The Michigan Studies on Leadership Styles

The University of Michigan Leadership Studies:

A famous series of studies on leadership were done in Michigan University, starting in the 1950s with the objective of identifying the principles and types of leadership styles that led to greater productivity and enhanced job satisfaction among workers. The research team investigated the relationship between supervisory behavior and employee productivity and satisfaction. This study was led by the famous organizational psychologist, Dr. Rensis Likert at University of Michigan Survey Research Centre and identified two major styles of leadership orientations-Employee Orientation and Production Orientation. The Michigan studies were conducted around the same time as the Ohio State Leadership Studies, which identified the focus on task ('Initiating Structure') and people ('Consideration'). 

Introduction to Dr. Rensis Likert: 

Rensis Likert (5 August 1903–3 September 1981) was an American educator and organizational psychologist best known for his research on management styles. Rensis Likert was a founder of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and was the director from its inception in 1946 until 1970, when he retired and founded Rensis Likert Associates to consult for numerous corporations. Early in his career Likert sought to find effective and systematic means of studying human attitudes and the factors that influence them. He developed scales for attitude measurement and introduced the concept of participative management. 

Findings of the Study: 

The studies founded three critical characteristics of effective leaders; two of which were previously observed in studies that had been conducted at Ohio State University: 

1. Task-oriented behavior: 

First, they identified task-oriented behavior in managers who did not do the same types of tasks as their subordinates. This group of managers spent time planning, coordinating, and overseeing their subordinates’ execution of tasks. The production oriented style of the leader emphasizes production and technical aspects of the job. He looks at subordinates or employees as tools to accomplish the goals of the organization. Work, working condition and work methods are tried to be understood better in his style of the leadership orientation. 

Effective managers studied did not do the same kind work as their subordinates. Their tasks were different, and included planning and scheduling work, coordinating activities and providing necessary resources. They also spent time guiding subordinates in setting task goals that were both challenging and achievable. 

2. Relationship-oriented behavior:

A second type of leader exhibited relationship-oriented behavior. These managers concentrated on the task results, but also developed relationships with their subordinates. They were supportive and focused on internal rewards as well as external rewards. The employee oriented style of the leader emphasizes the relationship aspect of the jobs of the individual. Such a leader takes interest in every one and accepts the individuality and personal needs of the individual. He has complete confidence and trust in all matters in his subordinates. His subordinates feel free to discuss things about their jobs with their superior. He always asks subordinates for ideas and opinions and always tries to make constructive use of them. 

Effective managers not only concentrated on the task, but also on their relationship with their subordinates. They were more considerate, helpful and supportive of subordinates, including helping them with their career and personal problems. They recognized effort with intrinsic as well as extrinsic reward, thanking people for effort. Overall, the effective preferred a general and hands-off form of supervision rather than close control. They set goals and provided guidelines, but then gave their subordinates plenty of flexibility as to how the goals would be achieved. 

3. Participative leadership: 

The third style of leadership was participative leadership. Here, the manager facilitated rather than directed, working to build a cohesive team to achieve team results rather than focusing on individuals. Effective leaders use a participative style, managing at the group level as well as individually, for example using team meetings to share ideas and involve the team in group decisions and problem-solving. By their actions, such leaders model good team-oriented behavior.

The role of the manager is more facilitative than directive, guiding the conversation and helping to resolve differences. The manager, however, is responsible for results and is not absolved of responsibility. As such, they may make final decisions that take recommendations from the team into account. The effect of participative leadership is to build a cohesive team which works together rather than a set of individuals. 

Conclusions from the Study: 

These studies are part of what is referred to as the Human Relations Movement in organizational behavior. In the earlier studies, employee-centered and production-centered supervisors were treated as if they represented opposite ends of a single band.  However, in later studies it was discovered that these two dimensions were independent and could occur simultaneously. The study showed that task- and relationship-oriented behaviors weren't of major significance within the world of organizational psychology. Managers were urged based on these studies to become more employee-centered to improve their effectiveness. This study introduced a new concept, one of participative leadership and participative management and teams were encouraged based on these studies. Likert related these orientations to the performance of the employees. He showed that the employee oriented style brought high-producing performance compared to production-oriented style. In Likert’s study the satisfaction of employees was not directly related to productivity. Although an early study, this is still often referenced. The Michigan studies added 'Participative leadership' to the Ohio findings, moving the debate further into the question of leading teams rather than just individuals.

Related Links

The Ohio State Leadership Studies

Managerial Grid Theory

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Created On: Wednesday, 27 February 2013 Posted in Leadership Theories

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