Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model

Taking an Intelligent, Long-Term Approach to Leadership

Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model

This model highlights the dynamic nature of leadership.

© iStockphoto/H-Gall

Leadership is about setting direction and helping people do the right things.

However, it can involve so much more than this!

In particular, leadership is a long-term process in which – in a very real and practical way – all actions have consequences, and "what goes around comes around."

Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model helps you think about this, and understand why it's important to adopt a positive and long-term approach to leadership.

We'll look at the model in this article, and we'll explore why it's so important to understand it. We'll also look at how you can apply the model's lessons to your own situation.

What is the Leadership Process Model?

The Leadership Process Model was developed by Randall B. Dunham and Jon Pierce, and was published in their 1989 book "Managing." You can see our interpretation of the model in figure 1, below. (We've redrawn this for clarity.)

Figure 1 – The Leadership Process

The Leadership Process Diagram

The model shows the relationship between four key factors that contribute to leadership success or failure. These are:

  1. The Leader: This is the person who takes charge, and directs the group's performance.
  2. Followers: These are the people who follow the leader's directions on tasks and projects.
  3. The Context: This is the situation in which the work is performed. For instance, it may be a regular workday, an emergency project, or a challenging, long-term assignment. Context can also cover the physical environment, resources available, and events in the wider organization.
  4. Outcomes: These are the results of the process. Outcomes could be reaching a particular goal, developing a high-quality product, or resolving a customer service issue. They can also include things like improved trust and respect between the leader and followers, or higher team morale.

The model shows the way in which the leader, the followers, and the context combine to affect the outcomes. It also shows how outcomes feed back to affect the leader, the followers, and the context.

Most importantly, the model highlights that leadership is a dynamic and ongoing process. Therefore, it's important to be flexible depending on the context and outcomes, and to invest continually in your relationship with your followers.

Accordingly, the model can also help you understand:

  • How your actions as a leader influence your followers, depending on the context and the outcome.
  • How your followers influence you.
  • How the context and outcomes influence you and your followers.

Essentially, everything affects everything else. In a very real way, negative actions feed back to negatively affect future performance, and positive actions improve future performance.


Dunham and Pierce used a different format for the diagram illustrating this model. You can see their version in Chapter 9 of the book "Leaders and the Leadership Process," which was co-authored by Jon Pierce.

How to Apply the Model

Pierce and John W. Newstrom highlighted several ways that you can apply the insights from this framework to your own development as a leader, and to the development of your people:

1. Provide Regular Feedback

Probably the most important thing that the Leadership Process Model highlights is how important it is to give good feedback  , so that your team can grow and develop.

When you give feedback to your team, it influences the context and helps to improve the outcome. This then cycles back to influence you and your team in a positive way.

Regular feedback also helps you take your people in the right direction, as outcomes and the context change.

2. Be Aware of Actions and Reactions

The model makes it clear that, no matter what you do, your decisions, behavior, and actions directly affect your followers. Every action has a reaction. You, your followers, the context, and the outcome are all tied together in a dynamic relationship.

As a leader, it's essential that you keep this in mind at all times. There will be consequences when you say something thoughtless or lash out at a team member, even if you don't see these immediately. Those consequences might include diminished performance, reduced morale, increased absenteeism, and accelerated staff turnover.

This is why it's important to control your emotions   at work, and be a good role model  .

3. Lead Honestly and Ethically

The model also illustrates the relationships between leader and followers. If this relationship is built on mutual trust and respect, then the context and outcomes will get better and better. However, if the relationship is based on animosity, resentment, or even fear, the effect on context and outcomes will be negative.

Your people need and deserve a leader who they can trust and look up to, which is why it's important to be an ethical leader  .

Of course, your people may have to follow your instructions. However, if you're a leader who they trust to do the right thing, they'll want to follow you, and they'll go above and beyond for you because the relationship is deeper. This makes the difference between an average team and a great team.

Also, be authentic   in your actions and communication, lead with integrity  , and be humble. These qualities will inspire the trust of your people and strengthen the relationship you have with them.

It's also important to build trust   actively with your team members. Do your best to support their needs, and always keep your word with them.

4. Lead with the Right Style

In business, Transformational Leadership   is often the best leadership style to use. Transformational leaders have integrity, they set clear goals, they communicate well with their team members, and they inspire people with a shared vision of the future.

However, you'll occasionally need to adopt different leadership approaches to fit a particular follower, outcome, or context. This is why it helps to be able to use other leadership styles   when appropriate.

5. Consciously Assign Tasks

Do your people get to use their skills and strengths on a regular basis? If you've been assigning tasks and projects in an ad-hoc way, then this answer might be no.

