Attending to Tasks and Relationships

5 Attending to Tasks and Relationships


Most people would agree that good doctors are experts at treating disease and, at the same time, care about their patients. Similarly, good teachers are informed about the subject matter and, at the same time, are sensitive to the personal lives of their students. In leadership, the same is true. Good leaders understand the work that needs to be done and, at the same time, can relate to the people who help them do the job.

When we look at what leaders do—that is, at their behaviors—we see that they do two major things: (1) They attend to tasks, and (2) they attend to their relationships with people. The degree to which leaders are successful is determined by how these two behaviors are exhibited. Situations may differ, but every leadership situation needs a degree of both task and relationship behaviors.


Which Behaviors Are Central to Leadership?

Through the years, many articles and books have been written on how leaders behave (Blake & McCanse, 1991; Kahn, 1956; Misumi, 1985; Stogdill, 1974). A review of these writings underscores the topic of this chapter: The essence of leadership behavior has two dimensions—task behaviors and relationship behaviors. Certain circumstances may call for strong task behavior, and other situations may demand strong relationship behavior, but some degree of each is required in every situation. Because these dimensions are inextricably tied together, it is the leader’s challenge to integrate and optimize the task and relationship dimensions in his or her leadership role.

Task and Relationship Theories

One way to explore our own task and relationship perspectives on leadership is to explore our personal styles in these two areas. All of us have developed unique habits regarding work and play, which have been ingrained over many years, probably beginning as far back as elementary school. Rooted in the past, these habits regarding work and play form a very real part of who we are as people and of how we function. Many of these early habits stay with us over the years and influence our current styles.

Analyzing Leadership Styles

In considering your personal style, it is helpful to describe in more detail your task-oriented and relationship-oriented behaviors. What is your inclination toward tasks and relationships? Are you more work oriented or people oriented in your personal life? Do you find more rewards in the process of “getting things done” or in the process of relating to people? We all have personal styles that incorporate some combination of work and play. Completing the Task and Relationship Questionnaire on page 113 can help you identify your personal style. Although these descriptions imply that individuals have either one style or the other, it is important to remember that each of us exhibits both behaviors to some degree.

Task and Relationship Styles Explained

Task Style

Task-oriented people are goal oriented. They want to achieve. Their work is meaningful, and they like things such as to-do lists, calendars, and daily planners. Accomplishing things and doing things is the raison d’être for this type of person. That is, these individuals’ reason for being comes from doing. Their “in-box” is never empty. On vacations, they try to see and do as much as they possibly can. In all avenues of their lives, they find meaning in doing.

In his book titled Work and Love: The Crucial Balance (1980), psychiatrist Jay Rohrlich showed how work can help people organize, routinize, and structure their lives. Doing tasks gives people a sense of control and self-mastery. Achievement sharpens our self-image and helps us define ourselves. Reaching a goal, like running a race or completing a project, makes people feel good because it is a positive expression of who they are.

Some clear examples of task-oriented people include those who use color codes in their daily planners, who have sticky notes in every room of their house, or who, by 10:00 on Saturday morning, have washed the car, done the laundry, and cleaned the apartment. Task-oriented people also are likely to make a list for everything, from grocery shopping to the series of repetitions in their weight-lifting workouts. Common to all of these people is their interest in achieving the goal and accomplishing the work.

Relationship Style

Relationship-oriented people differ from task-oriented people because they are not as goal directed. The relationship-oriented person finds meaning in being rather than in doing. Instead of seeking out tasks, relationship-oriented people want to connect with people. They like to celebrate relationships and the pleasures relationships bring.

Relationship Style

Furthermore, relationship-oriented people often have a strong orientation in the present. They find meaning in the moment rather than in some future objective to be accomplished. In a group situation, sensing and feeling the company of others is appealing to these people. They have been described by some as “relationship junkies.” They are the people who are the last to turn off their cell phones as the airplane takes off and the first to turn the phones back on when the airplane lands. Basically, they are into connectedness.

In a work setting, the relationship-oriented person wants to connect or attach with others. For example, the relationship-oriented person would not be afraid to interrupt someone who was working hard on a task to talk about the weather, sports, or just about anything. When working out a problem, relationship-oriented people like to talk to and be associated with others in addressing the problem. They receive satisfaction from being connected to other people. A task-oriented friend described a relationship-oriented person perfectly when he said, “He is the kind of person who stands and talks to you, coffee mug in hand, when you’re trying to do something like mow the lawn or cover the boat.” The meaning in “doing” is just not paramount in the relationship-oriented person’s style.



