Leaders often get themselves in a twist over the need to deliver the organisation's tactical plans and the often felt, conflicting role of leading people. Many leaders have a common misconception that if you exercise people orientated leadership you can't possibly be delivering the tasks required; it is somehow inefficient to focus on people if something needs to be delivered.
Academic research suggests that task-orientated leaders are focused on the goals of the organisation and the employee performance in achieving the goals set, with a tendancy towards a leadership style which is impersonal but delivers efficiency and productivity. The issue with task oriented leadership is that the 'human' element is neglected leading to high turnover, low moral and low discretionary behaviour.
People-orientated leaders are believed to be thoughtful and considerate toward their followers, focusing on the needs of employees; building capability, confidence and relationship. People oriented leadership results in higher employee satisfaction, but there are questions over its efficiency.
I would argue that leadership is both people and task orientated. Lets look at a definition of leadership; Chemers, M. described leadership as "the process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task." According to this definition the very act of influencing other people delivers the task, making the act of leadership both people and task orientated simultaneously.
At first glance some may think that this description advocates a people orientated approach. But building relationships for the sake of having relationships does not enable leaders to deliver organisation objectives. Having a nice place to work where everyone is happy, but where they don't perform won't deliver shareholder value, and is not sustainable in the long term.
Leaders need to facilitate positive interactions with those that they lead. They must, through influence, impact the way in which teams interact, the organisational environment, employee wellbeing and commitment and job satisfaction but always with the purpose of delivering the organisational goals.
Finding the balance between task oriented leadership and people oriented leadership requires a leader to develop their awareness of their emotions and social intelligence along with their ability to set goals and manage performance. Open and sincere communication of what tasks need to be done, whilst building trust and understanding, developing individuals and cooperation help to align individual needs with organisation needs.
It is not a case of either task or people but of combining both the needs of people with the needs of the organisation to deliver both meaning for employees and organisation purpose.