Managers must balance
task and social aspects
Every theory of leadership contains the requirement that managers and executives balance the task and the social aspects of leadership. Task aspects include hiring good employees, overseeing the production of high-quality products and services, meeting consumer demands, and providing long-term service to customers after their purchases. Social aspects include recognizing employees for their accomplishments, participating in celebratory events such as the births of grandchildren and holiday parties, and making sure that employees bring a positive attitude to their workday given the contributions they know they can make. Other terms management theorists use include "technical" for the task aspects of a job, and "human relations" for the social aspects.
These two aspects of leadership deserve the same amount of attention. If managers emphasize only the social aspects, they are engaging in "country club leadership." The workplace may be pleasant and people may have a good time, but the goals of the company to provide high-quality products at a fair price and to ensure customer service receive insufficient attention. The result can be bankruptcy, where both managers and employees have to search for new jobs.
If managers emphasize only the task aspects, they may pay the price of extensive employee turnover. Task-oriented managers may run a productive "tight ship," but employees may feel they will find more job satisfaction with another employer. Ironically, they may be able to sell the job skills they developed under the task-oriented leader. Executives in other companies may know the leader's reputation and say, "If these job candidates lasted two years with that martinet, they are certain to know the technical aspects of jobs in this industry." The executives participating in the hiring process will probably know of the high turnover that the intense task leader encourages and will not label job candidates as aimless job hoppers.
Balancing the task and social aspects of life is part of American culture, even if people don't use the terms frequently. Newspaper articles often report on the superior academic performance, especially in mathematics, of elementary and high school students in Japan, Korea, Sweden and other industrialized nations. The United States does not always fare well in these comparisons. But few American parents become noticeably upset and complain vociferously to school boards. A major reason is that parents are interested in a balance between schoolwork and the development of social skills. They want a challenging school curriculum where students learn mathematics, science and English (task aspects), but they also want extracurricular activities where students can develop human-relations skills. Parents also want their children to have time to pursue hobbies and to obtain work experience in part-time or summer jobs. Parents know that companies want their new hires to have a combination of task and social skills. They look to the American school system to help in the development of this balance.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: firstname.lastname@example.org