© Terry Duffy

Innovation is key to survival in manufacturing, and Mick Wilz has the accolades to prove it. As the director of enterprise excellence at Sur-Seal in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wilz made changes to the manufacturing process that led to the company receiving the Excellence Award from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence in 2012. Working within an industry where task and routine are absolutely critical, it was actually Wilz’s unique relationship-oriented approach to those tasks that made the most difference.

Wilz is dyslexic and finds reading, writing, and spelling to be very difficult. Not a lot was known about this condition when he was growing up during the late 1950s and 1960s, and Wilz says his childhood was lonely and hard. But his mother was very supportive, advocating for him with teachers and shifting him to five different grammar schools in order to find the best help.

After high school, Wilz began working in building maintenance at the family business, Sur-Seal, a manufacturer of rubber and plastic gaskets. In the 1990s he became the company’s head of operations, and in 2006 he took on the position of director of enterprise excellence charged with reaching peak efficiencies in the manufacturing process. One of his efforts was to initiate a redesign of the factory’s layout, moving work groups to new locations on the manufacturing floor to improve production (www.sur-seal.com).

Because of his difficulties, Wilz relies heavily on visual communication, which was one reason he decided to inform employees about the redesign by showing, rather than telling, them. He used children’s Lego blocks to set up a mock version of the current factory arrangement, right down to using Lego figurines to represent each individual worker. With the employees watching, he changed the Lego layout to show the new design. As the employees stood in front of this demonstration, they were able to see for themselves the plan, make suggestions, and become involved in the redesign.

Wilz took his visual communication efforts elsewhere in the factory, making Sur-Seal a visual workplace. Large posters and signs providing safety directions, instructions on operating the equipment, and diagrams of the products are posted at every machine.

Wilz’s struggles and achievements have made him a more compassionate boss. “Because I had a difficult time when I was young, I believe in treating others as I would like to have been treated. I give employees second chances because I know what it’s like to struggle,” Wilz says. As an example, he talks about the time when one of the company’s maintenance workers was given several chances to improve his work habits and succeeded, becoming the head of his department and a leader in Sur-Seal’s manufacturing initiatives.

“We hire a lot of high school graduates who aren’t inclined to try college because they feel it would be too difficult,” Wilz says. “You have to find a seat on the bus for everyone. I’m a perfect example” (Wilz, 2012).


Task and Relationship Styles in Practice

In the previous section , you were asked to consider your personal style regarding tasks and relationships. In this section, we are going to consider the task and relationship dimensions of your leadership style.


Focusing on Tasks and People

Figure 5.1 illustrates dimensions of leadership along a task–relationship continuum. Task-oriented leadership, which appears on the left end of the continuum, represents leadership that is focused predominantly on procedures, activities, and goal accomplishments. Relationship-oriented leadership, which appears on the right end of the continuum, represents leadership that is focused primarily on the well-being of followers, how they relate to each other, and the atmosphere in which they work. Most leadership falls midway between the two extremes of task- and relationship-oriented leadership. This style of leadership is represented by the midrange area, a blend of the two types of leadership.

As discussed at the beginning of this chapter, good leaders understand the work that needs to be done, as well as the need to understand the people who will do it. The process of “doing” leadership requires that leaders attend to both tasks and relationships. The specific challenge for the leader is to decide how much task and how much relationship is required in a given context or situation.

Task Leadership

Task leadership behaviors facilitate goal accomplishment—they are behaviors that help group members to achieve their objectives. Researchers have found that task leadership includes many behaviors. These behaviors are frequently labeled in different ways, but are always about task accomplishment. For example, some have labeled task leadership as initiating structure, which means the leader organizes work, defines role responsibilities, and schedules work activities (Stogdill, 1974). Others have labeled task leadership as production orientation, which means the leader stresses the production and technical aspects of the job (Bowers & Seashore, 1966). From this perspective, the leader pays attention to new product development, workload matters, and sales volume, to name a few aspects. A third label for task leadership is concern for production (Blake & Mouton, 1964). It includes policy decisions, new product development, workload, sales volume, or whatever the organization is seeking to accomplish.

Figure 5.1 Task–Relationship Leadership Continuum

Task Leadership

In short, task leadership occurs anytime the leader is doing something that assists the group in reaching its goals. This can be something as simple as handing out an agenda for an upcoming meeting or as complex as describing the multiple quality control standards of a product development process. Task leadership includes many behaviors: Common to each is influencing people toward goal achievement.

