Leadership Skills

Behavioral Theory – Leadership

What is Behavioral Theory?

Behavioral theory is a leadership theory that suggests that effective leaders can be identified by the specific behaviors they exhibit. According to this theory, leaders are not born with certain innate characteristics, but rather learn and develop specific behaviors through training and experience.

One of the early studies in behavioral theory was conducted by Kurt Lewin and his colleagues, who found that effective leaders exhibited two distinct styles of behavior: task-oriented and relationship-oriented.

Task-oriented leaders focused on getting the job done and achieving specific goals, while relationship-oriented leaders focused on maintaining good relationships and fostering a positive work environment.

Subsequent research has also identified a number of other behaviors that are commonly associated with effective leaders, such as:

  • Giving clear and specific direction
  • Setting high standards and expectations
  • Encouraging and motivating others
  • Providing feedback and recognition
  • Being flexible and adaptable to change
  • Being approachable and open to input
  • Building and leading teams

Behavioral theory emphasizes that leaders can be trained and developed to exhibit the specific behaviors associated with effective leadership.

This theory suggests that leadership can be taught and that individuals who lack innate leadership traits can still be effective leaders by learning and practicing the appropriate behaviors.

It’s also important to note that while behavioral theory is focused on leader behaviors, it is not a complete theory, it doesn’t address the cognitive and emotional processes that underlie leader behavior, nor it doesn’t take into account the situational context in which leadership is enacted.

Methods to measure the behaviors associated with effective leadership as per behavioral theory

There are various methods that can be used to measure the behaviors associated with effective leadership as per behavioral theory.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Self-report questionnaires: This method involves asking individuals to rate their own behaviors on a scale such as 1 (never) to 5 (always). This method can provide insight into an individual’s self-perception of their leadership behaviors, but it can be subject to bias and social desirability.
  2. Peer evaluations: This method involves asking individuals’ colleagues to rate the individual’s leadership behaviors. Peer evaluations can provide a more objective perspective on an individual’s leadership behaviors, but it can be affected by factors such as interpersonal relationships or personal biases.
  3. Direct observation: This method involves observing an individual’s behavior in a naturalistic setting, such as a team meeting or project meeting. This method can provide an objective and unbiased perspective on an individual’s leadership behaviors, but it can be time-consuming and may not provide a full picture of an individual’s behavior across different situations.
  4. 360-degree feedback: This method involves collecting feedback from multiple sources, such as supervisors, peers, and subordinates. This method can provide a more comprehensive picture of an individual’s leadership behaviors, but it can be more time-consuming and resource-intensive to implement.

It’s important to consider the limitations of each method, and to use multiple methods as part of a comprehensive assessment process. And it’s also important to note that behaviors are dynamic, they may change over time, and they can be influenced by many factors such as an individual’s personality, the situation and environmental factors, skills and knowledge, and experience. Therefore, It’s important to measure the behavior at different points in time to get a full picture of an individual’s leadership behavior.

Sample Self-report questionnaire – HR Tool

here is an example of a self-report questionnaire that can be used to measure some of the behaviors associated with effective leadership as per behavioral theory:

  1. Giving clear and specific direction:
  • I provide clear and specific instructions to my team.
  • I set clear goals and expectations for my team.
  1. Setting high standards and expectations:
  • I set high standards for myself and my team.
  • I expect the best from my team and myself.
  1. Encouraging and motivating others:
  • I give positive feedback and recognition to my team.
  • I provide support and resources to help my team achieve their goals.
  • I create opportunities for my team to develop new skills.
  1. Being flexible and adaptable to change:
  • I am able to adjust my leadership style to fit different situations.
  • I am open to new ideas and perspectives.
  • I am able to adapt to changes in the work environment.
  1. Being approachable and open to input:
  • I am approachable and easy to talk to.
  • I am open to feedback and suggestions from my team.
  • I actively seek input from my team.
  1. Building and leading teams:
  • I am able to build and lead high-performing teams.
  • I am able to delegate effectively.
  • I am able to resolve conflicts within my team.

Respondents would be asked to rate each statement on a scale such as 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).


Please keep in mind that this is just an example questionnaire, and the specific questions and response options will depend on the needs of your organization. And, it is important to validate the questionnaire through pilot testing, which is an important step in developing a self-report questionnaire.


Marty Hoffman

Marty Hoffman, MBA, PhD Management Consultant for Fortune 500 and Corporate Strategist 📍 San Francisco, CA More »

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