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
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.
One way to explore our own task and relationship perspectives on leadership is to explore our personal styles
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5227) in these two areas. All of
us have developed unique habits regarding work and play that 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.
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 pages 94–96 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.
Attending to Tasks and Relationships
4.1 Task and Relationship Styles Explained
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 people’s 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-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 others. They like to celebrate relationships and the pleasures relationships bring.
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. They value the trust that
develops in a group when relationships are strong.
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 supposed to be doing something like mowing the lawn or
covering the boat.” A relationship-oriented person doesn’t find meaning in “doing,” but instead derives meaning from
“relating” or “being.”
Inc/Alamy Stock Photo
4.2 Leadership Snapshot: Ai-jen Poo, Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance
Ai-jen Poo is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and codirector
of Caring Across Generations. She came to this work after observing the challenges of
caregiving for her grandfather, who had suffered a stroke and was placed in a nursing home,
sharing a room with six ailing, elderly people. “The place smelled like mold and death,” she
wrote in her book, The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America
(Poo, 2015, p. 2). Her grandfather died three months later. After graduating from Columbia
University in 1996, Poo began organizing domestic workers.
As a thought leader and social innovator, Poo sees the future effects of demographic trends such
as a burgeoning elder population that will need care in the future. With the population of U.S.
residents over the age of 85 expected to double in the next 20 years, more caregiving will be
required. Poo sees how interconnected innovative family care solutions are with how we
structure our future workplaces, and how the government will resource and regulate elder care.
“Over and over again, at key turning points, we have invested in the infrastructure needed to thrive as a nation and to lead
the safe, productive, and fulfilling lives that as individual Americans we expect to live,” Poo wrote. “And over and over
again, these big ideas, and the momentum behind them, not only transformed our lives but also transformed our economy.
In fact, in many cases, these investments were our economy, and most certainly saved our economy. An infrastructure for
care may seem different from an infrastructure for railroads, highways, electricity, or the Internet. There are no trees to
clear or wires to lay. Yet care is among the fundamental building blocks of society. For any of us, thinking about our most
basic needs, care always comes first. There’s no need for the Internet, or even electricity, if there’s no way to feed, bathe, or
clothe yourself” (Poo, 2015, p. 143).
In her career, Poo demonstrates both relationship leadership and task leadership. To learn more about the needs of domestic
workers, “she spent countless hours in parks, buses, and other gathering places for domestic workers, creating opportunities
for these largely isolated women to share their experiences, guiding mistreated workers to appropriate legal channels,
articulating the vital economic role of domestic workers, and developing with workers a framework of legal standards for
the industry” (MacArthur Foundation, 2019). By listening to and caring about their experiences, Poo shows respect for
domestic workers and acknowledges that their work has inherent dignity.
“There are more than 2.5 million women in the United States who make it possible for us to do what we do every day,
knowing that our loved ones and homes are in good hands. They are the nannies that take care of our children, the
housekeepers that bring sanity and order to our homes, and the home-care workers that care for our parents and support the
independence of our disabled family members,” said Poo (Fessler, 2018).
Poo also builds relationships with the domestic workers, learning from them what their needs actually are, and connecting
them with others in similar situations, to form a larger sense of identity and community. As the director of the NDWA, Poo
has built a culture of trust and empowerment for women. Many of the organization’s staff work remotely, so twice per year
they hold a retreat for all employees where they plan together, laugh together, and share stories. “An important part of the
time together is connecting on a personal level, not because we need everyone to be friends, but to know one another’s
context: Why are you here? What’s your story? Our personal journeys are an endless well of inspiration and resilience,”
Poo explains (Fessler, 2018).
Poo has built her activist work on this foundation of caring for others. Her task leadership is expressed in several ways.
First, she has envisioned ways to organize domestic workers into an effective and unified voice for change. As the director
of the NDWA, her core responsibility is to help the organization to reach its goals of educating the public about how
domestic labor should be viewed and valued, raising the labor standards for all domestic workers, and training new leaders
for the labor movement. Poo does this by staying focused on the mission of the organization, developing programs that
support that mission, and hiring and equipping employees to assist in this work: “NDWA centers the voice and leadership
of women of color in everything we do” (National Domestic Workers Alliance, 2016).
Second, Poo has organized workers to advocate for legislation that acknowledges and protects domestic workers’ rights. In
2010, New York enacted the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which entitles workers to overtime pay, one day of rest per
week, protection from discrimination, and three days of paid leave per year—after a hard-fought seven-year legislative
campaign led by Poo and a dedicated group of workers and advocates. The bill also drew support from an unlikely
coalition of domestic workers, their employers, and other unions forged by Poo’s ability to leverage common interests
across diverse groups (MacArthur Foundation, 2019).