As you would expect, people vary in their ability to show task-oriented leadership. There are those who are very task oriented and those who are less task oriented. This is where a person’s personal style comes into play. Those who are task oriented in their personal lives are naturally more task oriented in their leadership. Conversely, those who are seldom task oriented in their personal lives will find it difficult to be task oriented as a leader.

Whether a person is very task oriented or less task oriented, the important point to remember is that, as a leader, he or she will always be required to exhibit some degree of task behavior. For certain individuals this will be easy and for others it will present a challenge, but some task-oriented behavior is essential to each person’s effective leadership performance.

Relationship Leadership

Relationship leadership behaviors help followers feel comfortable with themselves, with each other, and with the situation in which they find themselves. For example, in the classroom, when a teacher requires each student to know every other student’s name, the teacher is demonstrating relationship leadership. The teacher is helping the students to feel comfortable with themselves, with other students, and with their environment.

Relationship Leadership

Researchers have described relationship leadership in several ways that help to clarify its meaning. It has been labeled by some researchers as consideration behavior (Stogdill, 1974), which includes building camaraderie, respect, trust, and regard between leaders and followers. Other researchers describe relationship leadership as having an employee orientation (Bowers & Seashore, 1966), which involves taking an interest in workers as human beings, valuing their uniqueness, and giving special attention to their personal needs. Another line of research has simply defined relationship leadership as concern for people (Blake & Mouton, 1964). Within an organization, concern for people includes building trust, providing good working conditions, maintaining a fair salary structure, and promoting good social relations.

Essentially, relationship leadership behavior is about three things: (1) treating followers with dignity and respect, (2) building relationships and helping people get along, and (3) making the work setting a pleasant place to be. Relationship leadership behavior is an integral part of effective leadership performance.




Box 5.1 Student Perspectives on Task and Relationship Styles

The following examples are personal observations written by college students. These papers illuminate the distinct differences task and relationship orientations can have in real-life experiences.

Taken to Task

I am definitely a task-oriented person. My mother has given me her love of lists, and my father has instilled in me the value of finishing things once you start them. As a result, I am highly organized in all aspects of my life. I have a color-coded planner with all of the activities I need to do, and I enjoy crossing things off my lists. Some of my friends call me a workaholic, but I don’t think that is accurate. There are just a lot of things I have to do.

My roommate Steph, however, is completely different from me. She will make verbal lists for her day, but usually will not accomplish any of them [the items listed]. This drives me crazy when it involves my life. For example, there were boxes all over the place until about a month after we moved into our house. Steph would say every day that she was going to focus and get her room organized that day, but she’d fail miserably most of the time. She is easily distracted and would pass up the opportunity to get unpacked to go out with friends, get on Facebook, or look at YouTube videos.

No matter how much Steph’s life stresses me out, I have learned from it. I’m all about having a good time in the right setting, but I am coming to realize that I don’t need to be so planned and scheduled. No matter how carefully you do plan, something will always go awry. I don’t know that Steph is the one who has taught me that or if I’m just getting older, but I’m glad I’m learning that regardless.

 —Jessica Lembke

Being Rather Than Doing

I am an extremely relationship-oriented person. While I know that accomplishing tasks is important, I believe the quality of work people produce is directly related to how they feel about themselves and their leader.

I had the privilege of working with fifth graders in an after-school program last year. There was a range of issues we dealt with including academic, behavioral, and emotional problems, as well as kids who did not have safe homes (i.e., no running water or electricity, physical and emotional abuse, and drug addictions within the home). The “goal” of our program was to help these kids become “proficient” students in the classroom.

The task-oriented leaders in administration emphasized improving students’ grades through repetition of schoolwork, flash cards, and quizzes. It was important for our students to improve their grades because it was the only way statistically to gauge if our program was successful. Given some of the personal trials these young people were dealing with, the last thing in my “relationship-oriented” mind was working on their academics. These young people had so much potential and wisdom that was stifled when they were asked to blindly follow academic assignments. In addition, they did not know how to self-motivate, self-encourage, or get the work done with so many of life’s obstacles in their way.

Instead of doing schoolwork, which the majority of my students struggled with and hated, I focused on building relationships with and between the students. We used discussion, role play, dance parties, and leadership projects to build their self-confidence and emotional intelligence. The students put together service projects to improve their school and community including initiating a trash pickup and recycling initiative at the school and making cards for a nearby nursing home. By the end of the year almost every one of my students had improved his or her grades significantly. More important, at our daily “cheer-for-each-other” meetings, the students would beam with pride for their own and others’ successes.

