Leadership Patterns

This time, a bit of the historian in me comes out. I want to appreciate an article that appeared 64 years ago in the Harvard Business Review and fell into my hands when I was preparing a workshop. It is “How to choose a leadership pattern” by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt, one of the most read HBR articles.

The article structures leadership patterns according to the freedom of decision granted to employees: from “manager decides and announces” to “team/employees decide independently within a framework”.

It identifies factors that help to select the appropriate leadership behaviour:

  • Manager preferences and characteristics (own values and style, trust and security).
  • Employee tendencies that favour greater decision-making freedom (need for independence, willingness to take responsibility, interest in problems, tolerance of ambiguity, necessary experience)
  • situational factors (type of company, group effectiveness, the problem, time pressure).

Furthermore, it discusses issues that may arise with this classification and concludes with recommendations for long-term strategy.

What fascinates me about the article?
First of all, it is simply fun to read the original article in its content density and precision – even if there are some “old” words. In terms of content, I think it outlines most relevant factors that still influence discussions about modern leadership, self-managing teams and innovative leadership structures today.
Furthermore, in its conclusion it suggests a direction that could also be considered a guideline today in a “progressive” sense. This applies both in terms of what the (scientifically based) goals of good leadership should be (putting employees in the centre, motivation and willingness to change, teamwork,…) and in terms of the recommendation (that a good manager should find the appropriate leadership style in different settings and situations).
And finally, it revives some old questions that I keep asking myself: How much “new” is there in the “new” organisational ideas? How much does the discovery of the past help the changes of the future? Why do some things that seem so obvious take so long to take hold?

What do you think of the article? Can you share my fascination? Which ideas do you draw from it? Where do you think you can find qualities for the future from your past?