The Blake and Mouton's Managerial (Leadership) Grid
Managing a project successfully is not a trivial task and it requires capable managers. In Project Management the terms "Manager" and "Leader" are often used with the same meaning. However, several theories about the differences between Management and Leadership have been developed over the years. Even defining what characterizes a good leader is not an easy task and academics have been trying for decades to provide a definition. Despite several attempts, scholars have not even been able to find a universal definition and only theories are available.
One of the most relevant theories was firstly introduced by Blake and Mouton in the early 1960s. The original name of this theory was "The Managerial Grid", however, it was renamed "The Leadership Grid" to better describe its relevance in the Leadership field.  (p.140). It belongs to the group of theories that follow the Behavioral approach, which emphasizes what is the behavior of the leader in the activity of leading an organization.
The Leadership Grid is a matrix that shows how leaders can be effective in leading an organization by taking into account two parameters: Concern for results and Concern for people. The combinations of the respective relevance of these two factors define five approaches to leadership that have been analyzed by the authors.
This article aims to describe the main aspects of this theory together with its applications, and its limitations. Appropriate documentation for further readings about the Grid is included.
Leadership and Management are often considered interchangeable terms. Even if these two fields have some similarities, it is relevant to mention their differences. Over the years, many authors have tried to define the characteristics of a manager and a leader and which are the respective roles in an organization. A manager is expected to provide stability and order to a company while leadership is about guiding the organization in the process of changing and adapting to new situations. So, Management and Leadership are not the same, however, they are both necessary to achieve success  (ch.12).
Managerial power usually comes from the position in the organizational structure. The authority does not come from personal skills or abilities, it is determined by a formal structure in the company. It is associated with accountability for certain activities and decision-making in specific circumstances. Identifying where the authority of a leader comes from is not as easy and different theories argue for different sources. One of the most famous questions in the Leadership field is "Are Leaders born or made?" and there is no universal answer.
The trait approach supports the theory that Leaders are born and only a few people have these innate qualities. This approach led to theories like the Five Big personalities framework, however, it also led to some failures. From these deadends, scholars started to develop theories based on the idea that good leadership comes from the way the leader behaves and that this ability can be trained. This is the fundamental idea of the Behavioral approach and the Leadership Grid belongs to this group of theories. However, neither traits nor behaviors can guarantee success. Supporters of the Contingency approach believe that the context matters as well (ch.12).
Relevance of Leadership in Project Management
Managing a project successfully is not an easy task and it requires capable leaders. However, even effective project management does not guarantee that it will be a success. On the other hand, projects that are considered a failure from the management point of view could turn out to be a great success.
Even if managerial authority is relevant in managing a project team, it is not sufficient and a leader is required to motivate the group. A leader should be able to inspire and create commitment in his followers to lead them successfully. When the leader is able to understand what motivates his followers, projects work better. Furthermore, The Standard for Project Management argues that effective leadership should enable the team to achieve success in a project and to deliver positive outcomes.
Different approaches have been studied and analyzed to understand what makes a person a good leader. This article aims to provide a better understanding of the behavioral approach and, in particular, of the Leadership Grid.
The Leadership Grid
The Leadership Grid aims to describe different approaches that a leader can adopt in leading an organization. The authors defined two main factors that influence managers' behavior: Concern for production and Concern for people. These two factors are used to define a 9x9 matrix where Concern for production is represented on the x-axis and Concern for people on the y-axis (p.140).
Concern for production refers to the importance of achieving organizational goals for the leader. They might be represented by the organizational mission, a specific level of performance, or results to be achieved. The definition of "Production" is quite broad and it includes any type of goal people are hired to accomplish in the company. (p.10).
On the other hand, concern for people is about the members of the organization that are involved in the process of achieving the objectives. Leaders can express it through activities like building trust and commitment to the company, improving working conditions, and promoting good social relationships (p.10).
By combining the relevance of these two concerns, Blake and Mouton defined five managerial approaches. To identify them in the matrix, a score is assigned to both concern for people and for production. The grading scale goes from 1, which represents the minimum concern, to 9, which represents the maximum. Different leadership styles are obtained by plotting the scores in the Grid..
The main approaches are Authority-Compliance, Country-Club Management, Impoverished Management, Middle-of-the-Road Management, and Team Management.
