Behavioral Theory

Understanding the Emergence of Leaders Based on the Behavioral Theory

The behavioral theory concentrates on what leaders actually do rather than on their qualities. Emerging in the 1940s – 1950s, the behavioral theorists offered a different perspective on leadership by focusing on the behaviors of the leaders as opposed to the trait leadership theoristsOpens in new window which focused on leader's mental, physical, or social characteristics.

This approach asserted that anyone with the right conditioning could become effective leaders. In other words, leaders can be made, and are not necessarily only born leaders.

The behavioral theories first divided leaders into two categories: those concerned with tasks and those concerned with people, referred to as task-oriented behaviors and people-oriented behaviors, respectively.

This theory suggested that leaders may exhibit some mix of task-oriented and people-oriented behaviors. It further posited that although they are not the only important leadership behaviors, concern for tasks and concern for people must be shown at some reasonable level.

Behavioral theories suggest that effective leadership is the result of many learned skills. Thus, leaders need three primary skills to lead their followers—technical, human, and conceptual skills.

  1. Technical skills refer to a leader’s knowledge of the process or technique.
  2. Human skills mean that one is able to interact with other individuals.
  3. Conceptual skills enable the leader to come up with ideas for running the organization or society smoothly.

Clearly, how leaders behave affects their performance. Researchers have realized, though, that many of these leadership behaviors are appropriate at different times.

The best leaders are those who can use many different behavioral styles, and choose the right style for each situation.

Two key conclusions that leaders can take away from the behavioral approaches are the following:

Important research programs on leadership behavior were conducted at Ohio State UniversityOpens in new window, the University of MichiganOpens in new window, and the University of Texas.

All three research studies indicated that varying degrees of both a concern for tasks and a concern for people or employees were important leadership behaviors.