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Task-oriented vs. People-oriented leadership

Have you ever had a coach that you felt didn’t understand you? Or maybe a teacher who, for some reason, you just couldn’t seem to understand and learn from? Perhaps you’ve been lucky and have had a manager who made you feel heard and inspired you to be your best self. Our ability to bring our best self to work and achieve our workplace goals depends heavily on this element: leadership.

Good leadership is invaluable to our lives and our world. Leadership can look different in different roles, however. In business, it’s the art of motivating and inspiring people to achieve certain goals or complete specific tasks. Leadership style has a remarkable impact on the learning, efficiency, and communication of a workplace team. In fact, the type of leader in a workplace is so important that just one bad leader in the office can cost a company more than $126,000. While there are numerous styles and methods of leading others, the two most prominent types of leadership in the modern workplace are task-oriented leadership and people-oriented leadership.

Task-oriented leadership

To the task-oriented leader, the most important factor is the result-that is, the tangible, calculable outcome from a work group and how that result is achieved. The emphasis is typically placed on what a team does and what it achieves each day, week, and quarter. This type of leadership is easy to fall into, given that there’s often a great deal of pressure on leaders to produce clear, quantified results. 

Task-oriented leadership can offer advantages: clearly defined expectations,  quantifiable goals, on-time and on-budget deliveries, and good use of delegation. However, this form of leadership also has a down side. When a leader is too task-oriented, they risk overlooking the personal needs of employees. That can mean low morale, decreased job satisfaction, and even team member burnout.  What’s more, a leader that’s hyper-focused on tasks rather than people often fosters poor communication with and within teams.

People-oriented leadership

People-oriented leaders look to the people first and the task or objective second. They typically place more emphasis on team members and what they need to perform their responsibilities and contribute to the overall goal. People-oriented leaders tend to focus more on fostering relationships with team members than other factors, like tasks or even some quantified goals. A leader who’s interested in team members and listens to their voices creates an environment in which employees feel heard. As one study shows, 90% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that prioritizes employees’ voices and feedback. Feeling heard is a critical component of employee satisfaction and retention. 

Similarly to task-oriented leadership, people-oriented leadership has a few downsides. A leader who’s too focused on employees could overlook necessary tasks needed to accomplish important goals–or even lose sight of the overall mission. Though people-oriented leaders are, at times, more appreciated by team members, conflicts can arise when a leader fails to balance a team’s wants with the responsibilities entrusted to that leader by the organization. 

What’s your leadership orientation? 

Leadership isn’t for the weak or proud–it can be a humbling and intense position. Having people look to you for help, answers, and direction while simultaneously balancing the demand to produce results is a delicate juggling act. The leaders who make the biggest impact on their teams and within their organizations are those who  learn to strike the precarious balance between task- and people-orientation.

What style of leadership do you practice? Are you more task-oriented or people-oriented? Have you found a way to balance the two? Ask yourself the following questions designed to help you reflect on and discover your leadership orientation:

  1. What are some ways you prioritize your team’s needs and feedback?

  2. How do you most often balance tight deadlines and challenging goals?

  3. Would you say your team members feel heard under your leadership? What can you do to ensure they have a voice in the future?

  4. Are the expectations you hold for your team clearly defined?

  5. How important are results to you? Are they more important than the needs of those you lead?

  6. What are some ways you can strike a better balance between being too task-centric and overly focused on the needs of your people?

Leading a team–large or small–is no easy feat. Leadership comes with many challenges, advantages, and possibilities. When you lead with courage, motivation, and balance, your team can reach unimaginable heights. Help yourself and those around you realize your ultimate potential tomorrow by becoming the best leader you can be today.

Check out our leadership articles for a diverse set of topics focused on leadership in the modern workplace. And, join Carl Hicks, Jr., as he talks you through task- and people-oriented leadership styles.

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