What Have We Learned from the 100-Year History of Leadership Research? (Part II)

Dr. Timothy Judge and his team at Fisher Leadership Initiative of The Ohio State University recently conducted a leadership landscape survey on 58 leadership scholars. One of the survey questions asked participants to write down as many as eight findings that they believe we have learned from the 100-year history of leadership research. We will pick some of the most frequently mentioned findings, explain to you what they are and how they helped advance the field of leadership research.

The Ohio State Leadership Studies

Conducted in the 1940s, the Ohio State Studies was one of the most important series of research in the fields of leadership and organizational behavior. It not only created the two most widely known leadership behavior categories, but it also revolutionized the way leadership is measured, studied and developed.

The researchers found many similar behaviors in effective leaders across organizations. They then identified the common themes in these behaviors and put them into two categories—initiation of structure and consideration1, which enabled researchers and practitioners, for the first time, to look at leader behaviors systematically.

Initiation of structure includes behaviors that clearly define a leader’s role and let followers know what is expected. Examples of behaviors of initiation of structure are:

  1. makes his/her attitudes clear to the group
  2. criticizes poor work
  3. maintains definite standards of performance
  4. encourages the use of uniform procedures
  5. sees to it that the work of group members is coordinated

Consideration focuses on behaviors that regard the comfort, well-being, status and contributions of followers. Here are some examples of consideration behaviors:

  1. does personal favors for group members
  2. is easy to understand
  3. finds time to listen to group members
  4. backs up the members in their actions
  5. treats all group members as equals
  6. is friendly and approachable

These two types of behaviors are not two ends of one leadership spectrum, but rather they exist independently. More categories of leader behaviors were identified later, but these two original factors continued to be most influential in the history of leadership research. The Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ)1 was also developed to measure the degree to which leaders exhibit these behaviors. The development of LBDQ further advanced leadership study by allowing researchers to use a standardized research instrument and study leadership using quantitative methods.

Another great contribution of the Ohio State Leadership Studies is that it changed the way people view and develop leadership. While other leadership studies before 1940s mainly focused on traits that make people leaders, the Ohio State Leadership Studies was the first to examine and describe leadership in terms of behaviors. When leadership was defined as a combination of traits, it was important to identify what those traits were and select the person who was already well-developed in those traits. However, these traits were hard to identify and could not be agreed upon by either researchers or practitioners. Ultimately, it is much easier to identify the common themes in effective leadership behaviors, and these behaviors can be trained and developed in current or potential leaders to maximize their leadership efficiency at work.

Although the Ohio State Studies started in the 1940s, its methods and outcomes continue to influence leadership research, along with management and organizational behavior. We can often find traces of the two factors in later-developed leadership theories.


  1. Halpin, A.W. (1957). Manual for the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University. Retrieved from: https://fisher.osu.edu/supplements/10/2862/1962%20LBDQ%20MANUAL.pdf

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.