Due to my job as a senior business leader, I also take an interest in older leadership theories such as the Ohio State Leadership Studies. Older theories provide an understanding of how leadership was viewed in another era compared to nowadays. Understanding where leadership styles and theories originate from also helps to understand and apply them effectively. This article explains the Ohio State Leadership studies, a behavioral leadership theory, and Consideration behavior, and Initiating Structure behavior, the two behavior categories of the Ohio studies. Before we go into the details of this concept, let us present an overview explanation.
What is the Ohio State University Leadership Studies?
The Ohio State Leadership Studies is a behavioral leadership theory that shows that leadership performance depends on two categories of behaviors: Initiating Structure and Consideration. The Ohio State Leadership Studies also concluded that you are not born to become a leader; you can learn, practice, and develop yourself to become one.
Continue reading to learn about the Ohio State Studies, or learn about many other theories in our main article on Leadership Styles. You can also watch our video on the Ohio State Leadership Studies below or continue reading the article.
The Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire of the Ohio Leadership Studies
In the mid-1940s, when trait theory was dominant within the field of leadership studies, researchers at Ohio State University sought to draw conclusions of how different leadership behaviors affected leadership performance. The research team created the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire, or LBDQ for short, to study leadership better.
What is The Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire?
The Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire consists of 150 statements regarding leadership behaviors. Each respondent answers how frequently each behavior is displayed, on a scale with five points, ranging from never, to always. The Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire enables the systemization and quantification of leadership studies.
Using the leader behavior description questionnaire, the research of the Ohio State leadership studies could be systematized during 1945, enabling a better understanding of behavior patterns. The questionnaire has been further refined over the decades and is still used in leadership studies, making it one of the big impacts of the Ohio State Leadership Studies, which is sometimes also referred to as the Ohio State Model of Leadership behavior.
After successfully identifying several different behaviors affecting leadership performance, these were grouped into two categories, namely: Initiating Structure and Consideration behavior. We will explain them both in detail in this article. (Other leadership models have a similar approach with task-oriented and relationship-oriented behaviors, refer to our articles here: Situational Leadership Model, Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid, Fiedler’s Contingency Model of Leadership. You find them all and 25 other styles in our leadership styles portal.)
Consideration and Initiating Structure
Consideration and Initiating Structure are the two behavior categories of the Ohio Leadership Studies. A leader can display both behaviors in different amounts at the same time.
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Initiating Structure is a category of leadership behaviors aimed at creating clarity and structure for an organization. Some of the behaviors in the Initiating Structure category are:
- Setting clear expectations
- Providing constructive criticism enabling improvement
- Setting standards of performance and production
- Creation and maintenance of processes, policies, and procedures
- Setting job descriptions and establishing the division of labor
- Systematic coordination of work
- Emphasis on meeting milestones and performance targets
- Monitoring and controlling operations and performance
A high level of Initiating-Structure behavior means a high definition of roles, tasks, expectations, schedules, etc., which leaves few uncertainties for the employees, bearing a resemblance to Scientific Management by Taylor.
High levels of Initiating Structure behavior also mean the leader makes all decisions, punishes sub-par performance among followers, and underlines the importance of results. An extreme case of this will in fact be more like the autocratic leadership style from the Lewin leadership styles, which should be avoided at all cost. In a more moderate version, it corresponds well to a combination of the over pacesetting and commanding leadership from the six leadership styles by Goleman, if overused. All the mentioned styles are available in our leadership styles area.
Consideration behavior is a category of leadership behaviors focusing on relationships and the welfare of people. Here are a few examples of consideration behaviors:
- Listening to team members and other stakeholders
- Treating people well and seeing them as equals
- Providing support to team members
- Being generally supportive, friendly, and available
- Emphasizing the welfare of the team members
- Building trust and a good team climate
- Display of empathy and a genuine wish to understand the capabilities of each team member
The level of Consideration behaviors set the leader’s level of empathy and focus on people. High consideration behavior signifies a strive for trust, interest in the followers’ feelings, and a willingness to create warm relationships within the team. A leader with high consideration behavior uses active listening, understands the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, and supports them as required. (You can learn a lot about how to do this in my democratic leadership course, which will give you an edge as a leader since you can drive empowerment, accountability and results in a very structured way.)
