Is Task-Orientated Leadership a Contradiction?

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You manage things and you lead people. That’s what most Management and Leadership Training Courses will teach you.

Peter Drucker famously said that “Management was doing things right and leadership was doing the right things” which basically meant that management was focused on the task and leadership was focused on the people.

So, how can we have task-orientated leadership?

Surely that’s an oxymoron? Leadership that is based around the task? What about the people? Is it directive? Or is that more management?

Or is it something completely different?

This guide will take a closer look at the definition of task-orientated leadership, how it’s used and the pros and cons of the approach.



What is Task-Orientated Leadership?

Task-orientated leadership involves specifying tasks and goals. Everything centres around achieving a particular outcome.

Some professionals also define task-orientated leadership as “doing whatever is necessary to get the job done.”

It’s not contradictory to be a task-orientated leader. Some management models like Adair’s Leadership Model has task as an important part of its approach. You can still focus on people — i.e., your team members — while also providing them with a clear plan and detailed steps to meet your organisation’s goals.

Those who strive to live up to this task-orientated leadership definition tend to be very goal-focused.

These leaders work hard to achieve objectives based on specific deadlines. They also give their team members the support they need to accomplish goals, from defining individual roles to providing useful resources.



Task-orientated vs People-orientated Leadership Style

People-orientated leadership concentrates on interpersonal relationships.

Those who practise this type of leadership aim to build and improve relationships between themselves and their team members. People-orientated leaders hope to increase productivity and create a more positive work environment by developing these relationships.

Some fundamental tenets of people-orientated leadership include:

  • Ongoing recognition and positive reinforcement
  • Positive relationships with employees and between co-workers
  • Emphasis on coaching instead of strict quotas or goals
  • Open dialogue and constant communication

People-orientated leaders also care about setting goals and achieving objectives, just like task-orientated leaders. However, they also focus more on relationship building.



Task-Orientated Leadership Skills Examples

What does the task-orientated leadership style look like in action?

Here are some examples of how managers and supervisors might utilise task-orientated leadership:

  • Step-by-step planning
  • Reward/punishment systems
  • Constantly defining structures and setting goals
  • Prioritising achievement of specific outcomes
  • Sticking to rigid schedules
  • Requiring individuals to set process-orientated goals
  • Requiring individuals to formulate detailed plans to achieve their goals
  • Using performance reviews to assess team members and ensure they’re on track
  • Relying on planners, to-do lists, and project management software to stay organised

Someone who practises task-orientated leadership might also exhibit the following traits:

  • Detail-orientated: These leaders are very particular and believe no element of a project is too small or unimportant.
  • Passion for Success: They are passionate about achieving goals. They want to see themselves, their teams, and their organisation succeed.
  • Organised: They understand the importance of organisation for increased efficiency and productivity. They encourage their team members to be organised as well.
  • Deadline-Focused: They always meet deadlines and go above and beyond to get things done on time.
  • Boundary-Focused: They set and uphold clear boundaries between themselves and their subordinates.
  • Realistic: They set reachable objectives that are challenging but still possible.

Task-orientated leaders are great at evaluating other’s people’s strengths and dividing work based on what each team member brings to the table. They also understand resource limitations and are willing to do what it takes to achieve results, even if they must ruffle a few feathers along the way.

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Advantages of Task-Orientated Leadership

Some people frown upon or are critical of task-orientated leadership. They might assume that a people-orientated approach is more effective or that the term itself is a contradiction.

Like all leadership styles, task-orientated leadership is not all good or all bad. It comes with various benefits and drawbacks.

The following are some of the most significant advantages of task-orientated leadership:

Increases Innovation

For task-orientated leaders, the most important thing is to get the job done accurately and on time. This kind of leader will do whatever is necessary to ensure this happens.

If they’re met with an unexpected hurdle, a task-orientated leader will devise an innovative solution to overcome it. Their solution might even be so innovative that they revolutionise how they (and their colleagues) handle problems moving forward.

Clarifies Objectives for Teams and Individual

Clarity and directness are some of the greatest strengths of task-orientated leaders.

When you work with a task-orientated leader, there’s no confusion regarding the more important goal you’re working toward, as well as the smaller goals you must meet along the way to achieve it.

