Is being a directive important for being a good leader?

A good leader is generally viewed as someone who is knowledgeable and intelligent so as to be able to make wise decisions, as well as someone that possess the ability to inspire followers (Tannenbaum & Schmidt 1973). Leaders must also be able to help followers achieve a vision and goal (Oludele Mayowa, Faremi Elijah & Adesina Ekundayo 2016).

There has been an increasing focus on how leaders are able to maintain authority and control towards their followers and yet form an amicable relationship with them.

There are two fundamental sets of leadership behaviours that are commonly used in order to achieve organisational success, which is also known as Directive and Participative leadership behaviours (Li, Liu & Luo 2018).

Leaders adopting the participative leadership behaviour involves followers in decision making and participative leaders usually show more care and concern for them, instead of having a rigid hierarchy between leaders and followers (Li, Liu & Luo 2018). In contrast, directive leaders are more task-oriented and do not obtain suggestions from followers.

However, directive leaders are also efficient in leading productive work groups (Tjosvold 1984).

Directive Leadership:

Leaders with directive leadership behaviours are the ones who make decisions without involving followers in the decision-making process. Directive leaders first identifies a problem, comes up with a solution and delegates tasks to followers for their implementation (Tannenbaum & Schmidt 1973). High locomotion leaders will provide instructions to guide followers to implement actions and work towards their goals (Kruglanski et al. 2007). Directive leaders provide very specific instructions for their followers, such as specific task description, fixed schedules and deadlines as well as the required procedures that is needed to reach goals (House, Filley & Kerr 1971).

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Path goal theory

The Path goal theory by House is an approach to understanding leadership. Path goal theory states that the effectiveness of directive leadership is also based closely on the type of followers (Li, Liu & Luo 2018). Leaders should use matching behaviours in different situations so as to maximise effectiveness (Phillips & Phillips 2016). For example, the nature of directive leadership is where leaders provide task instructions that include details such as specific deadlines and step by step process where followers will eventually reach the goal (Li, Liu & Luo 2018). This is especially useful and is important for leaders to be directive when followers lack the skills and experience, and they need a leader who is able to tell them what to do. Directive leaders are efficient in improving follower’s performance by guiding them towards the goal.

Hence, the leader must be able to recognise relevant aspects upon analysing the situation and decide on a behaviour to adopt towards followers (Phillips & Phillips 2016). It is important as there would be a mismatch of behaviours if a directive leader provided guidance and task instructions to followers that were experienced and performing their work well (Phillips & Phillips 2016). Therefore, being a directive is important as a good leader when followers need some structure in their work and are able to perform well under task-oriented leaders.

In addition, reward contingencies are used in directive behaviour where leaders use tangibles and intangibles such as pay increase or a promotion in exchange for follower’s hard work. Directive leaders also make use of punishments and threats such as reprimanding followers when they make too many mistakes (Waldman, Bass & Yammarino 1990) as they believe that having such a system will motivate and recognise high performance (Nelson 1993).

Research has proven that leaders who are directive where they provide structure and some form on control over the work, are highly rated by superiors. Directive leaders are also more productive at work (House, Filley & Kerr 1971). This also proves that directive leadership behaviour produces more productive work groups, and is more efficient compared to having a leader that adopts a participative leadership behaviour (House, Filley & Kerr 1971).

Studies conducted

Evidence 1:

In an exercise by Antoinette S. Phillips and Carl R. Phillips on understanding the path goal theory, the results showed that although having a directive leadership behaviour might be viewed as bossy, a participative leadership behaviour might be seen as weak where the leader is not able to make decisions (Phillips & Phillips 2016). However, this exercise might not be concrete enough to determine if being a directive or participative is important in being a good leader as a few teams were removed. The results may have been affected.

Evidence 2:

Another test by Li, Liu & Luo came up with a hypothesis of testing for directive and participative leadership to see if they are related to team efficiency and team creativity (Li, Liu & Luo 2018).

The results showed that when leaders adopt a directive leadership behaviour, it had a positive impact on team efficiency but a negative influence on team creativity. This is because this type of leadership behaviour initiate a structure for followers, where tasks were assigned and there were specific procedures. The leader also helps followers reach goals by clarifying his expectations. Directive leaders also set a fixed deadline for work so that followers can be efficient in the work (House 1971). In contrast, the results showed a weaker relationship between participative leadership and team efficiency. Instead, it had a positive relationship with team creativity (Li, Liu & Luo 2018).

Besides looking at the leadership style and the type of followers, the situation also affect leaders in deciding what leadership styles to use in deciding how to manage

Evidence 3:

Another hypothesis that is consistent with empirical findings also supported that when leaders initiate structure, it increases the satisfaction and performance of followers (House 1971). This is because when leaders provide structure in work, it clarifies any ambiguity in follower’s roles. However, it would not be satisfying for followers if the task is clearly defined and has a high degree of routinization (House 1971).

Evidence 4:

This is further supported by a study conducted by Tjosvold on the effects of leader behaviours on followers found that leaders who were directive actually had the most productive followers, as compared to leaders who are non-direct (Tjosvold 1984). This is due to the behaviour of a directive leader where expectations are clearly communicated to followers and it tells the followers that directive leaders have an interest in the outcomes of the work. They are therefore being persuaded to maximise their productivity and they know that directive leaders would not be as forgiving as participative leaders. (Tjosvold 1984).

All these studies except evidence 1 have been consistent in proving that adopting a directive leadership behaviour is beneficial in having high productivity work groups.

Big Five personality framework

To determine what type of leadership behaviour suit followers, the Big Five personality model is useful. It is a framework that describes the structure of personality differences and it consists of five factors, often known as Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Emotional Stability, or OCEAN (Kalshoven, Den Hartog & De Hoogh 2011). Research has shown that the role of directive leaders define instructions and performance standards clearly to followers as they are not capable of implementing tasks themselves (Hassan, Asad & Hoshino 2016).

Using the Big Five personality framework, directive leaders are found to be autocratic and high task-oriented, whereby these leaders are high on conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness but low in openness to experience (Hassan, Asad & Hoshino 2016). A directive leader would be a good leader to followers who are low in openness to experience as they are told what and how to do the tasks (Oludele Mayowa, Faremi Elijah & Adesina Ekundayo 2016). Hence, choosing a leadership behaviour based on the personality of the followers and situation is crucial, whereby followers who are also high on conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness but yet also low in openness to experience would be most suited under a directive leader.


There has been many research done on the effectiveness of a directive leader. Although there are stereotypes to view such leaders as being bossy, adopting this leadership behaviour is important when followers have low ability and need someone to initiate structure and guide them towards work goals. It also depends on the situation, whether the task is routinized or if followers are high performers.

Leader should be direct enough to let followers know what they expect, and followers are rewarded for achieving success (Pierce & Newstrom 2003). In conclusion, being a directive is important as a good leader as these leaders are able to increase efficiency and are able to WHAT productive work groups.


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Is being a directive important for being a good leader?. (2019, Dec 02). Retrieved from

Is being a directive important for being a good leader?
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