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6.4.2 Leadership Style

Later theories of leadership recognised that leaders might be usefully described in terms of what they actually do (their behavioural style), rather than just the traits that they possess. The underlying distinction in the behavioural style approach is between two different styles of leadership: task-orientation (where the leader is concerned with task-related actitivies, such as allocating tasks and setting deadlines); and, relationship-orientation (where the leader is concerned with the subordinates, such as being friendly and approachable, developing communication and encouraging participation).

Gender differences in leadership style

A common perception is that female managers tend to have a more participative style of leadership, whilst men tend to be more autocratic.

- In a large survey conducted in the US by Kabacoff (1998), women were found to score higher on people-oriented leadership skills and also on scales measuring orientation towards production and the attainment of results. On the other hand, men scored higher on scales assessing an orientation towards strategic planning and organisational vision and were perceived to have more effective business-oriented leadership skills.

- In a meta-analysis, which summarised the findings of over 160 empirical studies examining gender differences in leadership style, Eagly and Johnson (1990) found little evidence that women were perceived as differing in effectiveness or behaviour relative to men.

- However, a more recent meta-analysis (Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt & Engen, 2003) supported a small advantage for women, who tend to demonstrate higher levels of transformational leadership. However, Eagly & Carli (2003) conclude that this advantage can be cancelled out by context. Women in leadership roles within male-dominated environments were still perceived as less effective than men.

Based on the distinction between autocratic (task-oriented) and democratic (relationship-oriented) leadership, Likert (1967) developed the 'four systems' typology of leadership style. This typology extends the dichotomy between task and relationship orientation to consider the degree of employee involvement in decision making and the nature of communication with the leader (see Table 1).

Table1: Likert's (1967) leadership style typology.

Exploitive authoritative

Based on fear and threats

One-way communication

Decision making is centralised

Consultative leadership

Based on appropriate rewards

Two-way communication (limited upwards communication)

Decision making is decentralised (limited)

Benevolent authoritative

Based on rewards

One-way communication

Decision-making is centralised (may be some delegation)

Participative leadership

Based on group participation

Two-way communication

Decision making is decentralised

However, evidence for the effectiveness of participative leadership suggests that it will not be the most appropriate form of leadership in all circumstances. For example, where a decision needs to be made quickly, the participative style, which involves extensive consultation, may be too time-consuming. In addition, strategic change may be managed more effectively from the top, using a directive style. The need for an effective leader to change style in order to match the situation highlights the need for flexibility. This might be viewed as personality trait (refer back to trait theories in section 6.4.1), or as a learned ability to cope with change.

A quick task: Under what circumstances would each of Likert's four typologies of leadership be effective? Might there be some work situations that require a different form of leadership than others?