What is Behavioral Leadership Theory? Definition and Types of Behavioral Leadership

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 1, 2022

Published February 25, 2020

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.

Behavioral leadership theory is a management philosophy that evaluates leaders according to the actions they display in the workplace. Supporters of this theory believe that all you need to do to be an effective leader is to learn a certain set of behaviors. If you are interested in becoming a more efficient leader or in implementing a new leadership style, you can benefit from learning about behavioral leadership theory. In this article, we define behavioral leadership and discuss the different types of behaviors associated with certain leadership styles.

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What is behavioral leadership theory?

Behavioral leadership theory argues that the success of a leader is based on their behavior rather than their natural attributes. Behavioral leadership theory involves observing and evaluating a leader's actions and behaviors when they are responding to a specific situation. This theory believes that leaders are made, not born. Proponents of this theory suggest that anyone can become an effective leader if they can learn and implement certain behaviors.

Behavioral leadership theory is highly relevant in several fields. Every project manager, CEO, activities coordinator or any other kind of professional leader can all be evaluated according to the criteria developed by the behavioral leadership theory. This theory promotes the idea that all leaders are capable of learning and developing through adopting beneficial behaviors and performing them in their workplace. Behavioral leadership theory also encourages leaders to be self-aware of their behavior and to recognize how it affects the productivity and morale of their team.

Read more: How to Demonstrate Leadership Skills at Work

Types of behavioral leadership

There are several key styles of behavioral leadership. Each one involves a different set of behaviors and may be more or less effective in certain work environments:

  • People-oriented leaders

  • Task-oriented leaders

  • Participative leaders

  • Staus-quo leaders

  • Indifferent leaders

  • Dictatorial leaders

  • Country club leaders

  • Sound leaders

  • Opportunistic leaders

  • Paternalistic leaders

People-oriented leaders

People-oriented leaders focus on behaviors that allow them to meet the needs of the people they interact with, including supervisors, employees and clients. They are primarily driven by interpersonal connection and communication. People-oriented leaders build relationships with their team members to motivate them to perform well. This type of leader favors behavior related to:

  • Encouraging collaboration

  • Rewarding success

  • Observing their team's progress

  • Mentoring team members

Read more: 10 Common Leadership Styles (With Examples)

Task-oriented leaders

Task-oriented leaders are primarily focused on setting goals and achieving objectives. Task-oriented leaders thrive in a well-structured environment and often show authoritative behavior. They are typically more focused on their team's final results rather than the day-to-day developmental process. Behaviors that are common for a task-oriented leader include:

  • Initiating projects

  • Organizing processes

  • Clarifying instructions

  • Gathering relevant data

Participative leaders

Participative leaders make an effort to include their entire team in decision-making processes. They prioritize active communication, collaboration and feedback. Participative leaders know their team's strengths and weaknesses and assign tasks accordingly. This leadership style allows every team member's voice to be heard and considered. Participative leaders are likely to:

  • Facilitate team meetings

  • Ask for constructive feedback

  • Take suggestions for improvement

  • Delegate tasks to other team members

Read more: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Status-quo leaders

Status-quo leaders make an effort to prioritize both productivity and employee satisfaction. They ensure that all tasks are finished on time while also providing support and encouragement to their team members. Staus-quo leaders typically meet the needs of their team without going above or beyond expectations. Some behaviors associated with status-quo leaders include:

  • Distributing tasks evenly

  • Requiring regular progress reports

  • Enforcing company policies fairly

  • Responding to feedback neutrally

Indifferent leaders

Indifferent leaders do not prioritize interaction or communication with their team. They usually oversee progress from a distance and do not contribute to their team's daily efforts. They are primarily focused on personal success and advancement. Due to the lack of cooperation, an indifferent leadership style is widely considered the most ineffective of the behavioral leadership types. Behaviors typical for indifferent leaders include:

  • Avoiding questions

  • Procrastinating

  • Self-preserving

  • Assigning unwanted tasks to others

Dictatorial leaders

Dictatorial leaders often value results more than they do people. They may pressure their team members to perform well even during stressful or challenging periods. Dictatorial leaders are often successful in delivering high-quality results but may experience high-turnover rates due to employee dissatisfaction and burnout. The behaviors of a dictatorial leader include:

  • Setting inflexible deadlines

  • Disregarding excuses

  • Ignoring feedback

  • Achieving short-term goals

Country club leaders

Country club leaders prioritize their team members' happiness and satisfaction level. They believe that a team that is comfortable and well-provided for is more likely to be successful. Team members are likely to show high levels of trust and loyalty when working with country club leaders. Some country club leaders might sacrifice productivity in exchange for improving their team's morale or workplace relationships. Country club leaders' behavior often involves:

  • Responding to team member feedback

  • Focusing on employees' well-being

  • Defending employees' interests and rights

  • Supporting the team members' decisions

Sound leaders

Sound leadership is considered the most effective type of behavioral leadership. However, it is typically difficult to practically implement. Sound leaders equally prioritize productivity and team morale. They value their team members, set achievable goals and deliver high-quality results. They are intrinsically motivated to succeed and find satisfaction in supporting their team's progress. Sound leaders exhibit behaviors like:

  • Encouraging open communication

  • Allowing employees to work independently

  • Listening to and implementing feedback

  • Providing training and continuing education to team members

Opportunistic leaders

Opportunistic leaders pick and choose different behaviors from the previous styles. They can adjust and adapt their leadership style to fit a particular situation. They are goal-oriented and will use whatever methods are necessary to achieve their objectives. For example, they might adopt a dictatorial persona in the weeks leading up to a major deadline and then shift to country club leadership afterward to repair their relationship with their team. The specific behaviors of an opportunistic leader vary, but may include:

  • Lack of consistency

  • Pursuing results regardless of cost

  • Enforcing their own standards for success

  • Caring for their team to improve performance

Paternalistic leaders

This leadership style strives to be stern but fair, much like a father with a child. Paternalistic leaders are goal-oriented but are willing to be flexible regarding methodology. They frequently set lofty goals and reward team members that achieve them. They value their team members' individual skills and offer opportunities for them to develop professionally. Other behaviors associated with the paternalistic style include:

  • Rewarding positive behavior or success

  • Disciplining failure

  • Disregarding feedback

  • Offering leadership opportunities to promising employees

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