To say that T.J. Rodgers ran a tight ship would be an understatement. He demanded much of himself and others as the co-founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductors. As a way to improve work efficiency, Rodgers developed automated software to help in the manufacturing of microchips as well as monitor the work of his employees. If the software detected that an employee was falling behind on their tasks, they wouldn’t receive their paycheck for that pay period. When one employee complained and wanted to know why he didn’t receive his paycheck, Rodgers reportedly told him, “I am prepared to watch you lose your house and your family, for real.” Rodgers would call this making sure the work gets done. But it’s also an example of task-oriented leadership, and it can lead to major problems down the road.
In this article, learn about task-oriented leadership, the one area where it works, its numerous shortcomings, and the better way to lead people.
What Is Task–Oriented Leadership?
Being task-oriented means focusing strictly on smaller tasks, such as those on a checklist, to get a larger goal done. Each task has deadlines and is “owned” by a particular person who is responsible for completing it.
While a task-oriented leader might be good at making some headway on big projects, this way of leading is ultimately ineffective. This is because task leadership isn’t really leadership; it’s a form of management. It looks solely at the here and now instead of focusing on the future. Additionally, it is not relationship-oriented, which causes team members to often feel neglected, unappreciated, and disengaged.
When Does This Leadership Style Work?
This form of management isn’t necessarily always bad. If a task-oriented leader cares mainly about getting things done, the team will get things done. As with most things in business, there are pros and cons to task-oriented leadership worth exploring.
The leadership style only works for a short time and should be used as a last resort. Examples include emergency company deadlines or times of crisis when team members need clear tasks to get an organization to a more comfortable status. Leadership tasks should center on managing people through the day-to-day operations. In this way, employees can make progress on their assignments. Combining it with true leadership styles can make it as effective as a 1-2 punch. However, without vision, this management style will fail in the long run.
Emphasizing leadership tasks may also work during chaotic times where the business has little to no direction. This might happen in emergencies or during company acquisitions. A task-oriented leader may help calm the storm when teams need it the most by assigning tasks through delegation and getting people moving in the right direction. Some may view this as a “necessary evil” for times when relationship-oriented leadership isn’t effective.
The Shortcomings of Task-Oriented Leadership
Though task-oriented leadership may prove helpful in the above examples, it can prove detrimental outside of those. Looking back at the story about T.J. Rodgers, such an environment hardly breeds confidence and positivity. It may even qualify as a hostile work environment if it meets certain conditions. Other shortcomings include the following.
- Worker Burnout: Employees who have to deal with a task-oriented leader will likely suffer work burnout at some point. With so much focus on completing work, often people don’t have the resources and support they need to thrive.
- Kills Creative and Strategic Thinking: Instead of coming up with creative new solutions, workers will only focus on their ability to get tasks done as quickly as possible.
- Retention Problems: Workers who encounter task leadership will likely look for another job, leading to poor employee retention. Team members want relationship-oriented leaders who care about them.
- Motivation Problems: Employees may find it difficult to summon the motivation to excel at their jobs. This is in part due to no visible signs of development for their skills.
- Lack of Progress: A focus on tasks means there’s no vision, and when there’s no vision, there’s no progress.
There’s a Better Way
Even if managers tend to focus on leadership tasks due to their skill sets, it doesn’t mean they have to lead with tasks first. They can maximize their effectiveness as long as they have a vision. Here are just a few traits of the task-oriented leadership style which can be beneficial when combined with a vision.
- Detail-Oriented: They care about the details and know that’s where a company can make a difference.
- Passion for Success: They feel passionate about achieving each goal set for them and being successful.
- Organized: They keep their teams and projects organized for maximum efficiency.
- Deadline-Focused: They understand the importance of meeting deadlines and do their best to always have things done on time.
- Realistic: They identify reachable objectives, meaning each goal is challenging, yet possible.
When task-oriented leadership goes hand in hand with relationship-oriented leadership, good things happen. Think of the team that started Apple—Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Steve Jobs provided the vision for the company (the why) while Steve Wozniak handled the tasks (the how). Together they acted like a dream team.
A task-oriented leader can cause problems in the long run, but there’s nothing wrong with task-oriented management. That’s simply what management is. When you have real leadership mixed into the equation as well, you’ll see substantial progress well into the future.
If you’re curious about adopting effective leadership styles, be sure to read the following articles.