The Four Factor Theory of Leadership

A Foundation of Good Leadership

The Four Factor Theory of Leadership - A Foundation of Good Leadership

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A strong foundation is vital when building on your leadership skills.

Leadership is getting players to believe in you. If you tell a teammate you're ready to play as tough as you're able to, you'd better go out there and do it. Players will see right through a phony. And they can tell when you're not giving it all you've got. – Larry Bird, Basketball player

If someone asked you to say what the basics of good leadership are, what would you tell them?

Perhaps you'd use phrases like "having integrity," "inspiring people," "leading from the front," and a whole range of other phrases besides.

Good leadership involves many different attributes, but there are common factors that link many of them.

In this article we'll look at the Four Factor Theory of Leadership, a classic model that defines four basic dimensions of effective leadership. We'll then think about how you can use these dimensions with your team.

About the Theory

Researchers David Bowers and Stanley Seashore developed the Four Factor Theory of Leadership in the mid-1960s, and published it in 1966.

The pair reviewed the findings of several other leading researchers, who were exploring what it takes to be an effective leader. They noticed that there were four dimensions that consistently emerged in these studies.

The four factors were:

  1. Providing Personal Support – Helping people value themselves and their work, so that they can develop a sense of self-worth.
  2. Encouraging Teamwork ("Interaction Facilitation") – Encouraging people to establish close, collaborative, successful working relationships with one another.
  3. Focusing on Goals ("Goal Emphasis") – Inspiring people to feel enthusiastic about and committed to shared goals, and motivating them to want to perform well.
  4. Helping People Work Effectively ("Work Facilitation") – Helping people meet goals by supporting them, and by providing resources, materials, or knowledge.

Bowers and Seashore concluded that leaders need to do all of these things to lead their teams effectively.

Terms reproduced from "Predicting Organizational Effectiveness With a Four-Factor Theory of Leadership" by David G. Bowers and Stanley E. Seashore, Administrative Science Quarterly Vol. 11, No. 2 (Sep., 1966), pp. 238-263 with permission from Sage Publishing.

Applying the Theory

Although the more recent idea of Transformational Leadership is often the best leadership approach to use in business leadership situations, it can be helpful to keep Bowers and Seashore's factors in mind as you work with your team. After all, it helps to know about a variety of different leadership styles, so that you can use the best approach for a given situation.

So, how can you apply the four dimensions?

Providing Personal Support

With this dimension, leaders support members of their team on an emotional level by developing people's feelings of self-worth, and by helping them feel appreciated and valued.

As a leader, this means showing your people that you value the work they do. Reward your team by saying "thank you" when people have done a job well, or have gone beyond the call of duty. (If you're working on a slim budget, don't think you have to reward your team's efforts with cash; there are plenty of ways to motivate your team without bonuses.)

You can also support your people emotionally by building their self-confidence, and by showing empathy.

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