Country Club Leadership – Explained by a CEO with Examples, Pros/Cons


Country Club leadership is nothing I aspire to in my role as a CEO. I am a firm believer in providing people with purpose, engagement, and empowerment to thrive and feel happy while performing at high levels. Country Club leadership is all about being happy, and none about performance, leading to people ultimately losing their jobs.

What is Country Club Leadership?

Country Club leadership is when a leader puts enormous focus on people and relationships and little to no focus on output and performance. Although country club leadership leads to delighted employees, they will lose their jobs when the business succumbs due to lack of performance.

Keep on reading to learn more about the background of Country Club Leadership, its explanation, pros and cons, and last but not least, a few stories about Country Club leadership from my leadership career. Sign up for our newsletter for free leadership insights if you are interested.

Country Club Management: Background

In the 1960s, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton built a graphical framework for different attitudes in leadership. Country Club management is part of this managerial grid that involved five different styles of control based on two different types of leadership behaviors, namely concern for people and concern for production.

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  • Concern for people involves the well-being, care, and importance given to employees and other human stakeholders.
  • Concern for production involves caring for output, results, and other non-human things.

In essence, we are talking about relationship orientation vs. task orientation, a division that is common in several leadership behavior studies. Refer to our articles on the Ohio State Leadership Studies and the Situational Leadership Model, for instance.

Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid does not include the possibility of switching between styles, making it a behavioral leadership theory rather than a contingency leadership theory.

The other four leadership styles of the Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid, besides Country Club Management, are Impoverished Management, Authority-Compliance Management, Middle-of-the-Road Management, and Team Management.

(This background is an excerpt from our article on Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid.)

 

Country Club Management Explained

The name of this style, Country Club Management, makes you associate with harmony and comfortable living.

Let us start by considering the meaning of the word Country Club. According to Oxford Languages, Country Club means “a club with sporting and social facilities, set in a rural area”. It does not sound like the typical office, does it?

The country club manager focuses on a friendly harmonious environment and people’s feelings, much more than producing and achieving goals. People matter the most to the country club manager, and as long as they are kept happy, the leader’s mission is accomplished. However, a relaxed, comfortable, and fun workplace does not imply high production or output, rather the opposite.

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Country Club Management means excellent concern for people but low concern for production, resulting in happy employees but meager output.

The Country Club leadership style compares well with an extreme version of the more modern Affiliative leadership style.

Blake and McCanse, who developed the Blake and Mouton model further, defined Country Club management as simple as: “Thoughtful attention to the needs of the people for satisfying relationships leads to a comfortable, friendly organization atmosphere and work tempo.”

The Country Club Management style is plotted at the top left in the Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid, i.e. high on the y-axis and low on the x-axis at position 1,9; refer to the graph below.

Country Club Leadership position in the Managerial Grid
Country Club Leadership position in the Managerial Grid

Advantages and Disadvantages of Country Club Leadership

The advantages of Country Club Leadership are:

  • The strong focus on people results in high employee retention
  • The low expectations on performance result in a stress-free environment for most people

The disadvantages of the Country Club Leadership are:

  • It leads to low or no performance and output
  • The lack of performance will undermine job security, which is contrary to focusing on what is best for the people

Please stay away from this leadership style as much as you can; it is a career killer for sure. I suggest you use the modern and versatile leadership styles based on Emotional Intelligence instead. Not even actual managers of Country Clubs should use this management style. If a real Country Club Director used this style, the employees would not be bothered to work hard to take care of the club members and visitors, which would quickly lead to losing customers, and the employees would be out of jobs.

Country Club Leadership – Examples from a CEO career

Just as with the Impoverished leaders, you need to identify and keep track of your country club leaders. Do not assume that a manager being popular automatically equals country club management since there are many ways of becoming a popular leader. However, leadership is not a popularity contest, of course.

Some stress is good; too much stress is bad. A good level of stress means working with something engaging, fruitful, enjoyable, adequately challenging, and summing up: something meaningful. Some people, such as myself, get more stressed when there is too little to do since this can result in a loss of purpose, anxiety, and general discomfort. Some people will likely react this way under Country Club leadership, which is an indicator relatively easy to spot.

The more obvious indicator of country club management is very low or a complete lack of performance. If you don’t quickly identify this low level of performance, you need to look in the mirror and question yourself on your standards.

I often hear people claiming that happy workers are hard workers, but I beg to differ. Hard workers can be happy workers and the other way around, but there is no automatic connection between the two.

Example of a Country Club Leader

I had a colleague who was a country club leader once. He focused on people, relationships, harmony, etc., so much that performance was a very distant second priority. Two other things kept up performance levels: his team seeing the performance requirement from additional layers above and around them and that some of the team members had solid work ethics. These factors combined created a Middle-of-the-Road Management outcome rather than an actual Country Club leadership output, which enabled this manager to carry on with his low expectations on performance for many years.

Whatever happened and whatever the team members did, no one ever got fired and not even reprimanded, despite some blatant lack of performance and poor behavior. Had this leader been a bit more focused on performance, he would have built something much better and stronger, enabled by his well-developed people skills.

Avoid becoming a country club leader unless you’re the head of a social club where the purpose is to relax and not perform. I suggest you use a more modern set of leadership styles instead, such as the Six leadership styles by Goleman; it is highly versatile and valuable in all situations.

You can learn more about the entire framework and the other styles in our articles here: Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid, Impoverished Management, Produce-or-Perish Management a k a Authority-Obedience Management.

If you want to hear more of my leadership stories, sign up for our newsletter right here: Leadershipahoy Newsletter.

Sources: Refer to our in-depth article on Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid for reference information.

Carl Lindberg

Carl is a global business leader that has led 1-2000 people and had financial responsibility of 200-500 MUSD. During his career, he has led employees in twenty different countries and has lived in three continents.

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