Task-oriented vs social-minded leaders

2013

Studies show that task-oriented leaders (aka micro-managers) tend to categorize workers as either 'productive' or 'non-productive' as a way of putting order to their perceptions of the working environment. In contrast, social-minded (aka transformational) leaders prefer to de-emphasize the differences between workers, preferring to focus on relationships between team members.

Generally speaking, task-oriented managers are also less tolerant of change, give more suggestions, tend to be more critical - and more controlling - than social-minded leaders. Social minded leaders, living on the other end of the spectrum, are considerate of opinions, less defensive to contrary remarks, and value relationships.

Culture

As we've discussed before, leader behavior IS organizational culture. If leader behavior is focused on tasks, then the culture will reflect that task mentality. Task cultures can be perceived as small-focused and negatively fused. On the contrary, socially minded leader behavior correlates to supportive, collaborative, and friendly cultures.

Oddly, although workers enjoy reporting to socially minded leaders, it's the task-minded leaders who often get promoted. One of the reasons could be that task leaders are better at identifying and communicating organizational progress because that's the mental world they live in, one that's all about measuring and comparing. In short, they're good at bragging. But social-minded workers see progress less as the measurement of things and more as an evolutionary progress of group dynamics and relationships between members.

Artists, Craftsmen, Technocrats

This phenomenon where task-oriented leaders are promoted over social-minded ones is explained well in Patricia Pitcher's book, The Drama of Leadership. Pitcher describes three types of leaders: artists, craftsmen, and technocrats. It's the artists who mix entrepreneurial spirit with great ideas to become company founders; craftsmen, those dutiful servants of artistic purpose, keep the operation growing. Artists and craftsmen are typically transformational leaders.

Technocrats, the task-mongers, are important for measuring and communicating organizational value. They have their right place in the organization, but not at the top. However, as organizations grow, technocrats climb to higher and higher levels to support the good intentions of artists and founders. Technocrats can do things that artists don't know how to do, such as create order and measure profits. However, when artists move out of the way (retire, quit, or die), technocrats take over leadership roles and promote their own because they see little value in the skills of replacement artists and craftsmen.

Social Minded Leaders

Can we assume that socially-minded managers are better leaders? Most likely, yes. Socially minded and more tolerant leaders don't care for underperformers any more than task-leaders do, but because social-minded leaders tend to be better problem solvers, they are better able to assimilate underperforming workers in the team structure, maximizing productive output. As team strength improves, so does underperformer output. Social minded leaders let employees do the work in hassle-free environments. Conversely, task-minded leaders will focus too much negative attention on underperformers at the expense of overworking the productive ones. The results: change resistance, criticism, and central control.

How is it that socially minded leaders are more effective? The literature tends to suggest one of the reasons for their effectiveness is their aversion to placing blame. Finger-pointing, a task-leader trait, is rarely a good practice. Blame puts people on the defensive, fosters fear, and, ultimately, lowers productivity because workers are afraid to try anything new. Instead of figuring out how to fix problems, blame/task bosses spend their efforts finding scapegoats.

Fixing the Problem

My suggestion is to give task assignment responsibility to foreman and leads (usually in the hourly ranks), not to managers and supervisors. Managers set accountabilities, which differ from tasks in that accountabilities are purpose-focused on production expectations. Yes, work needs to be done, but as soon as managers micro-manage, they've lost the ability to motivate, inspire, and stimulate.

The negative after-shocks of task behavior eliminate team effectiveness, demoralize workers, and lead to fear laden environments. It just makes sense that that work as a result of fear is not fun. Unfortunately, task thinkers still exist in management ranks. Yes, they can add value in certain areas of the work model (accounting, engineering, safety, and quality control come to mind), but not in leadership roles. Task-managers refuse to let people do their jobs.

Evolution

How we relate to each other is a component of an evolutionary change model. Leadership styles that made sense yesterday may be ineffective today because the workforce is different. Task leadership was expected of managers in post WWII businesses. The workforce was mostly male and infused with millions of ex-military. But the workforce today expects to work in environments of collaboration, support, encouragement, friendliness, and fun. Work shouldn't have to be a drag. I don't see any reason why accomplishing things can't be enjoyable. Train employees well, and then let them do their jobs.

What "the good men do separate is small compared with what they may do collectively" – Ben Franklin.

more articles

About The Author

Duane Dike
Duane Dike

Duane Dike is the manager of creative production for a large entertainment company in Southern California. He has a doctorate in management and organizational leadership and an MBA in management. He is a popular guest speaker for education and management groups on subjects related to innovation, leadership and thinking.