Prior to modern society, leaders were born, not made. Leaders often only existed in the form of royalty. Since the path to leadership was narrow and strict, there was little interest in discovering what made strong leaders. However, in 1840, thanks to a Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle, who wrote “the history of the world is but the biography of great men,” 4 a new idea of leadership was born. Carlyle introduced the idea that progress occurs due to the efforts of great leaders. Suddenly, people were interested in the characteristics of ‘great men’ and wrote biographies of heroes.4 Yet still, the Great Man theory prevailed: people assumed there were innate characteristics that leaders were born with.
Then came along the American industrial revolution, demonstrating that leaders were not just ‘great men’, rulers, or heroes; an average-joe manager could make the difference between a good company and a great company. From the late 19th century into the early 20th century, leadership studies emerged, examining which traits made a leader rather than a follower. 4
The study of leadership from a behavioral approach hypothesized that it was less about who a leader was and more about what they did. The realization that personal characteristics are minimally important to leadership came from psychologist Ralph Stogdill and the Ohio State University Studies.4 In the late 1940’s, Stogdill analyzed data from over a hundred leadership studies and identified over a thousand different characteristics linked to leader behavior.5 There were too many characteristics for leadership to be linked to personal traits. With his team, Stogdill instead narrowed the list into two specific leadership behaviors: task-focused and people-focused.4 This was further built on by Blake and Mouton.
In the 1950’s, psychologist Robert R. Blake and mathematician Jane S. Mouton began developing their own theory on leadership using a behavioral approach.6 The two were humanists and emphasized that leaders needed to balance their concern for people with their concern for productivity, the two factors Stogdill had identified. With Blake’s insight into behavioral science and Mouton’s mathematical prowess, the two developed a grid that identified five different kinds of leaders varied along two axes: concern for production and concern for people.1 The five kinds of leaders that Blake and Mouton identified were: impoverished, produce or perish, middle of the road, country club, and team.1 Each leadership style was plotted on a grid to show whether the leader was most concerned for the task, the people, or had a healthy balance of both, as shown below: 7
An impoverished leader lacks concern for people or productivity. These leaders show little regard for their team and focus on self-preservation. They want to make sure their hands are clean of wrongdoing and they appear successful, but don’t care about the overall success of the team. On the grid, they are plotted at 1,1.1
A produce or perish leader ranks high on their concern for productivity but low on their concern for people. They are excessively harsh towards their employees and care only about the numbers they are producing. On the grid, they are plotted at 9,1.1
A middle of the road leader tries their best to balance out the needs of the team with the production needs of the company. However, in their effort to make sure both aspects are fulfilled, neither is adequately cared for. They are likely to have average employee satisfaction and production levels. On the grid, they are plotted at 5,5. 1
A country club leader is gung-ho about the people. Their actions are all directed towards ensuring their employees are happy and prioritize this over all else. They show little concern for productivity rates. On the grid, they are plotted at 1, 9.1
A team leader shows concern for productivity and people. They emphasize the importance of teamwork, which increases happiness levels and productivity. On the grid, they are plotted at 9,9.1
Blake and Mouton claimed that team leaders were the most effective kind of leader. Being a team leader makes subordinates feel like they are constructive, respected parts of an organization. As a result, employees feel like they have more stake in the game, develop greater trust with their supervisors, and become intrinsically motivated.7 Several leadership studies have shown that these effects lead to greater productivity. As the overjustification effect reveals, people are more productive when they are intrinsically motivated, opposed to being motivated by external rewards like salaries. Team leaders engage intrinsic motivation by instilling pride or purpose in their employees. This strategy is further supported by the Leadership-Member Exchange Model, which shows cultivating strong relationships between superiors and subordinates increases employee motivation, and the Pygmalion effect, which describes the tendency to try and live up to positive expectations.
The grid was originally named the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid Model, but after the term ‘leader’ was popularized in the 19th century, the model became known as the Leadership Grid. Mouton passed away in 1987, but Blake continued to refine the model and added two managerial styles – paternalistic and opportunistic – that he believed were a combination of the previous five.8
A leader with a paternalistic style usually switches between country club or produce or perish styles. While they support and encourage their employees, they don’t usually delegate any real responsibility, nor ask their employees for input when making decisions. They believe they know best and act accordingly.8
A leader with an opportunistic style can switch between any of the five initially identified leadership styles depending on the situation. They put their individual needs first, which causes them to prioritize different things based on what they want out of the situation. If they need to impress headquarters with high productivity levels, they will focus on that, but if they are looking for a fun work environment, they will prioritize concern for people.8