The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Leadership Continuum

Balancing Control With Your Team's Need for Freedom

Leaders use a variety of different approaches.

Some are autocratic and prefer to tell their teams exactly what to do. Others use a much more participative style. Still others may use a style somewhere between these two extremes.

These differences suggest a continuum of leadership behavior – with leaders being able to choose the style they use.

So, how do you choose the leadership style that's right for you?

One popular approach to leadership, the "contingency" approach, argues that your choice should be based on the situation, and not on your personal preferences (here, "contingency" means that your approach is dependent on, or contingent upon, the situation).

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

In 1958, contingency theorists Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt identified a continuum of seven distinct leadership styles, which they published in the Harvard Business Review. By understanding this continuum, you can see some of the options available to you, and these help you think about which leadership style is most appropriate in a given situation.

Understanding the Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum

The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum shows where a manager's approach lies on a continuum, running from the manager exerting rigid authority at one extreme, through to the team having full freedom to act at the other. This is shown in figure 1, below.

Figure 1: The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum of Leadership Behavior

The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum of Leadership Behavior Diagram

Originally published in Harvard Business Review. From "How to Choose a Leadership Pattern" by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt, May 1973. Copyright © 1973 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.

The model highlights seven leadership styles that occur across the continuum...

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