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Michigan Studies


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A famous series of studies on leadership were done in Michigan University, starting in the 1950s. They found three critical characteristics of effective leaders.


Task-oriented behavior

Effective managers studied did not do the same kind work as their subordinates. Their tasks were different, and included planning and scheduling work, coordinating activities and providing necessary resources.

They also spent time guiding subordinates in setting task goals that were both challenging and achievable.

Relationship-oriented behavior

Effective managers not only concentrated on the task, but also on their relationship with their subordinates. They were more considerate, helpful and supportive of subordinates, including helping them with their career and personal problems. They recognized effort with intrinsic as well as extrinsic reward, thanking people for effort.

Overall, the effective preferred a general and hands-off form of supervision rather than close control. They set goals and provided guidelines, but then gave their subordinates plenty of leeway as to how the goals would be achieved.

Participative leadership

Effective leaders use a participative style, managing at the group level as well as individually, for example using team meetings to share ideas and involve the team in group decisions and problem-solving. By their actions, such leaders model good team-oriented behavior.

The role of the manager is more facilitative than directive, guiding the conversation and helping to resolve differences. The manager, however, is responsible for results and is not absolved of responsibility. As such, they may make final decisions that take recommendations from the team into account.

The effect of participative leadership is to build a cohesive team which works together rather than a set of individuals.


Although an early study, this is still often referenced. It is notable that the two factors correlate with the people-task division that appears in other studies and also as preferences (although the preference scale generally assumes an either-or structure rather than two independent scales).

The Michigan studies were conducted around the same time as the Ohio State Leadership Studies, which also identified the focus on task ('Initiating Structure') and people ('Consideration'). The Michigan studies added 'Participative leadership' to the Ohio findings, moving the debate further into the question of leading teams rather than just individuals.

See also

Task vs. Person preference, Ohio State Leadership Studies, Participative Leadership

Katz, D. and Kahn, R.L. (1952). Some recent findings in human relations research, In E. Swanson, T. Newcombe and E. Hartley (eds), Readings in social psychology, NY: Holt, Reinhart and

Likert, R. (1961). New patterns of management, NY: McGraw-Hill

Likert R. (1967). The human organization: Its management and value, NY: McGraw-Hill

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