Behavioral Theory of Leadership: 10 Examples and Definition (2023) (2023)

Behavioral Theory of Leadership: 10 Examples and Definition (2023) (1)

The behavioral theory of leadership states that effective leaders exhibit specific behaviors that lead to improved team performance. The focus of behavioral theories is to identify the specific actions of effective leaders.

This includes observing effective and ineffective leaders and then creating a taxonomy of what effective leaders do.

An important implication of this theoretical perspective is the idea that individuals can be trained to be leaders. H. it is managementa learned behavior.

The idea that individuals can be trained to become leaders is very appealing from an organizational perspective. Effective leadership is valued, but it is not always easy to find.

So if it is possible to simply train people in how to be an effective leader, companies can spread these skills throughout the organization and improve overall performance.

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Behavioral theory of the origins of management

The behavioral theory of leadership goes back to several developments. First, there were two dominant and related theories of management in the 20th centuryECentury: The Great Man Theory og Theory of Traits.

  • The Big Man Theoryassumed that leaders are born with a set of personality traits that emerge and become evident at critical moments (Carlyle, 1841; 2013).
  • The trait theorysimilar in that it assumes that effective leaders possess certain personality traits. In the 1940s and 1950s, researchers began to study the personality traits of successful leaders.

Both perspectives share the same premise: that leadership is something that may or may not be innate in a person.

Unfortunately, research has shown that traits that are effective in some situations are ineffective in others (Stogdill, 1948; Mann, 1959).

Ohio State University researchers began as part of the Ohio State Leadership Studies, led by Dr. Carroll L. Shartle for conducting extensive research on leadership effectiveness.

Hemphill and Coons (1950) constructed the original form of the questionnaire for describing leadership behavior. Members of a leadership team are asked to indicate the frequency with which their leader engages in a particular behavior: always, often, occasionally, rarely, or never.

Statistical analysis of the responses revealed two main factors:thoughtfulnessIinitiating structure.

The consideration factor mainly concerned relationships. Leaders who showed this priority were supportive of employees, communicated well, and were concerned about their feelings (Stogdill & Coons, 1957).

The triggering structural factors were mainly about solving tasks. Managers who demonstrated this priority engaged in work planning, planning and coordinating work-related tasks, and maintaining specific standards through adherence to procedures.

At the same time, researchers (Katz et al. 1959) from the University of Michigan also tried to describe the specific behavior of effective leaders.

This line of research is often referred to as Michigan Leadership Studies.

This research identified two primary dimensions of behavior: professional conductIEmployee-oriented behavior.

Work-oriented behavior included planning and coordinating work-related efforts and providing the necessary resources to perform tasks. Employee-oriented behavior included interpersonal relationships and attention to individual employees

Today, research has produced the Michigan Model of Leadership or Sanger Leadership.

Behavioral theory on examples of leadership

  • Management training in company X:Every year, employees of this company participate in a series of leadership workshops aimed at teaching all employees how to be effective leaders.
  • Career planning:A manager who helps his employees develop a 5-year career plan shows athoughtfulnesspart of the management.
  • Compliance with tight deadlines:For some projects, deadlines can be tight and inflexible. This requires amanagement styleIt's about making sure the team knows the deadlines and makes constant progress.
  • To provide resources:It's part of making sure a team has the resources it needs to do its jobtask orientedmanagement style.
  • accompaniment:When a manager takes an employee under his wing to give him direct guidance on how to be an effective member of the team and have a long career, he shows that he is successfulEmployee member centralTo behave.
  • Software training:Part of a task-oriented management style that can improve employee performance is ensuring that the department is equipped with the latest software and that members are properly trained.
  • Employee satisfaction survey:At the end of each year, employees are given a satisfaction survey to measure their attitude towards the organization and its leaders. This stems from a company philosophy that sees employees as valuable individuals who should be listened to and respected.
  • Occupation of project management:A manager who is too focused on getting projects off the ground and making sure the team follows company policies may miss an opportunity to improve employee morale and motivation.
  • Performance Ratings:A performance review can take place in different ways. A supervisor may lead the feedback session by being extremely critical of the employee and using a fearful and intimidating tone. Another manager may see this as an opportunity to help each member of the team identify their strengths and weaknesses and set improvement goals.
  • Professional development fund:Each member of middle management is allocated a small budget that can be used at their own discretion for professional development, as the company has a very people-oriented philosophy.

Behavioural Theory and the Management Grid af Blake og Mouton

The best known behavioral theory of leadership was developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton (1964). Her research led to the management grid, a way of visually presenting her management theory.