I guess my point in telling this story is that relationship-oriented leadership is more important to me than task. I much prefer “being” than “doing.” I am not an organized, goal-oriented person. I rarely make it out of my house without going back two or three times to grab something I forgot, and my attention span is shorter than that of a fruit fly. However, I feel that my passion for relationships and human connection is what motivates me.

 —Elizabeth Mathews

A Blend of Both

The Style Approach categorizes leaders as being either task oriented or relationship oriented. While I agree that there are these styles of leadership, I disagree that everyone can be placed concretely into one or the other. The Ohio State study says it well by stating that there are “two different continua.” When it comes to determining where I stand on each continuum, I’d have to say I’m about even. Not surprisingly, my results of the Task and Relationship Questionnaire reflect these thoughts: I scored a solid 41 in both task- and relationship-oriented styles; I’m equally task and relationship oriented, with each of these styles becoming more prevalent in certain situations.

While I truly enjoy being around other people, making sure everyone is happy and that we all enjoy our time, I’m very focused and goal oriented. If I’m at the movies with my friends, I’m not worrying about a to-do list; alternatively, if I’m working on a group project for school, I’m not as concerned about making friends with the group members.

Completing tasks is very important to me. I have an agenda that I keep with me at all times, partly because without it I would never remember anything, and partly because it provides satisfaction and peace of mind. I make to-do lists for myself: groceries, household chores, homework, and goals. I thrive when I’m busy, but not if I’m disorganized. For example, this semester I’m taking 20 credits, applying to graduate schools, taking the GRE, and working at the bookstore. For me it is comforting to have so many responsibilities. If I have downtime, I usually waste it, and I hate that feeling.

I also feel, however, that I’m very relationship oriented. My task-oriented nature doesn’t really affect how I interact with people. I like to make sure people are comfortable and confident in all situations. While I pressure myself to get things done and adhere to a schedule, I’d never think of pushing those pressures onto someone else. If I were the leader of a group that wasn’t getting things done, I’d set an example, rather than tell someone what he or she should be doing.

For me, the idea of “two continua” really makes sense. Whether I am task or relationship focused depends on the situation. While I certainly want to have fun with people, I’m a proponent of the “time and place” attitude, in which people remember when it is appropriate to socialize and when it is appropriate to get a job done.

 —Sally Johnson


On the other hand, it is also true that many groups or situations will have individuals who want to be affiliated with or connected to others more than they want direction. For example, in a factory, in a classroom, or even at a workplace like McDonald’s, there are individuals who want the leader to befriend them and relate to them on a human level. The followers are willing to work, but they are primarily interested in being recognized and feeling related to others. An example would be individuals who attend a cancer support group. They like to receive information from the leader, but even more importantly, they want the leader to relate to them. It is similar with individuals who attend a community-sponsored reading club. They want to talk about the book, but they also want the leader to relate to them in a more familiar way. Clearly, in these situations, the leader needs to connect with these followers by utilizing relationship-oriented behaviors.


Team Experiences

In addition to task and relationship behaviors, Yukl, Gordon, and Taber (2002) identified a third category of leader behaviors relevant to effective leadership, which they labeled change behaviors. Based on an analysis of a large number of earlier leadership measures, the researchers found that change behaviors included visioning, intellectual stimulation, risk taking, and external monitoring. This category of behaviors has been less prominent in the leadership literature but still is a valuable way to characterize what leaders do. Change behaviors are closely related to leadership skills and creating a vision, which we discuss in the next two chapters of the book.

In society, the most effective leaders recognize and adapt to followers’ needs. Whether they are team leaders, teachers, or managers, they appropriately demonstrate the right degrees of task and relationship leadership. This is no small challenge because different followers and situations demand different amounts of task and relationship leadership. When followers are unclear, confused, or lost, the leader needs to show direction and exhibit task-oriented leadership. At the same time, a leader needs to be able to see the need for affiliation and attachment in followers and be able to meet those needs, without sacrificing task accomplishment.

In the end, the best leader is the leader who helps followers achieve the goal by attending to the task and by attending to each follower as a person. We all know leaders who do this: They are the coaches who force us to do drills until we are blue in the face to improve our physical performance, but who then caringly listen to our personal problems. They are the managers who never let us slack off for even a second but who make work a fun place to be. The list goes on, but the bottom line is that the best leaders get the job done and care about others in the process.


Leaders’ Value Systems


Good leaders are both task oriented and relationship oriented. Understanding your personal styles of work and play can provide a better recognition of your leadership. Task-oriented people find meaning in doing, while relationship-oriented people find meaning in being connected to others. Effective leadership requires that leaders be both task oriented and relationship oriented.

