What is behavioural leadership theory? Definition and types

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

One of the management philosophies for leadership is the behavioural approach to leadership. This theory evaluates leaders based on their actions in the workplace. Learning about this leadership approach can benefit you if you want to be an efficient leader or implement a new leadership style. In this article, we consider what the behavioural leadership theory is, discuss the behaviours associated with particular leadership styles and look at the skills of effective leaders.

Related: What are the main responsibilities of a team leader?

What is the behavioural leadership theory?

Behavioural leadership theory states that a leader's behaviour in the workplace determines their success. The approach involves observing and evaluating a leader's behaviours in response to specific situations. It states that people learn leadership skills and are not born with them. Followers of this approach believe that anyone can become an effective leader if they understand and implement particular behaviours.

This type of leadership applies to several career paths and fields. Using the criteria specified by the leadership behaviour theory, it's possible to assess the efficiency of project managers, activities coordinators, CEOs and other professional leaders. This leadership approach encourages leaders to develop self-awareness of their behaviour to recognise how it impacts their team's morale and productivity.

Related: The ultimate guide to management styles

Types of leadership behaviour

There are a variety of different leadership behavioural styles you can adopt. Each style involves different behaviours, which may be more or less effective, depending on the work environment:

1. People-focused leaders

People-focused leaders use behaviours that focus on the needs of the people they engage with, including employees, clients and supervisors. Communication and interpersonal connection drive their actions. People-focused leaders develop relationships with their team members to help motivate their performance. This leadership style is suitable for:

  • promoting cooperation

  • celebrating work success

  • monitoring the team's performance

  • coaching team members

2. Task-focused leaders

Task-focused leaders prefer focusing on goal-setting and the achievement of objectives. They thrive in a structured work environment and may sometimes display authoritative behaviour. Their focus is usually more on the team's ultimate results and not its daily development process. Task-oriented leaders commonly perform these actions:

  • initiate projects

  • streamline workflows

  • explain their expectations

  • compile data and other statistics

3. Participative leaders

Participative leaders want to include their entire team in decision-making processes. They prefer communication, feedback and collaboration with their teams. Participative leaders identify their team members' strengths and weaknesses and assign tasks based on their suitability to a particular team member. This leadership approach allows each team member to voice their opinions. Participative leaders typically take the following actions:

  • facilitate team meetings

  • request constructive feedback

  • listen to suggestions for improvement

  • delegate tasks to individuals based on their strengths

Related: Inspirational leader characteristics plus how to become one

4. Status-quo leaders

Status-quo leaders try to balance productivity and employee satisfaction. They make sure the team completes their tasks on time while providing encouragement and support. These leaders try to meet their team members' needs without going beyond expectations. Some of the typical behaviours displayed by status-quo leaders are:

  • even distribution of tasks

  • requests for regular progress reports

  • fair enforcement of the organisation's policies

  • neutral response to feedback

5. Indifferent leaders

An indifferent leader doesn't prioritise communication or interaction with their team members. They typically oversee the team's progress from a distance and don't contribute to the team's daily work efforts. Their primary focus is on their personal advancement and success. The indifferent leadership approach is one of the most ineffective leadership types because it lacks cooperation with team members. Indifferent leaders typically:

  • avoid questions

  • procrastinate

  • focus on self-preservation

  • assign tasks they don't want to team members

6. Dictatorial leaders

Dictatorial leaders value progress and performance more than their team members. They may pressurise team members to perform well during challenging or stressful times. This type of leader may deliver high-quality results, but their teams may have a high turnover due to staff burnout and dissatisfaction. The typical behaviours of a dictatorial leader include:

  • inflexibility about deadlines

  • no regard for excuses

  • ignoring team member's feedback

  • focusing on achieving short-term goals

7. Country club leaders

A country club leader prioritises the satisfaction and happiness of their team members. They believe that a comfortable team has a higher probability of performing well and completing work tasks successfully. The team members of a country club leader show higher levels of loyalty and trust because the leader considers their needs. Some country club leaders may improve their team's morale or relationships in the work environment, but sacrifice productivity. The behaviour of country club leaders often includes:

  • responding to feedback from team members

  • focusing on team members' well-being

  • defending their team members' rights and interests

  • supporting the decisions their team members make

8. Sound leaders

Sound leadership is one of the most effective types of leadership, but it's challenging to implement in practice. These leaders balance productivity and team morale. Although they value their team members, they set reasonable goals to deliver high-quality results. Sound leaders require a high level of motivation to be successful and find their team's performance and progress satisfying. The behaviours sound leaders exhibit include:

  • encouraging transparent communication

  • allowing independent work by employees

  • listening to and responding to feedback

  • providing training and continuing the education of their team members

9. Opportunistic leaders

Opportunistic leaders don't have a primary leadership style. They choose behaviours from the other leadership styles and adapt their behaviour to different work situations. Opportunistic leaders focus on goals and use a variety of methods to ensure they meet their objectives. For example, as a significant deadline approaches, they may use a dictatorial approach and then shift to a country club leadership style to repair their relationship with their team afterwards. The actions of an opportunistic leader vary but typically include:

  • no consistency

  • focusing on results without regarding the costs involved

  • enforcing their standards for success

  • caring for their team with a focus on performance improvement

Related: 9 essential team leader skills

10. Paternalistic leaders

A paternal leader tries to be strict, but fair. This leadership style is similar to how a parent approaches their relationship with their children. A paternalistic leader focuses on goals but is flexible about the method followed to achieve their goals. They value their team members' skills and strengths and offer them development opportunities to improve their skills. Behaviours typically associated with the paternalistic leadership style are:

  • rewarding excellent performance and success

  • disciplining failure or lack of progress

  • disregarding feedback from team members

  • offering development and leadership opportunities to the best-performing employees

Advantages of the behavioural model of leadership

The behavioural model focuses on the benefits of leadership styles, emphasising people and collaboration. It encourages collaborative decision making and team building by supporting individual needs and aligning the objectives of individuals and groups. As a manager or leader, the model enables you to examine and understand the impact of your behavioural style on your relationship with your team members. It also increases commitment to organisational success. This model allows you to find the best balance between the different leadership styles. It also helps you decide how to behave as a leader by considering employees and productivity.

Related: How to build a successful team: a step-by-step guide

Limitations of the behavioural approach of leadership

Although the behavioural model speaks to leadership styles and encourages the use of different leadership styles in different situations and groups, it doesn't specify which leadership style to use in specific circumstances. The people and the work environment influence the leadership style a manager adopts significantly. This means that there's not one perfect leadership style that all managers can use under all circumstances.

The behaviours and skills of effective leaders

As an effective leader, your skills influence your leadership behaviour and shape the type of manager you become. The most effective leadership behaviours from the different leadership styles include:

  • listening to feedback

  • encouraging communication between team members

  • supporting employees to improve their productivity

  • giving employees autonomy

  • setting realistic deadlines for deliverables

  • considering each team member's interests and skills when assigning tasks

  • regular and consistent performance meetings with employees to provide feedback

  • motivating employees to work together and independently, as required

  • establishing and nurturing a healthy team and organisational culture

To display these behaviours, you may require the following skills:

  • accessible to all levels of employees

  • optimal time management

  • effective prioritisation of tasks

  • adaptive planning

  • ability to connect with team members

  • clear communication

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