Similar to the Ohio State and Michigan leadership analyses, Blake and Mouton also identified two distinct leadership orientations: care for production and care for people.

According to her theory, each manager has a different degree of both concerns. For example, Leader Leader Y can be the exact opposite though. They may be very concerned about their employees, but not so much about keeping projects on track.

By analyzing a specific manager across these two dimensions, each concern was measured on a scale of 1 to 9, resulting in the leadership grid and five leadership behaviors.

Grid has undergone some terminological changes over the years. Earlier terminology appears in parentheses in the following descriptions.

  • Accommodating Style (Country Club Manager):This style is characterized by a high concern for people and a low concern for production. This usually leads to happy employees but low productivity.
  • Indifferent style (poor manager):This style is characterized by a manager who does not care about production or people. Managers with this style are concerned about their job security and are therefore reluctant to take risks.
  • Lydstil (Team Manager):This style is characterized by a high respect for production and people. This type of leader wants his employees to feel respected and encourages teamwork and participation.
  • Dictatorship style (leaders produce or perish):As the name suggests, this style is characterized by a high focus on production and little concern for people. Managers use pressure and threats of punishment to increase production, which can also lead to employee burnout and poor morale.
  • Status Quo style (middle class):This style is characterized by managers who care little about both people and production. They try to balance both priorities, which sounds admirable, but can result in neither priority being met.

Blake and McCanse (1991) suggested that it is possible for a given leader to exhibit behavior consistent with two styles. They identified two in particular: paternalistic and opportunistic.

The paternalistic style oscillates between demanding and using rewards and punishments, acting with benevolence and concern at the same time.

The opportunistic style contains many aspects of the original five styles. It is sometimes characterized as manipulative and insincere because the manager will use any technique required.

Behavioral theory of management applications

Because the behavioral theory of leadership states that effective leadership can be trained, there has been significant growth in leadership development programs over the past 50+ years.

Some of the first academic institutions to focus on leadership research, such as Ohio State University and the University of Michigan, both have extensive program options in management and organizational leadership.

The same applies to any academic institution with a designated business school.

Behavioral theory about the strengths and weaknesses of management

1. Strength: Everyone can be trained

The premise that management can be trained is very appealing to most organizations. Since people are at the heart of a company's success or failure, the opportunity for all employees to receive training and walk out the door as an effective leader is a risk most companies cannot ignore.

2. Power: Is gender neutral

Before the development of a behavioral perspective on leadership, the Great Man theory was the dominant theory. The theoretical basis for this view of leadership was the study of historical figures who were considered great leaders. These individuals were almost exclusively military or political leaders, who were predominantly male.

However, in modern times, the behavioral theory of leadership allows for the study of both male and female leaders. The theory's idea that anyone, regardless of gender, can learn to be a leader is also gender neutral and opens the door for all employees.

In this sense, van Emmerik et al. (2008) a global database of 64,000 subordinates who rated their supervisors in 42 countries. The results showed that women used both consideration and initiation structure strategies more often than men.

3. Weakness: Learning is not doing

Although anyone can take leadership training and learn about the actions and behaviors of effective leadership, there is little guarantee that the training will actually lead people to become leaders.

For example, concern for others is essentially a personality trait. Since it is not possible to change someone's personality profile, the question is whether this part of management can be transferred to everyone.

4. Weakness: Lack of cross-cultural application

The two main dimensions of managerial interest found in a behavioral theory of management were originally drawn from a Western cultural context. The main theory representing the behavioral approach, the management grid, does not incorporate cross-cultural elements into the main principles of the theory.

Despite this theoretical limitation, researchers have studied the role of culture in leadership style. Dorfman et al. (2012) report the results of more than 200 studies conducted as part of Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE).

To provide a very comprehensive summary of the findings, the report found that leaders tended to use a leadership style that suited their culture and was most effective. However, the study also found that charismatic leadership was cross-culturally effective, while participative leadership was more culturally sensitive.

5. Weakness: Ignores situational demands

The main criticism of the behavioral theory of leadership is that it does not take into account situational factors (Harrison & Harrison, 2018). Some projects may be better suited to a task-oriented management style, while others may be better suited to a people-oriented style.

For example, a head teacher in a school context can be responsible for a school where the vast majority of teachers are competent, experienced and motivated. This is a situation that corresponds to a people-oriented management style. However, behavioral approaches do not take into account the match between style and situation.

This criticism has led to the development of several other management theories, known as contingency theories, such as Fiedler's model and Hersey and Blanchard's situational management theory.