Glossary Terms

· concern for people 105

· concern for production 104

· consideration behavior 105

· employee orientation 105

· initiating structure 103

· personal styles 100

· production orientation 104

· relationship-oriented leadership 103

· task-oriented leadership 103


5.1 Case Study: From Two to One

Mark Schmidt runs Co-Ed Cleaners, a business that employs college students to clean offices and schools during the night hours. Due to an economic downturn, Co-Ed Cleaners has lost customers, and although Mark has trimmed everywhere he can think of, he has come to the conclusion that he has to cut back further. This will require letting one of his two managers go and consolidating responsibilities under the other manager’s leadership.

Dan Cali manages groups of students who clean school buildings. Dan is always on the go, visiting cleaning teams at each school while they are working. His employees describe him as an efficient taskmaster with checklists they are all required to follow and sign off on as they complete each job. Dan initiates most ideas for changing processes based on efficiency. When something goes wrong on a job, Dan insists he be alerted and brought in to solve it. “Dan is a very task-oriented guy,” says one of his team members. “There is no one who works harder than he does or knows more about our jobs. This guy gets more done in an hour than most guys do in a day. In the two years I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stop and take a break or even have a cup of coffee.” Dan’s efforts have helped Co-Ed Cleaners be recognized as “The Best Professional Cleaning Service” for three years running.

Asher Roland is the manager of groups of students who clean small offices and businesses. Asher has up to 10 teams working a night and relies on his employees to do their jobs and keep him apprised of problems. He takes turns working alongside his teams to understand the challenges they may face, getting to know each of his employees in the process. Once a month, he takes the teams to a restaurant for a “Great Job Breakfast” where they talk about sports, the weather, politics, their relationships and families, and, when they have time, work issues. One of his employees describes him this way: “Asher is a really good guy. Never had a better boss. If I am having problems, I would go to Asher first. He always advocates for us and listens when we have ideas or problems, but allows us to manage our own jobs the way we think best. He trusts us to do the right things, and we trust him to be fair and honest with us.”

Mark likes both Dan and Asher, and in their own way they are both good managers. Mark worries, however, about how each manager’s individual style will affect his ability to take on the responsibilities of the manager he replaces. He must let one go, but he doesn’t know which one.


1. Using ideas from the chapter, describe Dan’s and Asher’s styles of leadership.

2. How will Asher’s employees, who are used to being able to manage themselves in their own way, respond to Dan’s task-oriented style?

3. How will Dan’s employees, who are used to being given clear direction and procedures, respond to Asher’s more relationship-oriented style?

4. If you were an employee at Co-Ed Cleaners, would you want Mark to let Dan or Asher go? Explain your choice.

5.2 Task and Relationship Questionnaire


1. To identify how much you emphasize task and relationship behaviors in your life

2. To explore how your task behavior is related to your relationship behavior


For each item below, indicate on the scale the extent to which you engage in the described behavior. Move through the items quickly. Do not try to categorize yourself in one area or another.




1. Sum scores for the odd-numbered statements (task score).

2. Sum scores for the even-numbered statements (relationship score).

Total Scores

· Task score: ________________________

· Relationship score: __________________

Scoring Interpretation

This questionnaire is designed to measure your task-oriented and relationship-oriented leadership behavior. By comparing your scores, you can determine which style is more dominant in your own style of leadership. If your task score is higher than your relationship score, you tend to give more attention to goal accomplishment and somewhat less attention to people-related matters. If your relationship score is higher than your task score, your primary concern tends to be dealing with people, and your secondary concern is directed more toward tasks. If your scores are very similar to each other, it suggests that your leadership is balanced and includes an equal amount of both behaviors.

· If your score is 45–50, you are in the very high range.

· If your score is 40–44, you are in the high range.

· If your score is 35–39, you are in the moderately high range.

· If your score is 30–34, you are in the moderately low range.

· If your score is 25–29, you are in the low range.

· If your score is 10–24, you are in the very low range.

Improve Your Leadership Skills

If you have the interactive eBook version of this text, log in to access the interactive leadership assessment. After completing this chapter’s questionnaire, you will receive individualized feedback and practical suggestions for further strengthening your leadership based on your responses in this questionnaire.

5.3 Observational Exercise

Task and Relationship


1. To understand how leadership includes both task and relationship behaviors

2. To contrast different leaders’ task and relationship behaviors


1. Over the next couple of days, observe the leadership styles of two different leaders (e.g., teacher, athletic coach, choir director, restaurant manager, work supervisor).

2. Record your observations of the styles of each person.

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