Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Continuum Model

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 7: Leadership

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4


Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Continuum Model of Leadership

Tannenbaum and Schmidt

group leadership decisions. It also defines and predicts typical related internal and external pressures that leaders must consider when choosing a decision-making position.

From a group development standpoint, moving from left to right along the continuum, the leader gives up his or her power in making solo decisions so that he/she progressively involves the group, until the group effectively becomes self-managing.

At the far left, the leader sets goals, makes decisions and then tells the others what they are going to do. At the opposite end of the continuum, the leader permits (perhaps encourages) the group to define the issues they are facing and share the decision-making.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s model is oriented notably towards decision-making, and ignores other aspects of leadership. Nevertheless the model is powerful and insightful. It’s a wonderfully concise and easily applicable tool, showing leaders the many choices they have.

The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum model also reminds us that all (seven) options are available to leaders depending on the situation. The ‘situation’ is most commonly a combination of:

  • The capability of the group (in various respects – skills, experience, workload, etc), and
  • The nature of the task or project (again in various respects – complexity, difficulty, risk, value, timescale, relevance to group capability, etc).

Tannenbaum and Schmidt further explained that when leaders choose decision-making options they should consider especially three sets of pressures:

  1. Situational pressures.
  2. Inner psychological pressures.
  3. Pressures coming from subordinates.

In more detail:

Fig.: Continuum of Leadership behaviour

1. Situational pressures

  • The complexity of the problem.
  • The importance of the decision.
  • The time pressure.

2. The leader's inner pressures

  • The leader’s preferences around decision-making (his values, beliefs, behavioural habits).
  • The leader’s confidence in his or her team colleagues’ knowledge and experience.
  • How important or risky the decision is to him/her or her personally.

3. Pressures coming from subordinates

  • The leader’s colleagues’ (the group-members’) desire to ‘have a say’ in the decision.
  • The group’s willingness to take responsibility for the outcomes.
  • The group’s ability to reach decisions together.
  • The group’s readiness and ability to accept and follow orders.

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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