Poo received a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 2014, and she was named one of Time’s 100 Most
Influential People in the World in 2012 and one of Fortune’s 50 Greatest Leaders in 2015. While her task leadership has
received the most recognition, the behavior Poo most attributes to her success is listening. “The best ideas from our
organization have come from listening to our members,” she said. “And believe me—when you listen to women, especially
to those who have been the least visible in society, you will hear some of the most extraordinary stories that represent the
best of who we are as a nation. Listening is a practice; you don’t have to be a natural listener to be a good listener, and it’s
something we can, and should, all learn to do” (Fessler, 2018).
4.3 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.
Figure 4.1 (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-43#s9781544351636.i1361) illustrates
dimensions of leadership along a task–relationship continuum. Task-oriented leadership
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5263) , which appears on the left
end of the continuum, represents leadership that is focused predominantly on procedures, activities, and goal
accomplishments. Relationship-oriented leadership
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5243) , 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
Men and women use both styles of leadership. However, they are not perceived the same way by observers when they use
these styles. Though the U.S. workplace has become more egalitarian in recent years, social expectations still linger for
women leaders to be more relational or communal than task oriented (Eagly & Karau, 2002). In order to be seen as
effective leaders, women need to be especially conscious of how they balance the two styles. Zheng, Surgevil, and Kark
(2018) found that women leaders balance these styles through seemingly contradictory pairs of traits that are directly
linked to relationship- and task-oriented behaviors: demanding (task) and caring (relational); authoritative (task) and
participative (relational); and distant (task) and approachable (relational). Women leaders will often switch between the
behaviors depending on the situation, including first using the relationship style to build trust and then using
authoritativeness to accomplish goals. In addition, women leaders seek to reframe a relational orientation not as weakness
but as a reflection of their confidence. By bringing relationship and task behaviors into coexistence, women are able to
advance their performance, rally others toward common goals, align people’s interests, and build leader–follower
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 orientation and how much relationship
orientation is required in a given context or situation.
Figure 4.1 Task–Relationship Leadership Continuum
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 (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5204) , which means
the leader organizes work, defines role responsibilities, and schedules work activities (Stogdill, 1974). Others have labeled
task leadership as production orientation (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-
78#s9781544351636.i5237) , 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
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5168) (Blake & Mouton, 1964).
It includes policy decisions, new product development, workload, sales volume, or whatever the organization is seeking to
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 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.
Researchers have described relationship leadership in several ways that help to clarify its meaning. It has been labeled by
some researchers as consideration behavior (http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-
78#s9781544351636.i5175) (Stogdill, 1974), which includes building camaraderie, respect, trust, and regard between leaders
and followers. Other researchers describe relationship leadership as having an employee orientation
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5188) (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
(http://content.thuzelearning.com/books/Northouse.6443.20.1/sections/navpoint-78#s9781544351636.i5167) (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.
In our fast-paced and very diverse society, the challenge for a leader is finding the time and energy to listen to all followers
and do what is required to build effective relationships with each of them. For those who are highly relationship oriented in
their personal lives, being relationship oriented in leadership will come easily; for those who are highly task oriented, being
relationship oriented in leadership will present a greater challenge. Regardless of your personal style, every leadership
situation demands a degree of relationship leadership behavior.
As discussed earlier in this chapter, task and relationship leadership behaviors are inextricably tied together, and a leader’s
challenge is to integrate the two in an optimal way while effectively adapting to followers’ needs. The U.S. Army has a
saying: “Mission first, people always.” That means that the leader must nurture interpersonal and team relationships at all
times in order to ensure that followers will be motivated to achieve their assigned goals or projects. Task leadership is also
critically important in a company or an organization with a large number of newly hired employees or at a charter school
with a cadre of new faculty members. It is also called for in an adult fitness class when the instructor is introducing a new
exercise. Or, consider the family members of a patient going home after a major heart surgery who have to learn how to
change dressings and give medications; they want the health professionals to tell them exactly what to do and how to do it.
In situations like these, the followers feel uncertain about their roles and responsibilities, and they want a leader who
clarifies their tasks and tells them what is expected of them. In fact, in nearly every group or situation, there are some
individuals who want and need task direction from their leader, and in these circumstances, it is paramount that the leader
exhibit strong task-oriented leadership.
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 a
fast-food restaurant, there are individuals who want the leader to befriend them and relate to them on a personal 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
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 Chapter 5, “Developing Leadership Skills,” and Chapter 7, “Creating a Vision,” of this book.
Box 4.1 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.
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 school
work, 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 …