The behavioral theory of leadership focuses on identifying the apparent actions of effective leaders that distinguish them from ineffective leaders.

By creating a taxonomy of behaviors associated with effective leadership, the argument goes, others can learn to be leaders as well. All they have to do is act like effective leaders.

This is very attractive for organizations, but it also does not work so easily.

First, some of the early leadership theories were based almost entirely on the actions of male leaders. Second, leadership may be effective in some situations but not in others.

These shortcomings have led to the development of contingency-based management theories that take into account the dynamics of the situation.

The most effective leader is the one who has certain inherent qualities that are best suited to a given situation. This more differentiated approach to management is the dominant view today.


Blake, RR & Mouton, JS (1964).The leader's grid.Houston,: Gulf Publication.

Blake, RR & McCanse, AA (1991).Unfortunately, Schapsdilemma's - Grid Solutions. Houston: Gulf Publishing.

Burke, W.W. (2021). Blake, Robert R. and Jane S. Mouton: Caring for People and Production.Handbook of Organizational Change af de Palgrave Thinkers213-222.

Carlyle, T. (1841/2013).About heroes, hero worship and the heroic in history. (DR Sorensen & BE Kinser, Hrsg.). New Haven: Yale University Press. doi:

Cote, R (2017). A comparison of management theories in an organizational journal of business administration,8(5), 28. doi:

Dorfman P, Javidan M, Hanges P, Dastmalchian A & House R (2012). GLOBE: A twenty-year journey into the fascinating world of culture and leadership.Global Economy Magazine,47(4), 504-518.

Fiedler, FE (1967)A Theory of Managerial Effectiveness, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Greve, Henrich & Argote, Linda. (2015). organizational behavior theories. International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences. 10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.73121-7.

Harrison, C. and Harrison, C. (2018). Leadership research and theory.Leadership theory and research: A critical approach to new and existing paradigms15-32.

Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K.H. (1969). Life cycle theory of management.Training and development magazine.

Hemphill, J.K. & Coons, A.E. (1950). Description of Management Behavior, Columbus.Ohio State University Human Resources Research Council.

Judge, TA, Piccolo, RF, & Kosalka, T. (2009). The bright and dark sides of leadership traits: an overview and theoretical extension of the leadership traits paradigm.The Quarterly Guide,20(6), 855-875. doi:

Katz, D., Maccoby, N., Gurin, G. & Floor, L.G. (1951). Productivity, supervision, and morale among railroad workers. Ann Arbor, MI: Department of Social Research, University of Michigan.

Lewin, K., Lippitt, R. & White, K. (1939).Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created "social climates".journal of social psychology,10(2), 271-301.

Mann, R.D. (1959). A review of the relationship between personality and performance in small groups.” Psychological Bulletin, 56(4), 241-270.

Spector, B. (2016). Carlyle, Freud and the Big Man Theory in more, 12(2).

Stogdill, R. M. (1948). Personal factors associated with leadership: a review of the literature.Das Journal of Psychology, (25)1, 35-72.

Stogdill, R.M. & Coons, A.E. (Eds.). (1957). Leadership Behavior: Its Description and Measurement. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University, Bureau of Business Research.

Yukl G & Mahsud R (2010). Why flexible andAdaptive leadershipis significant.Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 6281-93.

van Emmerik, IH, Euwema, MC & Wendt, H. (2008). Leadership behavior around the world: the relative importance of gender versus cultural background.International Magazine of Intercultural Management,8(3), 297-315.

Chris Drew (PhD)

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of The Nutful Professor. He has a Ph.D. in education and has published more than 20 articles in professional journals. He is a former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.


What are the examples of behavioral theories of leadership? ›

A great example of the behavioral theory is looking at a task-oriented leader vs. a people-oriented leader. If there's a problem with a team, a task-oriented leader will look at the process to see if something needs to be adjusted with the workflow.

What is Behavioural leadership theory briefly explain? ›

Behavioral leadership theory argues that the success of a leader is based on their behavior rather than their natural attributes. Behavioral leadership theory involves observing and evaluating a leader's actions and behaviors when they are responding to a specific situation.

What are 5 behaviors good leaders demonstrate? ›

The authors discovered that when leaders experience their personal best, they display five core practices: they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. Jim and Barry called these behaviors The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.

What is Behavioural theory of leadership indeed? ›

The behavioural leadership theory is a management theory that evaluates leaders according to their behaviours, actions and management style. This philosophy proposes that all you require to become an influential leader is to adopt a specific set of behaviours.