We're all happiest when we can use our strongest skills on a regular basis. Try to assign tasks that fit the unique skills of everyone on your team. Our articles on the Four Dimensions of Relational Work   and Task Allocation   have more on how to match tasks to your people's particular skills and situation.

6. Focus on Relationship Development

As a leader, you often depend on your people more than they depend on you. Your working relationships should therefore be built on trust, respect, and transparency. The deeper your relationship with your team, the better a leader you'll be.

Start by developing your emotional intelligence  ; this encompasses many of the traits that we've already mentioned. When you have high emotional intelligence, you are self-aware, you manage your emotions, and you act according to your ethics and values.

You also need to show empathy   with members of your team. When your people see you as an empathic leader, they feel that you're on their side, and that you can see things from their perspective. This deepens the relationship they have with you.

Lastly, reward your people   for the good work that they do: even a simple "thank you" will show your appreciation.

Key Points

The Leadership Process Model highlights the dynamic and long-term nature of leadership. It shows how your actions and behaviors influence your people, just as their actions and behaviors influence you.

As well as having an awareness of the model, you can also apply lessons from it by doing the following:

  1. Providing regular feedback.
  2. Being aware of actions and reactions.
  3. Leading honestly and ethically.
  4. Leading with the right style.
  5. Assigning tasks consciously and intelligently.
  6. Focusing on relationship development.

Overall, the Leadership Process Model helps you see the interdependent nature of leadership and its effects on situations and outcomes. Use this framework to be aware of your actions and to deepen the relationship you have with your people.

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Comments (10)
  • MichaelP wrote This month
    Eliana, can I refer you to our reference citations advise on our permissions page: http://www.mindtools.com/php/Permissions.php?e=rdqpermissionshelpdesk. Basically we recommend you use the date you accessed the article. cheers.
  • Erliana wrote This month
    Hi Mind Tools Team,
    May I know how to check when the article was published? I wanted to site this, but i am unable to find the year of publication.
    Thank you
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi mtorres74

    It's good to hear that you enjoyed the article so much. Why don't you share some of your ideas or challenges with us over on the forums? The link to Career Cafe Central is http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=2 . Just click on "Post a new topic" and you start your own thread. Looking forward to hear your thoughts!

    Mind Tools Team
  • mtorres74 wrote Over a month ago
    Me gusto mucho, i really enjoy it and will be great to start applying it.
  • Iyesaga wrote Over a month ago
    Yes you got it ''Feedback''.
    Someone who have been always in the defense before will know the loop holes of the attacker.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Francisco,
    In addition to what Dianna has offered, I would like to add that ultimately, we can not control how other people react, we can only control ourselves.

    By focusing on yourself and on being the best you can be, use the reactions of others as feedback to learn and grow. Perhaps you could do things differently or change your approach? Perhaps it is entirely this 'issue' and does not accurately reflect on you as a person and how you are. Sometimes by removing the reaction as a personal attack or slight against you as an individual and see it rather as a reaction to behavior can help deal with situations more resourcefully.

    By removing the 'personal' aspect of people reactions, how does that shift things for you and shift things in your attitude and approach?


  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    I think that when you get a different reaction than you expect, as a leader that's an opportunity to evaluate your expectations and re-think how you interact with that person. Try to figure out what is behind their bad attitude? Is there something you can do to help make the situation better? You might not be able to change their attitude but it's always worth investigating. In that way their reaction is valuable because you never know what you may discover.

    What do you think?

  • fxgg090 wrote Over a month ago
    Actions and Reactions.

    What happens when you expect some reaction and this does not happen?

    Let´s say you expect most of your followers to appreciate your time, work and effort, your knowledge, and suddenly one reacts different either he has some issues or many issues, or he has bad intentions, bad attitude?

    Is that one reaction more or less or equal valuable as the rest of the members? is that reaction as valid as other´s, should we focus on just that one member or let it go?

    Great lectures, learning a lot - Please consider a Life time Membership!

    Francisco x González Garza.
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Lenka,
    Are you referring to people within your organization who are choosing not to take all four of these elements into consideration? It certainly is frustrating to see "leaders" who could be much more effective if they broadened their perspective and used this type of process model. I think there are leaders out there who try to lead from the front without looking back and checking in with the people surrounding them. One of the best strategies for me has always been to lead by example.

    Do you have a particular situation you are dealing with? A few more details might help us to provide better suggestions.

    Talk soon!
  • cleverlenka wrote Over a month ago
    Hi, when I saw the picture I thought "a theory again!" The analysis below is an interesting and exhaustive, in my opinion, contains almost all aspects of leadership. But what about people who do not want "beyond limits" to follow, which operates outside influences?

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