Consideration behavior can be compared with democratic leadership combined with coaching and affiliative leadership from the styles by Daniel Goleman. (Deep-dive articles available in our leadership styles repository.)
The Ohio State leadership research suggests that these two leadership behaviors lead to four possible outcomes, or quadrants, with four different leadership styles reflecting the leader’s behavior.
The most important conclusions of the Ohio State Leadership Studies are that the most effective leaders display high consideration behavior and a high initiating structure at the same time, and that leadership can be learned. Compared to other studies and theories at the time, the assumption that leaders could elicit two types of behaviors at the same time was also new.
The Ohio State Leadership Studies vs. Trait Theory
The findings of the Ohio State Leadership Studies are very different from the trait theory of leadership, which was well spread at the time. (Refer to the even earlier Great Man Theory of Leadership as well for something very different.) Trait theory assumes that a combination of specific traits means a person can be successful as a leader. You have characteristics from birth, meaning that some people are born to be leaders, and others are not. At least if you believe the school of thought of Great Man Theory!
The Four Leadership styles of the Ohio State Leadership Studies
The Ohio State Leadership Studies suggested that it wasn’t the traits that made leaders successful, but rather their behaviors. Since behaviors can be trained and learned, this opens up the thought of anyone learning how to become a great leader.
The Ohio State Leadership Studies’ Initiating Structure and Consideration behaviors result in four leadership styles:
i. Low initiating structure with high consideration behavior.
ii. High initiating structure combined with low consideration behavior.
iii. Low levels of both behavior categories.
iv. High levels of initiating structure as well as high levels of consideration behavior, in combination.
According to the Ohio State Leadership Studies, the combination of high initiating structure and high consideration behavior results in better outcomes for organizations and businesses. Thus, a perfect leader displays high levels of both Initiating Structure and Consideration behaviors.
Subsequent studies have also established that a high initiating structure leads to solid productivity, but also brings low job satisfaction. With high consideration behavior and low initiating structure, people enjoy work with little absence as a consequence, but they also deliver lower performance. Compare this with Country Club Leadership of the Blake & Mouton Managerial Grid.
The Ohio State Leadership Studies’ leadership styles grid:
Feel free to use the image as long as you link back to this article.
The four leadership styles of the Ohio State Leadership Studies have counterparts in other leadership styles, theories, and models, such as the task-oriented vs. relationship-oriented behaviors of the Michigan University Leadership Studies or the task structure vs. leader-member relations behaviors of Fiedler’s Contingency Model of Leadership.
Conclusions of the Ohio State Leadership Studies
The Ohio State Leadership Studies concluded that:
- Two categories of behaviors, Initiating Structure and Consideration behavior, affect leadership performance.
- Effective leaders display high levels of both Initiating Structure and Consideration
- Leadership can be developed and learned. You are not born a leader, which the trait theory of leadership also suggests
The unique and crucial contributions of the Ohio State Leadership Studies were the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire and the break away from trait theory, enabling the thought that you can learn and develop leadership skills.
The Ohio State Leadership Studies might give you another perspective on leadership, but if you want to apply a leadership model, you are much better of with the Six Leadership Styles by Goleman, which I have used successfully for several years. For other theories, such as the situational leadership model, servant leadership, transformational leadership, etc., check out our leadership styles portal. You might also want to compare it with the Michigan Leadership studies. Also, take the opportunity to push your career further by learning some great leadership techniques based on my experience as a CEO in the democratic leadership course.
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“A Handbook of Leadership Styles”, Demirtas and Karaca, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.