What is an example of a behavioral theory? ›

A group of dogs would hear a bell ring and then they would be given food. After enough time, when the bell would ring the dogs would salivate, expecting the food before they even saw it. This is exactly what behaviorism argues—that the things we experience and our environment are the drivers of how we act.

Which leadership theory is most effective? ›

"Transformational leadership," is the most effective style to use in most business situations. However, you can become a more effective leader by learning about these core leadership theories, and understanding the tools and models associated with each one.

What are the 6 leadership behaviors? ›

The Top Six Leadership Behaviors
  • Building Trust. The first of the 'Transformational Leadership Behaviours' is Building Trust. ...
  • Acting With Integrity. ...
  • Inspiring Others. ...
  • Encouraging Innovative Thinking. ...
  • Coaching People. ...
  • Rewarding Achievement.

What are the four 4 leadership behaviors? ›

The four behavioral leadership styles are directive leadership, supportive leadership, participative leadership, and achievement-oriented leadership.

What is an example behavior of a true leader? ›

A true leader is always willing to have open and honest conversations with their employees. Being honest establishes a sense of trust with the team, which promotes respect and a willingness to follow your lead. Employees feel valued when they know that you take the time to communicate with them and tell them the truth.

What is behavioural theory? ›

Behavioral theory holds that psychological events can be described and explained in terms of observable behavior and its associations with environmental stimuli and occurrences.

What is the definition of behavioral style? ›

A behavioural style refers simply to how someone acts at any one time. The four behavioural styles we are primarily interested in are the aggressive, passive, assertive and upset styles. When working in the fitness industry you will come across the full range of personality types and behavioural styles.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of behavioral theory? ›

  • STRENGTH: Scientific credibility. ...
  • STRENGTH: Real-life application. ...
  • WEAKNESS: Mechanistic view of behaviour. ...
  • WEAKNESS: Environmental determinism. ...
  • WEAKNESS: Ethical and practical issues in animal experiments.

What is an example of behavioral theory of motivation? ›

Indeed, one of the most important aspects of this type of motivation is that any goal one seeks can motivate behaviour. For example, the goal of obtaining a high-paying job could serve as a strong motivator for studying hard in school.

What is an example of behavioral approach to motivation? ›

Behavioral View of Motivation  Behaviorists use two concepts: Reward: an object or event supplied as a consequence of a particular behaviour that we think is attractive. Example: a teacher might believe a good grade is a reward for those who have done their homework well.

What are the two leader behaviors in behavioral theory of leadership? ›

They found that two behavioral groups, in particular, were commonly related to effective leadership, these being task-oriented leaders and people-oriented leaders.

How is behavioral theory used today? ›

Behaviorist principles are sometimes used today to treat mental health challenges, such as phobias or PTSD; exposure therapy, for example, aims to weaken conditioned responses to certain feared stimuli. Applied behavior analysis (ABA), a therapy used to treat autism, is based on behaviorist principles.

What is an example of behavioral theory in social work? ›

Behavioral Theory

A person performs an action that's reinforced through a natural consequence or a negative consequence. Social workers often use behavioral therapy techniques to treat patients. For example, therapists may use conditioning techniques to help clients modify undesirable behaviors.

How do you apply leadership theories in workplace? ›

Applying Leadership Theories at the Workplace
  1. Maximize Your Strengths. As proposed by the Trait Theory, effective leadership depends on the traits that one possesses. ...
  2. Be Inclusive Leaders. Some of the more complex situational theories emphasize focusing on people.
Nov 11, 2018

What is the best leadership style for all situations? ›

1. Authoritative Leadership. The authoritative leader knows the mission, is confident in working toward it, and empowers team members to take charge just as she is. The authoritative leader uses vision to drive strategy and encourages team members to use their strengths and emerge as leaders themselves.

Which of the 3 leadership styles do you think is the most effective? ›

The democratic leadership style is one of the most effective because it encourages everyone to participate in all processes, share their opinions, and know that you will hear them. It also encourages employees to be engaged because they know you will hear their feedback.

What are the three basic behavioral types of leaders? ›

And each successful leader develops a style based on their own personality, goals, and business culture based on one of these three leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Why is leadership behavior important? ›

Leadership behaviours are the combination of specific characteristics that leaders have and the actions they take. Strong leadership behaviours make someone an effective leader. Negative leadership behaviours can undermine their credibility and make them less convincing, effective and inspiring.

What are the behaviors of a good leader? ›

They inspire others to act by creating a strong shared sense of organizational purpose, hold their teams accountable for their own destiny, prioritize growth and problem-solving skills, and tend to be humble, compassionate, and transparent — not to mention, great communicators. Leadership development experts Dr.