This approach is focused on the importance of achieving organizational goals. Indeed, it is located in the bottom-right corner of the matrix with a score of 9 for Concern for production and 1 for people. It emphasizes the relevance of the tasks over the people involved and it considers employees almost as tools to achieve the company objectives. This approach is entirely goal-oriented and communication is limited to providing instructions to complete tasks. The main characteristics of this type of leader are authority and control (p.141).
Country-Club Management (1,9)
This approach is completely the opposite of Authority-Compliance. It is located in the top-left corner of the matrix with the highest score for Concern for people and the lowest one for production. The well-being of the followers is the main concern of the leader. The manager aims to create a good working environment with a friendly atmosphere where employees feel comfortable. The leader is eager to help, comforting, and he tries to ensure workers' social needs are met (p.141).
Impoverished Management (1,1)
This Management style is located in the bottom-left corner and has the lowest score in both Concerns for production and people. The leader lacks interest in both organizational goals and interpersonal relationships among the employees. The main characteristics are indifference, apathy, and almost no contact with the followers (p.142).
Middle-of-the-Road Management (5,5)
The 5,5 style is located in the middle ground between concern for production and people and it is based on the ability of the leader to compromise. He shows an intermediate concern for the people who perform the task and the task itself. This results in a style that pushes the production and shows attention towards the workers' needs. Leaders who belong to this group are conflict-avoiding, and renounce their beliefs in the interest of the organizational progress (p.142).
Team Management (9,9)
This type of management is located in the top-right corner of the matrix with the highest score in both concerns for people and production. The leader usually promotes teamwork and the goal is to create commitment in the workers to increase the level of their performance. This type of manager is often described as open-minded, and good at stimulating the followers in participating in the activities. Organizations led by 9,9 leaders are characterized by an environment based on trust and respect (p.142).
Additional Management Styles
The authors have identified two additional managerial styles that come from the incorporation of multiple aspects of the Leadership grid.
The Paternalism/Maternalism approach includes both 1,9 and 9,1 without being able of integrating them. This type of leader is defined as a "benevolent dictator" because he acts benevolently with the employees but with the only purpose of achieving organizational goals. The company is considered similar to a family in which the manager is in charge. He is responsible to make decisions and punish or reward the followers (p.143).
Managers who belong to the "Opportunism" style are willing to adopt any kind of combination of the grid with the purpose of obtaining personal advancement. The efforts of the leader are towards achieving his personal goals and he will adapt his managerial style to achieve them. Some argue that these leaders are strategic and adaptable while others define them as ruthless and self-motivated (p.144).
The leadership grid is a good tool if it is used by people in charge to understand their way of leading. Different situations could require a different approach. For example, followers might require a manager who is task-oriented and shows exactly how to proceed, or they could prefer a leader more relationship-oriented that mainly shows support towards their activities. It is important to underline that the right way of leading a specific organization depends on the response of the employees to the two different approaches and a leader should be able to adapt in order to improve his management style (p.145).
How to use the grid
In "The Managerial Grid III", Blake and Mouton explain how to use this tool effectively. The aim of their work is to provide a guide that could help leaders improve their skills and strengthen their contribution to the company. They argue that, by using the grid correctly, leaders would get a better understanding of their way of working and improve their performance (p.1).
Blake and Mouton identified six fundamental components of leadership. These elements are initiative, inquiry, advocacy, conflict resolution, decision making, and critique. For each one of them, the authors defined six statements that represent the different managerial approaches described in the same work. To use the grid, leaders are asked to identify which statement better represents their leading approach. This exercise should help them better understand their practice and the authors provide suggestions for improvements. These suggestions aim to guide the leader towards the 9,9 approach that is identified by the writers as the most desirable one.
Identification of the Management style
As mentioned above, leaders are requested to identify which management style suites their leading approach the best. The following section provides a brief description of the six components of leadership and the related statements provided by the writers to help managers in the identification of their style.
Statements corresponding to the same letter refer to the same Management style. The following table is based on The Managerial Grid III and summarizes these references.
Initiative is related to starting something that has never been done before, stopping ongoing activities, or shifting the current direction (p.2).
|I put out enough to get by.
|I initiate actions that support and help other people.
|I aim to keep a steady pace.
|I drive both myself and others.
|I stress loyalty and extend appreciation to those who support me.
|I exert effort and others join with enthusiasm.