The best task-orientated leaders establish clear objectives for teams. However, that’s just the beginning. They also collaborate with team members to set smaller goals and identify what they need to do each day to make meaningful progress.

The clarity provided by task-orientated leaders is invaluable. It’s particularly helpful for those who work in fast-paced environments, have little-to-no room for error, or regularly have tight deadlines.

Provides Detailed Action Plans

Task-orientated leaders concentrate heavily on goals and objectives. However, their leadership doesn’t stop there.

The best leaders don’t just set goals and leave their team members to sink or swim. Instead, they work alongside their employees to create detailed action plans and outline the specific steps required to achieve a goal.

For some, task-orientated leaders’ step-by-step action plans might feel too rigid or prescriptive.

For others, having a clear path to follow makes it easier for them to stay focused and engaged on the job. Increased focus and engagement, in turn, lead to greater productivity, increased engagement, and better project outcomes.

Creates More Structure

In theory, a laid-back work environment might seem like the better, more favourable option. However, employees may fail to stay organised or meet deadlines if things are too loose and unstructured.

Not only does this slow down production at the company, but it can also lead to unsatisfied customers and hurt the business’s bottom line.

A task-orientated leader can take an underperforming team or a team that needs extra motivation and give its members some much-needed structure.

From setting clear expectations, establishing goals, outlining steps needed to achieve those goals, and rewarding members who meet or exceed expectations, task-orientated leadership gives employees and teams a roadmap to success.

Establishes Firm Deadlines

Task-orientated leaders love deadlines. They never forget a project’s due date and work hard to ensure they and their teams get tasks done on time (if not ahead of time).

Task-orientated leadership can provide additional structure and help members keep track of important dates if a team consistently misses deadlines.

If individual team members struggle with procrastination and tend to put things off, task-orientated leaders can also step in and help.
A task-orientated leader might help by breaking up projects into manageable pieces and setting separate deadlines for each piece.

This approach forces procrastinators to be more proactive. They must learn to tackle projects earlier and avoid rushing at the last minute (and compromising quality or creating extra stress for their fellow team members).

Offers Ongoing Guidance

An effective task-orientated leader will give their team members a blueprint to follow, but they also offer ongoing guidance.

Because they’re committed to getting the job done correctly, these leaders are usually eager to help ensure team members complete tasks and achieve their goals.

Although task-orientated leaders strive for clarity and to avoid confusion, they will still give advice and direction to prevent employees from making mistakes.

The best task-oriented leaders also give team members opportunities to ask questions. They then respond by sharing additional information and helpful resources or clarifying specific instructions to ensure the task gets done correctly.

Recognises and Celebrates Team Members’ Strengths

Task-orientated leaders know how to evaluate each team member, identifying their strengths and weaknesses. They then take this information and use it to their (and the organisation’s) advantage.

Suppose a task-orientated leader notices that one team member has an eye for detail and precision. In that case, they might put that employee in charge of reviewing others’ work or handling quality assurance.

On the other hand, if a leader notices that another employee is not particularly detail-orientated but more imaginative, they might give them a more creative role. This option is more productive than forcing the employee to do a job that doesn’t come naturally to them.

Eliminates Unnecessary Tasks

Because task-orientated leaders care so much about accuracy and meeting deadlines, they rarely require their employees to waste time on busy work.

These leaders do an excellent job at evaluating workflows and identifying unnecessary, time-wasting tasks. They then look for ways to automate these tasks or eliminate them altogether.

By eliminating timewasters, task-orientated leaders give employees more time to focus on tasks that move the needle forward and bring them closer to accomplishing their goals.

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Disadvantages of Task-Orientated Leadership

Task-orientated leadership provides a lot of perks for leaders, team members, and companies. However, it also comes with some noteworthy disadvantages, including these:

Creates a High-Pressure Work Environment

When a task-orientated leader oversees your work, you might feel like a drill sergeant is leading you.

Some people struggle with the amount of structure that comes with task-orientated leadership. They might be daunted by the to-do lists, the strict deadlines, and the high-performance company culture.

Those who consider themselves task-orientated leaders — and those who strive to be more task-orientated — must ensure they don’t set the bar too high.

Remember, realism is an essential characteristic of an effective task-orientated leader. They set achievable goals that push their team members but don’t set them up for failure.

