Task-focused or team-builder: What kind of leader are you?

Research on management over the years has tended to identify two seemingly polar styles of leadership. These include leaders that are focused on the tasks at hand and getting them done in the most efficient manner, as opposed to those who place more emphasis on growing relationships and team building.

However, are these two leadership approaches always mutually exclusive? A new study suggests that it is indeed possible for a leader to juggle both styles, and those who can strike this fine balance are those most likely to succeed.

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University ran MRI scans on a series of subjects' brains and found that it is possible for both leadership philosophies to coexist in the same human brain. According to the researchers, the brain contains both a 'Task Positive Network' (TPN) – which is “analytical and and task-oriented” – and a 'Default Mode Network' (DMN), which is “empathetic and social”.

Anthony Jack, assistant professor of cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University, explained that it is important for leaders to “see-saw” between these two domains.

“Every normal brain contains both modes, with the flexibility to go to the right mode at the right time,” he said.

“In the business world right now, the emphasis is more on the task orientation of leaders rather than cultivating empathy. That is partly because it is easier to assess task-oriented leadership.”

However, he warned that developing only one side of the brain does not make for effective leadership.

Today's business leaders need to be aware that while focusing on tasks and improving measures such as efficiency are important, keeping the more social and 'human' aspect of their leadership is also crucial.

Leadership development programs therefore need to focus on cultivating the emotional intelligence of leaders, ensuring they are able to work productively and harmoniously with a diverse set of people.