Inquiry is strictly related to the leader's thoroughness. It is the ability to obtain information and data from people or other sources. A leader might be more or less interested in learning as much as possible about the activities in his company (p.2).
|I go along with facts, beliefs, and positions that are given to me.
|I seek facts, beliefs, and positions that suggest all is well. I am not inclined to challenge others to maintain harmony.
|I check facts, beliefs, and positions when obvious discrepancies appear.
|I investigate facts, beliefs, and positions to be in control of any situation and to ensure others are not making mistakes.
|I double-check what others tell me and compliment them when I am able to verify their positions.
|I search for information. I invite and listen for opinions, attitudes, and different ideas. I continuously re-evaluate my own and others’ facts, beliefs, and positions for soundness.
Advocacy refers to taking a position and standing by it facing its risks. A leader that does not advocate is usually not sure about his position (p.3).
|I keep my own counsel but I respond when asked. I avoid taking sides by not revealing my opinions, attitudes, and ideas.
|I embrace the opinions, attitudes, and ideas of other people even if I have reservations.
|I express opinions, attitudes, and ideas and try to meet others halfway.
|I stand up for my opinions, attitudes, and ideas, even if it means rejecting others' ideas.
|I maintain strong convictions but permit others to express their ideas.
|I feel it is important to express my concerns and convictions. I can respond to ideas by changing my mind.
Conflicts arise easily and managing them in the right way is not trivial. A good leader should be able to handle and resolve them while evoking respect. A manager that is unable to deal with conflicts could be perceived as not worthy of respect (p.3).
|I remain neutral or seek to stay out of conflict.
|I avoid generating conflict but when it appears I try to keep people together.
|If a conflict arises, I try to find a reasonable position that others find suitable.
|When conflict arises I try to cut it off or win my position.
|When conflict arises I terminate it and thank people for expressing their views.
|When conflict arises I seek out reasons for it in order to resolve underlying causes.
Decision-making is a key ability for a leader. He should be able to recognize when to take solo decisions and when to delegate responsibilities (p.4).
|I allow others to make decisions or come to terms is something happens.
|I make decisions that maintain good relations between other people and encourage them to make decisions when possible.
|I search for decisions that others would accept.
|I place a high value on making my own decisions and I am generally not influenced by others.
|I have the final say and make a sincere effort to see that my decisions are accepted.
|I seek understanding and agreement.
Critique is related to problem-solving activities. A capable leader should be able to anticipate and avoid activities that risk having adverse consequences. This ability comes mainly from the feedback of other workers and experience (p.4).
|I di not give feedback.
|I provide encouragement and offer praise when something positive happens, however, I avoid giving negative feedback.
|I give informal or indirect feedback regarding suggestions for improvement.
|I pinpoint weakness or failure.
|I give others feedback and expect them to accept it because I believe it is for their own good.
|I encourage two-way feedback to strengthen operations.
Suggestions for improvements
Blake and Mouton provide a detailed description of each one of the leadership styles and they are all completed by a list of suggestions for improvements. Their goal is to show the adverse consequences of their current behavior as a motivation to improve. As mentioned above, their suggestions lead towards the 9,9 style.
Leadership style (9,1)
Motivation: Utilize your followers as resources and involve them in problem-solving activities.
Initiative: Invite others to take initiative instead of taking action every time you see a void.
Inquiry: Listen to ideas different from yours and others' opinions.
Advocacy: Encourage people to share their opinion and ask for feedback about yours.
Conflict: Listen to others' points of view and respect their opinions, conflict will arise anyway.
Decisions: Listen to people's opinions before announcing your decision. Try to explain the reasons behind them.
Critique: Allow people to tell you what they think about your leadership, they might help you improve (p.33).
Leadership style (1,9)
Motivation: When you are polite you might obscure the real issues and people might feel uneasy.
Initiative: Take initiative instead of backing off, stop thinking "I had better not" and start thinking "I should".
Inquiry: Be more prepared before meetings to increase your confidence.
Advocacy: Try to be among the first to speak so that you do not allow others to influence you in deciding if you should express your opinion or not.
Conflict: Remember that conflict is inevitable. Restate your opinions and ask for further explanations if someone disagrees.
Decisions: Do not postpone unpleasant decisions, problems will not diminish, they will probably increase.
Critique: Feedback does not have to be painful, people probably want to be helpful (p.48).