What is the 7 most common leadership style? ›

The seven primary leadership styles are: (1) Autocratic, (2) Authoritative, (3) Pace-Setting, (4) Democratic, (5) Coaching, (6) Affiliative, (7) Laissez-faire.

What is the behavior of a leader? ›

Leadership behavior refers to the traits and actions that make an individual effective as a leader. This behavior is the process by which a person can guide, direct and influence the work of others to meet specific goals. Leaders can learn these actions and strategies to increase the effectiveness of those around them.

What is 1 example of leadership? ›

Examples of leadership include managing a study group, coaching a sports team, being elected onto a council team, and being a role model to younger or less experienced people.

How many types of leadership behavior are there? ›

In 1939, psychologist Kurt Lewin and a team of researchers determined that there were three basic leadership styles: Authoritarian (Autocratic), Participative (Democratic) and Delegative (Laissez-Faire).

What is the difference between situational and behavioral theory of leadership? ›

Situational Theory recommends leaders to adopt a leadership style depending on the situation at hand, while the Behavioral Theory is all about the learning the skills necessary to become a good leader.

What are the three leadership theories? ›

There are many opinions and theories about leadership because it is such a broad concept/term, but three of the main leadership theories are the Great Man Theory, the Trait Theory, and the behavioral Role Theory.

What is Behavioural approach? ›

Human behavior is learned, thus all behavior can be unlearned and newbehaviors learned in its place. Behaviorism is concerned primarily with theobservable and measurable aspects of human behavior. Therefore when behaviorsbecome unacceptable, they can be unlearned.

What are the different types of behavioral leadership styles? ›

The four behavioral leadership styles are directive leadership, supportive leadership, participative leadership, and achievement-oriented leadership. Each style has its merits and drawbacks. Leaders can utilize aspects of each style to better meet the needs of employees and motivate them to perform well.

What are the four types of leader behavior based on situational leadership theory? ›

According to Blanchard and Heresy's theory of Situational Leadership, there are four leadership styles: telling, selling (coaching), participating, and delegating. An effective leader can adapt and manipulate these styles to maximize employee potential.

What is situational leadership theory definitions and examples? ›

Situational Leadership® means adapting your leadership style to each unique situation or task to meet the needs of the team or team members. Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed the Situational Leadership® Theory in 1969. They believe that there is no “one size fits all” leadership style.

What are the 7 importance of leadership? ›

Seven important leadership qualities that help leaders build influence and trust with team members are accountability, adaptability, authenticity, good communication, compassion, self-awareness, and flexibility. These qualities enable leaders to forge strong connections that result in exceptional performance.

Which behaviour leadership has three styles? ›

And each successful leader develops a style based on their own personality, goals, and business culture based on one of these three leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Who developed Behavioural theory of leadership? ›

In the 1950s Dr. Rensis Likert lead a study at the University of Michigan attempting to find characteristics (behaviors) of effective leadership. He found three common behaviors. The first two backed up the LBDQ findings to show that task-oriented and people-oriented leaders are common effective examples.

What are the positives of Behavioural theory? ›

The main advantages of this theory are that it can generate predictable outcomes, which can be measured and tested. It can be used in therapy to help shift behaviors away from negative ones to positive ones.

What are the pros of behavioral theory? ›

Advantages Of Behavioral Theory
  • It helps determine the leadership styles of managers and team leaders.
  • It helps managers determine how their leadership style affects their relationship with the team and promotes commitment towards business goals.
Nov 24, 2020

What is the advantage of behavioral theory? ›

Accessibility. Unlike some other leadership theories, the behavioral theory supports the idea that anyone can be a leader. It suggests that certain behaviors make people into leaders, not qualities that they may have inherently. This enables anyone to become a leader based on what they learn and the decisions they make ...

How is the behavioral approach used today? ›

Behaviorist principles are sometimes used today to treat mental health challenges, such as phobias or PTSD; exposure therapy, for example, aims to weaken conditioned responses to certain feared stimuli. Applied behavior analysis (ABA), a therapy used to treat autism, is based on behaviorist principles.

What is the focus of the behavioral approach? ›

The behavioral approach focuses exclusively on what leaders do and how they act. In shifting the study of leadership to leader behaviors, the behavioral approach expanded the research of leadership to include the actions of leaders toward followers in various contexts.

What are the three stages of behaviorism? ›

Answer and Explanation: The three stages of behaviorism are Watsonian Behaviorism (1915-1930), Neobehaviorism (1930-1960), and Sociobehaviorism (1960-1990).


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