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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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The Leadership Challenge

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.


The Management Pocketblog is absolutely bristling with articles about leadership and leadership models. There is a roundup of some of the best at the end of this one and we wil make use of them in the exercises within this blog. So, for the Pocket Correspondence course, I want to look at a different model: sometimes called ‘The Leadership Challenge’ after the book that introduced it, and more properly known as ‘The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership’.

The authors, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, researched thousands of personal case studies to extract five core behaviours which they believe represent leadership at its best. These five practices therefore represent a ‘behavioural model’ of leadership, rather than a style or traits based model. The behaviours fulfil five essential roles of a leader.

Along with the model, they have developed a wealth of evaluation and developmental tools that form one of the most coherent packages available to managers who want to develop as leaders.

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

The Leadership Challenge

I don’t want to say too much about this excellent model directly, because it would be wrong to infringe upon the authors’ copyright. Instead, I want to use this module for self study.

Exercise 1: Learn about The Leadership Challenge

If you aspire to lead, then this is essential reading and the authors have written a number of books and proprietary resources that are available from your favourite booksellers. But they also make a a wealth of valuable material available for you to look at on their website, at: http://www.leadershipchallenge.com.

Exercise 2: Compare and Contrast

Another well-known and valuable role-based model of leadership is John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership. Take a look at it in the earlier blog post: Team Leadership.  What features do they share, and what does each offer to complement the other?

Take a look too, at the four common abilities of a leader in Manager to Leader: Warren Bennis (Part 2). How does this model fit with your emerging understanding?

Exercise 3: Traits and Styles

Thinking about styles of leadership, take a look at the earlier blog in The Pocket Correspondence Course, Situational Leadership. And, whilst there are few formal models about the traits of leaders, the Pocketblog Aubrey and Maturin, Arthur and Merlin highlights the different traits of fictional pairings, both of whom show different styles of leadership: Aubrey and Maturin, Arthur and Merlin, Kirk and Spock, and Holmes and Watson.

Further Reading 

  1. The Leadership Pocketbook
  2. The Management Models Pocketbook
    Specifically covers the Leadership Continuum and Action Centred Leadership

The best Pocketblogs about Leadership

  1. Situational Leadership
  2. The Science of Leadership: Warren Bennis (Part 1)
  3. Manager to Leader: Warren Bennis (Part 2)
  4. The Apprentice and Five Levels of Leadership
    (Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’)
  5. Team Leadership
    (John Adair’s ‘Action Centred Leadership’)
  6. Aubrey and Maturin, Arthur and Merlin
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Aubrey and Maturin, Arthur and Merlin

I have just finished a ten year endeavour – reading all twenty of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey – Maturin novels, two a year.  These are set in the time of Napoleon, among characters of Britain’s Royal Navy.  Here, ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey is one of Nelson’s Band of Brothers – a fighting Captain sailing a fine frigate with a well-trained crew around the world, fighting for England.  Stephen Maturin is his friend, his ship’s surgeon, a skilled naturalist and an intelligence officer for the Admiralty.

Captain Jack Aubrey (left, played by Russell Crowe) and Dr Stephen Maturin (right, played by Paul Bettany) in the Twentieth Century Fox film ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World ’.

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That’s enough of the ‘fan stuff’.  If you are a fan, you know all of this – if you aren’t, you either don’t care, or will one day pick up the first book in the series, ‘Master and Commander’, and become hopelessly hooked.

By the way, the movie ‘Master and Commander’ was subtitled ‘The Far Side Of The World’ because it was most closely based on the tenth novel of that name.

Back to Management…  and Leadership

There are too many models of leadership to name, but one of the commonest approaches is to consider how to combine and apply different leadership styles to a situation.  These are sometimes called ‘contingency models’ or ‘situational models’.  Whilst the best known are the trademarked and copyrighted models of situational leadership promoted by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, they all track back to the earliest and possibly the best; that of Tannenbaum and Schmidt.

Attention to task and Attention to the person

All of these (and we could throw around names like Mouton & Blake, and Fiedler too) combine how much attention we give to getting the job done, focusing on facts and data; and how much we attend to the people concerned and our relationship with them.  My worry is that these do not account for the extraordinary leadership O’Brian’s two characters show throughout over 6,000 pages of historically detailed and compelling novels.

Did Patrick O’Brian get it wrong?

This is a fair question, but I think we have to conclude not.  Not only do the characters ring true to thousands (maybe millions) of readers, but Jack Aubrey at least is based closely on a real person, Lord Thomas Cochrane.  Maybe, then, these models of leadership are missing something.

Arthur and Merlin, Watson and Holmes, Kirk and Spock

Captain Kirk is a fearless warrior, prepared to take on any odds in fighting for what he believes in.  So are King Arthur, Dr Watson and Captain Aubrey.  They mobilise their resources and use whatever skills, knowledge and power they have to protect what they value.  Great leader are fighters, prepared to rally their followers and inspire them with their courage, persistence and, ultimately, sacrifice.

Sherlock Holmes, whilst equally fearless, stands for something creative, insightful and even mystical, in his mastery of the finest detail of his science.  So too with Merlin, Mr Spock and Dr Maturin.  People follow them, not because of their desire to fight, but because of the sacrifice they have made in mastering their science or their art.  They are visionary and knowledgeable to a degree that inspires others to follow them.

Where are the task focused and
people focused leaders in fiction?

They are there, in the background, getting the job done and looking after the walk-on characters.  Dr McCoy, Mrs Hudson, Guinevere, Killick, Pullings, Lancelot, Scotty, Lestrade.  Often they are important characters in bringing balance, but they are not the ones who compel our attention.  They are heroes in their own right, but are loved for their contribution to the whole story and their support of those who dominate.

So here’s the deal

Leadership has many dimensions: fighting for what you believe in, a passionate commitment to a body of knowledge or skills, a deep concern for people, a resolute determination to see a job through, and many more.  Your model of leadership must focus on the style of leader you choose to be.  Don’t accept someone else’s model uncritically – it may not work for you.

But also know that to really lead, you need a supporting cast of other heroes to support you or, from another point of view, you can lead without being a star, in a supporting role that brings balance and wholeness.

… and, if you haven’t already done so, go order a copy of ‘Master and Commander’, read it, become hopelessly hooked, and learn new ways to think about management and leadership.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Leadership Pocketbook
– looks at a range of leadership styles

The Management Models Pocketbook
– describes Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Leadership Continuum, and also John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership

The Motivation Pocketbook
– lots of ways a leader can motivate their followers

The Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook
– activities like sailing a 28 gun frigate into battle, exploring space in a starship, solving a brutal murder, and questing for the holy grail
… are strangely missing from an otherwise excellent selection!

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