. Next along the y-axis is 'Produce-or-perish management' which has high concern for results but low concern for people. Moving up the x-axis, 'country club management' has high concern for people but low concern for results whilst 'team management' has high concern for both people and results

Country-club management Focuses highly on people and little on results
Team management Focuses highly on both people and results
Impoverished management Doesn’t focus highly on either people or results
Produce-or-perish management Focuses highly on results and shows little concern for people
Middle-of-the-road management Attempts to balance concern for people and results


Northouse (2013) identified the following:

  • Validated by a wide range of studies, therefore making it a more credible and viable approach to understanding the leadership process
  • Focuses on two key behaviours: task and relationships
  • Broadened the scope of leadership studies to encompass the behaviours of leaders and what they do in various situations


Northouse (2013) identified the following:

  • Unable to identify a universal style of leadership that should be appropriate in all situations
  • Failed to show how a leader’s style is associated with performance outcomes
  • Established what the most effective leadership style is (team management). Note that other studies have argued that certain situations may require different leadership styles.

Your task

Examine your own leadership style (or that of your manager). Which leadership style do you most often demonstrate? Reflecting on the above, do you think you need to change your leadership style to get the best results, both in terms of people and production?

Discuss your experiences and views with others.


Northouse, P. (2013) Leadership: Approach and practice. 6th edn. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publishing

McCaffery, P. (2004) The Higher Education Manager’s Handbook: Effective Leadership and Management in Universities and Colleges. New York: Routledge

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This article is from the free online course:

Leadership Theory: The Basics

Coventry University