Less Room for Team Bonding

Productivity typically increases when employees are highly disciplined, consistently working on the next task, and pushing themselves to meet deadlines. This kind of work environment may also leave less room for team bonding and relationship building.

Task-orientated leaders should look for opportunities to help employees get to know one another better and feel more connected. Examples of these opportunities could be hosting team-building activities (like lunches or happy hours) or starting meetings with icebreaker questions.

Stronger relationships make it easier for employees to trust each other. When there’s more trust between team members, it leads to improved collaboration, problem-solving, and results.

Less Time for Personal Development

Task-orientated leaders often fail to leave time in their employees’ schedules for personal development and learning new skills.

If the leader can’t see how a task directly relates to the company or a team goal, they might discourage their team members from engaging in it. They might even punish them for taking their eyes off the prize.

Personal development often contributes to employees’ happiness on the job and their desire to continue working for the same company long-term.

Potential for Low Team Morale

What happens when employees are in a high-pressure work environment, don’t feel bonded to their colleagues, and have little-to-no time for personal development? Individual and team morale might drop.

Task-orientated leaders must remember that employees can have fun at work and get things done.

Sometimes, taking a break to chat with a co-worker for a few seconds gives a team member the reset they need to finally break through a slump and find a solution to the problem that’s been stumping them for the last hour.

Increased Risk of Burnout

If morale stays low for too long, team members could be more prone to burnout. Burnout is an extreme form of stress that causes physical and mental exhaustion.

Burnout leads to various health and wellness issues, from insomnia to elevated blood pressure. It can also reduce productivity and hinder people’s work performance, leading to more mistakes, missed deadlines, etc.

When task-orientated leaders are aware of the disadvantages of their leadership style and work hard to prevent issues like diminished morale or a lack of team bonding, it’s easier for them to enjoy the best of both worlds.

They can feel confident that their employees are getting things done and meeting deadlines. They can also create an uplifting work environment that team members will enjoy being part of.



Task-Orientated Leaders That You Might Know

Plenty of famous leaders throughout history have practised a task-orientated leadership style. Here are some of the most well-known ones:

Tim Cook

Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple and former COO (under the company’s founder Steve Jobs). He is also well known for his task-orientated leadership style.

During a commencement address at George Washington University, Cook explained that finding one’s values and sticking to them is essential to being an effective leader. He urged graduates to find their “North Star” and use it as a guide when making choices, even if others question them.

Task-orientated leaders stick to their values and commit to the end result. They do what it takes to get the job done, even if people don’t understand their approach in the moment.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill served as Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II and is often regarded as one of the world’s most outstanding leaders. The following are some key characteristics of Churchill’s leadership style:

  • Decisiveness
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Simple and clear communication

An effective task-orientated leader must exhibit all of these. They must make and stick to their decisions, clearly communicate goals and processes to employees, and be willing to take risks and develop innovative solutions to ensure they meet deadlines.

Margaret Thatcher

Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was often known as The Iron Lady.

Thatcher did not hesitate to take on decision-making responsibilities and see her decisions through. She also had confidence in her choices and did not abandon her values when making decisions, assigning tasks, or leading her cabinet.

Jeff Bezos

As the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos has often been described as a task-orientated leader. By studying his shareholder letters over the years, those who research Bezos’s influence have identified the following characteristics that exemplify task-orientated leadership:

  • A long-term approach to goals
  • Prioritising strong communication and clearly delivering messages
  • Carefully laying out and sticking to plans and goals
  • Insisting on the highest standards

It’s important to note that under Bezos’ tutelage, Amazon’s leaders also prioritise speaking respectfully and listening carefully to employees.

Influential leaders care about achieving goals and accomplishing tasks. They also value creating a positive and supportive work environment.



Are You a Task-Orientated Leader?

Would you consider yourself more of a task-orientated leader or a people-orientated leader?

If you fall into the task-orientated category, you’re in the company of famous professionals like Margaret Thatcher and Bill Gates! However, to reach the same level of success as these business figureheads, you must prioritise ongoing learning and growth.

We offer several training options for you to fine-tune your leadership skills, learn how to improve your task-orientated approach, and see better results.

Check out our Management Development Programmes or our Leadership Training today to get started. Alternatively, you can take a FREE Leadership Assessment with us to diagnose your current leadership and management skills.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training

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Updated on: 26 January, 2023

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