Leadership style (1,1)
Motivation: Reevaluate the degree of your involvement, ask yourself if your job is a pleasant way of spending eight hours per day.
Initiative: If you are uninvolved, your subordinates would probably notice it. If they see your interest increasing they would probably encourage you.
Inquiry: Ask more questions to your subordinates.
Advocacy: Ask straightforward questions and remember to show where you stand with your opinion.
Conflict: Avoiding disagreement is not rewarding. Remember that people might be willing to find a middle ground.
Decisions: Find a way to involve subordinates in solving a problem and try to understand how they could be helpful.
Critique: Ask for feedback about your performance and provide them with information about how you think things are going (p.62).
Leadership style (5,5)
Motivation: Reflect if your subordinates express what they believe in or just what they think you want to hear.
Initiative: When something needs to be done, do it without overreliance.
Inquiry: When you think you have enough information, ask additional questions.
Advocacy: Express what you think without reshaping it.
Conflict: It is ok disagreeing with others because from conflicts might arise innovation.
Decisions: Remember that there are some decisions that only you can take. Accept inputs from other people but the outcome needs to come from you.
Critique: Ask for feedback and remember that if the critique is negative it is even more valuable (p.78).
The main limit of the Leadership grid, together with the behavioral approach, was the impossibility to identify a relationship between being a leader task or people-oriented and a higher level of performance or employees' morale (p.147).
Furthermore, the approach has failed in identifying a style of leadership that is universally recognized as suitable for all the different situations. The aim was to identify a set of managerial behaviors that would lead consistently to successful leadership. This goal has not been achieved and the behavioral approach failed in a similar way to the trait approach that tried to define the right personal characteristics to be an effective leader (p.147).
Some argue that this approach did not lead to consistent results because it failed in taking into account the impact of the context. They argue that the managerial style should be based on the requirements of every single team that needs to be led. This argument is partially based on the idea that a 'high-high' approach is not always the answer. The Leadership grid suggests as the best style is the Team Management that has the highest score in both concerns for people and production. However, different situations might require a different approach that does not have such a high score in both the concerns. It still remains unclear if Team Management is actually the best style of leadership, even if the authors' suggestions for improvements tend towards it. (p.147).
In conclusion, there is no universal answer to the question of what makes a good leader. Blake and Mouton identified in the 9,9 style a good approach to leadership. However, other authors have different opinions and support different theories. According to The Standard for Project Management, a good leader is fundamental to coordinating a team that works on a project and effective leadership might come from different combinations of styles. Despite its limitations, the Leadership Grid is a good tool that could help managers in the understandanding of their approach and it provides interesting suggestions for improvements.
The following sources have been used as the main references for this article and they can be used for further readings.
- 1. Northouse, P. G. (2018), Leadership: Theory and Practice (8th Edition), SAGE Publishing
- This book aims to describe the most relevant leadership approaches and each one of them includes an introduction to the main theories. For example, The Leadership Grid is analyzed in the chapter dedicated to the behavioral approach. Furthermore, the book includes examples about how these theories can be applied in real-life organizations and the main limitations of the leadership approaches.
- 2. Robbins, S. P. and, Judge T. A. (2013), Organizational Behavior (15th Edition), Pearson Education
- This book has been used mainly to contextualize the importance of leadership practices inside a company. Indeed, it is not a book about leadership but more in general about the people that work in an organization and the way they interact. It has been used to link managerial theories to the context in which they are relevant that is represented by organizations.
- 3. Blake, R. and Mouton, J. (1985), "The Managerial Grid III: The Key to Leadership Excellence", Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.
- This is the third edition of the book "The Managerial Grid" written by Blake and Mouton. It is the main reference for this work since it was written directly by the ideators of this theory. It provides an in-depth analysis of the Leadership Grid together with an explanation of the characteristics of the managerial approaches. The authors aim to provide a useful guide for leaders to improve their practice.
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Northouse, P. G. (2018), Leadership: Theory and Practice (8th Edition), SAGE Publishing
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Robbins, S. P. and, Judge T. A. (2013), Organizational Behavior (15th Edition), Pearson Education
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 (2021), Project Management Institute, Inc., A Guide To the Project Management Body of Knowledge (7th Edition)
- ↑ 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Blake, R. and Mouton, J. (1985), "The Managerial Grid III: The Key to Leadership Excellence", Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.