Continuum of Leadership Behaviour

The leadership continuum was originally written in 1958 by Tannenbaum and Schmidt and was later updated in the year 1973. Their work suggests a continuum of possible leadership behavior available to a manager and along which many leadership styles may be placed. The continuum presents a range of action related to the degree of authority used by the manager and to the area of freedom available to non-managers in arriving at decisions. A broad range of leadership styles have been depicted on the continuum between two extremes of autocratic and free rein (See figure 1). The left side shows a style where control is maintained by a manager and the right side shows the release of control. However, neither extreme is absolute and authority and freedom are never without their limitations.

The Tannenbaum and Schmidt continuum can be related to McGregor’s supposition of Theory X and Theory Y. Boss-centered leadership is towards theory X and subordinate-centered leadership is towards theory Y.

Figure 1: Continuum Leadership Behaviuor.
Continuum Leadership Behaviuor

A manager is characterized according to degree of control that is maintained by him. According to this approach, four main styles of leadership have been identified:

  • Tells: The manager identifies a problem, chooses a decision, and announces this to subordinates. The subordinates are not a party to the decision making process and the manager expects them to implement his decisions as soon as possible.
  • Sells: The decision is chosen by the manager only but he understands that there will be some amount of resistance from those faced with the decision and therefore makes efforts to persuade them to accept it.
  • Consults: Though the problem is identified by the manager, he does not take a final decision. The problem is presented to the subordinates and the solutions are suggested by the subordinates.
  • Joins: The manager defines the limits within which the decision can be taken by the subordinates and then makes the final decision along with the subordinates.

According to Tannenbaum and Schmidt, if one has to make a choice of the leadership style which is practicable and desirable, then his answer will depend upon the following three factors:

  • Forces in the Manager: The behavior of the leader is influenced by his personality, background, knowledge, and experience. These forces include:
    1. Value systems
    2. Confidence in subordinates
    3. Leadership inclinations
    4. Feelings of security in an uncertain situation
  • Forces in the subordinate: The personality of the subordinates and their expectations from the leader influences their behavior. The factors include:
    1. Readiness to assume responsibility in decision-making
    2. Degree of tolerance for ambiguity
    3. Interest in the problem and feelings as to its importance
    4. Strength of the needs for independence
    5. Knowledge and experience to deal with the problem
    6. Understanding and identification with the goals of the organization
    If these factors are on a positive side, then more freedom can be allowed to the subordinate by the leader.
  • Forces in the situation: The environmental and general situations also affect the leader’s behavior. These include factors like:
    1. Type of organization
    2. Group effectiveness
    3. Nature of the problem
    4. Time pressure

When the authors updated their work in1973, they suggested a new continuum of patterns of leadership behavior. In this, the total area of freedom shared between managers and non-managers is redefined constantly by interactions between them and the environmental forces. This pattern was, however, more complex in comparison to the previous one.


According to Tannenbaum and Schmidt, successful leaders know which behavior is the most appropriate at a particular time. They shape their behavior after a careful analysis of self, their subordinates, organization, and environmental factors.

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