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Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt: Leadership Continuum

Among many types of model of leadership is one that is particularly useful to practical day-to-day managers: situational leadership. And by far the best version of this idea was developed by two UCLA professors, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt. Their 1958 article (reprinted in 1973) is one of the most reprinted from Harvard Business Review.

Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt
Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt

Robert Tannenbaum

Robert Tannenbaum was born in 1916, in Colorado. He studied at The University of Chicago, gaining an AB in Business Administration in 1937, and his MBA in 1938. The following year, he started his PhD in Industrial Relations also at Chicago, but his studies were interrupted by the war.

After serving as a Lieutenant in the US Navy, he returned to his PhD, which he defended in 1948. From there, he went to teach at the UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he remained until his retirement in 1977.

Warren H Schmidt

Warren Schmidt was born in 1920, in Detroit, and took a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Wayne State University. He then became ordained as a Lutheran minister.

He changed direction again, and after gaining his PhD in Psychology at Washington University, he went to teach at the University of Southern California and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he met Tannenbaum.

By the by, Schmidt is the first of our Management Thinkers and Doers who has won an Oscar. In 1969, he wrote an Op Ed piece for the LA times, titled ‘Is it Always Right to be Right’. This was well received and turned into a short animated movie, narrated by Orson Welles. It won the Academy Award for Best Short Animated Film in 1970.

The Leadership Behaviours Continuum

In what is regarded as a classic 1958 Harvard Business Review article, ‘How to Choose a Leadership Pattern‘, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H Schmidt set out a range of leadership behaviours.  They set out seven distinct stages on a continuum, which vary from telling team members their decision, through selling their idea and consulting on the problem, to handing over decision-making.

Tannenbaum & Schmidt - Leadership Behaviour Continuum
Tannenbaum & Schmidt – Leadership Behaviour Continuum
A range of behaviours from the purely authoritarian ‘Manager makes a decision and announces it’ through five intermediate styles, to the most democratic ‘Manager allows group to make a decision’ within appropriate constraints.

Equally valuable is their assessment of how a manager can decide how to lead and choose which of the styles will work best.  They argue you must consider three forces:

  • Forces in the manager
    Your values and style, and your assessment of the risk
  • Forces in the team-members
    Your assessment of their readiness and enthusiasm to assume responsibility
  • Forces in the situation
    Time pressure, the group’s effectiveness, organisational culture

This article is a foundation for what is now known as ‘Situational Leadership, and the two trademarked models developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard.

The Seven Leadership Behaviours

1. Manager makes the decision and announces it
This is a purely authoritarian style of leadership, with no consideration given to other points of view. Most appropriate in a crisis, the manager sets clear instructions and expectations.

2. Manager ‘sells’ their decision
The manager takes  the role of decision-maker but advocates their decision, appealing to  benefits to the group. Valuable when you need the group’s support.

3. Manager presents their decision and invites questions
The manager is still in control, but allows the group to explore the ideas to better understand the decision. The manager answers to their team, without committing to honour their opinions.

4. Manager presents a tentative decision, subject to change
Now the group’s opinions can count. The manager identifies and resolves the problem, but consults their team before making their own decision.

5. Manager presents the problem, gets suggestions and then makes a decision
Still the manager retains ultimate decision-making authority. But now, they share responsibility for finding the solution with the group, who can influence the final decision.

6. Manager defines the limits within which the group makes the decision
Now decision-making sits with the team. The manager defines the problem and sets boundaries within which the group can operate, which may constrain the final decision.

7. Manager allows group to make decision, subject to organisational constraints
The group has as much freedom as the manager is able to grant them. The manager may help the group and again, commits to respect the decision the group arrives at.

For More Information

This model is fully described, with analysis, in The Management Models Pocketbook.

 

GAC RIP 2/5/2010

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Delegation: Double your Capacity

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Management is not about doing things: it is about getting things done. So a large part of your responsibility is allocating work among your team and developing people to take on more demanding challenges. Delegation – getting other people to do aspects of your work – is a part both of effective working and of developing people.

Whilst there are lots of poor reasons for delegating – like off-loading unpleasant tasks, or abdicating responsibility – there are many positive benefits to you, to your team, and to your organisation.

Exercise 1: The Reasons to Delegate?

Make a list of all of the good reasons to delegate. To help you, consider the question from three perspectives:

  1. How can you benefit?
  2. How can your team members benefit?
  3. How can your organisation benefit?

Failure to delegate

The problem is that many managers constantly find excuses for not delegating; even when they know they ought to for many of the reasons you have probably identified. What are yours?

Exercise 2: Excuses for Not Delegating

Here are some excuses I commonly encounter. For each of these, how would you counter the excuse?

  • “I’d be better off doing it myself”
  • “I don’t want to overload my staff”
  • “I don’t have the time to delegate”
  • “I know exactly how I want it done”
  • “If I ask him/her to do it, he/she will be nagging me every five minutes”

How to Delegate

Some people use these excuses simply because they don’t feel comfortable with the process of delegation. Indeed, many guides either make it seem like a big deal, or they miss out an important aspect of the process, leaving people wondering why it fails. So let’s look at the basic delegation process.

Delegation

Step 1. Matching

Understand the task, its level of importance and urgency, and the risks associated with it. Then consider the people available to you, and their abilities, strengths, preferences, and their existing commitments. Also think about their development routes. Now match the task to the most suitable person.

Step 2. Briefing

Brief effectively. Taking time to do this properly is an investment that will result in fewer interruptions, a greater chance of innovation and excellence, and a reduced chance of mistakes and failures.

Step 3. Commitment

After you have briefed and answered any questions, ask if they:

  • Understand the task required
  • Can carry out the task required – do they have the ability and availability?
  • Believe the resources and time allocated are sufficient for the task required

Then ask for their commitment to do the task required. In return, offer your commitment to support and monitor the process.

Step 4. Monitoring

An important part of risk management and of developing the person you have delegated to is to monitor their performance. Monitor more or less frequently, depending on your level of confidence and certainty, and the level of risk.  Remember: when you delegate a task, you retain responsibility for it.

Step 5. Feedback

When the job is done, offer objective feedback on performance, recognise the work done and contribution made, reward it with thanks and praise, and highlight what the person can learn from their experience.

Further Reading 

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