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Task or Relationship? Discovering your leadership style?

Research into effective leadership overwhelmingly tells leaders to ‘look within’, and for good reason.

It’s not about introspection for its own sake, and there’s more to it than setting a good example to the team. Leadership shapes team culture. As a leader, our behaviours carry forward into relationships with those we lead. Even unconscious biases can steer the team in a particular direction.

Leaders who can successfully identify – and work with – the shape of their leadership style, stand a greater chance of improving engagement and harnessing the potential of those they lead.

“Our results suggest that many leaders may be overestimating how well they’re connecting with their staff. Introspection is hard – and sometimes painful – but all leaders need an honest assessment of their own weaknesses.” – IBM Institute for Business Value, 2015

According to Donelson R. Forsyth’s task-relationship model, most leadership behaviours can be classified as maintaining either performance or relationships.


The task-orientated leader

A task-oriented leader focuses on the tasks that need to be performed in order to meet certain goals or achieve a certain level of performance. This style can be particularly useful when: leading those who struggle with time management; managing those who need clear guidance on particular procedures in situations, and where the priority is to ensure that everything is done in a productive and timely fashion.

However, since this leadership style doesn’t focus on the wellbeing of team members, these leaders can struggle to motivate and retain those they lead. As cited in Harvard Business Review, a 2017 study highlighted that a focus on ‘efficient’ leadership often resulted in burnout of both employees and leaders.


The relationship-orientated leader

A relationship-oriented leader focuses on the support, engagement and wellbeing of team members. This kind of leader encourages collaboration, strong working relationships and internal communication. This can help team members to feel valued, motivated and supported in taking risks.

On the downside, the ‘chemistry’ of the team can be prioritised at the expense of business objectives, leading to a ‘social club’ culture.


A third way?

According to Belbin Team Role methodology, as leaders, we have a number of key preferred behaviours we can draw on in our communications and interactions with others. There are nine Team Roles in total, and these can be divided into social, thinking and action roles.

In addition to the styles Forsyth identifies, we’ve all probably encountered ‘cerebral’ leaders. Strong Monitor Evaluators are likely to employ a reflective, judicious leadership style, taking time to arrive at wise decisions.

Plant leaders lead with creative vision, whereas Specialists will have established a reputation based on their expertise. Each of these leaders may find their place, but for distinct reasons, may also struggle to bring others along with them.

The Monitor Evaluator’s caution may be seen as uninspiring. The Plant may struggle to communicate ideas, or the Specialist, to relate to those outside their own area of expertise.


Finding your style

Of course, in reality, the styles described are not usually mutually exclusive. Our unique combination of Team Roles gives us a number of behavioural resources to draw upon when leading others, and the most effective leaders can adapt their style to the situation (situational leadership) and those they manage.

However, the efficacy of this approach depends on the leader’s levels of self-awareness. By understanding the roles in our own arsenal and asking others in the team for feedback, we can hone our leadership skills to the demands of our environment – and to the needs of our team.



Knowing when to play

A leader who has predominant Monitor Evaluator and Shaper roles, for example, is well placed to discern the right course of action, and then drive the team forward. However, without care or understanding of these sometimes contradictory forces in their behavioural make-up, they might be seen simply as an aloof autocrat, who steps on the accelerator only to slam on the brakes.

Leaders need to meet the team where they are, too. The team’s enthusiastic Resource Investigator is likely to spark off the leader’s Shaper energy, making for a dynamic duo. By contrast, the meticulous Completer Finisher is likely to derive reassurance from the leader’s careful Monitor Evaluator tendencies.

Getting the best from each team member means knowing when to bring our own roles into play.


What’s your Belbin leadership style?

We’re delighted to be working on a suite of reports designed especially for leaders and managers. Available from 2020, the reports will analyse a leader’s unique behavioural style and offer advice and guidance for harnessing the potential of others in the team, based on all Team Role behaviours.

For more information on our current offerings for leaders and managers, including bespoke workshops, please call 1300 731 381 or email

By: Victoria Bird April 26th 2019


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