Why do we need leaders? Our instincts might tell us – so things get done. But if that is the answer then we need a lot of leaders because we would be expecting everything to fall on the shoulders of the leaders, expecting leaders to accomplish tasks leaving others to not have to take action.

The focus on what leaders do and how they act is their behavioral approach. Traits of leaders lead us to look at what we believe to be exceptional skills and abilities of leaders to reach goals, but the behavior of leaders focuses actions towards their followers. Who are followers? Followers can be a wide variety of individuals depending on the situation, they are anyone who might be influenced by a leader. For example, employees, volunteers, committee members, or a division manager who reports to leadership, etc. In a farming or ranching business, depending on the structure, the owner is most likely the leader and employees the followers; or a supervisor (manager) could be a leader and again employees or staff who report to the supervisor would be followers.

Behavior Types: Task vs. Relationship

Research has found it to be most-effective when leaders utilize the two kinds of behavior: task behavior and relationship behavior.

  1. Task behavior – how one sets out to accomplish the goal. For example, leaders will help their followers achieve the goal or outcomes by identifying tasks to achieve those objectives.
  2. Relationship behavior – focusing on the followers and the ability of followers to grow themselves from the experience. For example, providing an environment and leadership style makes followers feel comfortable with the setting, and the team (group/co-workers).

Example Leadership Styles

The following example may further explain how leading from the two different behavior perspectives can impact the followers. Let’s take a look at two farms and their two owners who both recently hired a new employee.

  • Farmer A: On the employees first day of work, Farmer A meets briefly with the new employee, goes over a few of the main daily tasks which occur on the farm, explains a project the employee could start working on that day. Farmer A ends their meeting and says they will check back with the new employee tomorrow.
  • Farmer B: On the employee’s first day of work for Farmer B, the Farmer also meets with the employee, goes over a few of the daily tasks which occur on the farm, then spends time getting to know the new employee. They have a discussion where the farmer takes the opportunity to learn more about the new employee such as hobbies, interests, special skills and even about their family and the Farmer shares back some information as well. Farmer B then leaves the meeting and says he will see the employee tomorrow.

Keys to Success

Very different styles were demonstrated to these employees on their first day of work. Farmer A was very task oriented and Farmer B relationship focused. The key to success is not which one of these is better, but to understand the follower and over time for the leader to adjust their leadership behavior to most appropriately fit the follower. Maybe the follower needs a mix of task and relationship leadership or maybe the employee in situation B really is the one who would excel more from task direction than relationship direction. The key to being an effective leader is learning how and when to balance these two behaviors.