Tannenbaum And Schmidt Leadership Continuum: A Guide

In 1958 Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt developed their Leadership Continuum model and published it in Harvard Business Review. They believed that there could be a range of probable leadership strategies, which might be anywhere in the extremes or between the range. These can be dictatorial management strategies to completely collaborative ones. 

Tannenbaum was an organizational psychologist, and Schmidt was a Doctor of Psychology. This model attained a good amount of popularity and has relevance even today.

As per the Continuum model, there can be seven different leadership styles. These are differentiated based on the degree of control. The model displays a right-hand side and the left-hand side on a bar. 

The right-hand side consists of teamwork and collaborative approaches. The degree of control and individual task allotment is on the left side. Read the details given below for a detailed review of each leadership style.

Tannenbaum And Schmidt Leadership Styles

1. Telling

Lying on the left-hand side of the model, this approach is more prominently seen in military culture. The leader tells, and the followers have to do what is said.

It is difficult to exercise such dictatorial powers in an organizational setup as that’s different from how an organization runs. But this kind of leadership style works in the setup where the individuals have to get ready to perform as per the leaders’ orders. 

It looks good in theory that the leader tells and the employee obeys. But in real life, this model is unpopular and irrelevant. Soon, this type of leadership will be part of history only.

2. Selling

A top-down approach, and the second leadership style, where the leader has to form concepts and sell them to the employees. It means that the leader sells his ideas to the followers, and they adopt them. 

The leader makes a decision and talks about the same with the employees. He explains the exact principle of why such a decision was made. The employees understand the concept, and then they follow the leader.

The leader wants to validate the approach and explain why a particular decision was made. This approach seems more evidence-based and shows that the leader likes to share the reason for the decision among the employees. 

When this approach works, the middle managers will also sell the ideas among their team members, which would go on based on the hierarchy. 

3. Suggesting

In this style, the leaders provide a range of choices to the employees. These employees have the luxury of making a choice. Leaders feel that the employees executing the projects know better which decision should be suitable. 

This leadership style is more prominent in organizations related to research and development. The leaders have specific options, and the employees must be part of the decision and use the leaders’ suggestions as the base.

Suggesting can also work in another way wherein the leader is supposed to get some suggestions from the employees, and then, based on that, he would make the final decision. 

This type of style also makes the employee feel important within the organization. Sometimes, the suggestions that come from the employees are not as excellent or workable. But the effect on the employees’ mindset is very positive. They feel they are valued and being heard.

4. Consulting

This leadership style lies in the middle of Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Continuum and is one of the most adopted. In this situation, the leader is well-equipped with the human resource that can provide guidance and opinions to the leader. 

The leader has a good pool of talent; hence, the ideas from these employees or managers are reliable enough to be adopted.

In this type of approach, most decisions will be based on consulting and very few on a top-down approach. The leadership style is based on the concept that a leader might only sometimes be correct. 

With consulting, he gets good guidance about things he might have missed while deciding. This approach provides a perfect balance to the Continuum.

5. Joining

More than the process, the leader provides liberty to the team members. He joins their decision process while not putting much of the dominance. The managers or the team members have a framework they can decide.

They have been given the parameters, and within that range, they must develop the decisions that would suit the project execution.

Ideally, the first session is always collaborative, wherein all aspects will be discussed. Then the leader would provide the framework and the liberty to the managers or the team members to make the decision that suits the project they are involved in.

Leaders, like coaches, want to bring out the best in their mentees, so they follow this approach. They believe that only if some liberty is given it will be fruitful in shaping future leaders.

They will define their values and intricate the same in the process. But, they want the team members to work in such a way that they can make their path.

6. Delegating

This leadership style shows the high confidence of the leader in their team members. The leaders are okay with delegating responsibilities and the decision-making process as well. But the only setback here is those responsible for making the decision should also hold themselves accountable for the results. 

But, delegating is one of the beneficial approaches that provide a sense of identity to the manager. If the decision were beneficial to the company, then the praise would come from the top departments. 

It would provide better confidence to the managers. But, if some negative things happen, the same person should also be ready for the blame. Here, there are chances that suitable team members may resign, and there would be blame work which can make the relations bitter. 

Hence, the leader should adopt this style only when he has confidence in the talent and capabilities of the person he is delegating to.

The leaders must know the strengths and weaknesses of the team members, and based on that, they must decide if the person is fit enough to be delegated the responsibility.

7. Abdication

Abdication is leadership withdrawal and hence might not be considered a leadership style. The downside here is when the leader withdraws from the responsibilities and lets the employees run the organization with only his name in the picture; he would soon lose respect and control over the employees. 

Also, when the competitors know about this, they might take advantage of the situation. He would also lose respect among the business rivals.

But there’s a positive as well: the founder may not want to interfere in this particular business and may want to concentrate on other lucrative business models. 

Also, the leader may want to hand over the task to the employees and the management and move ahead with other projects. But what’s more important here is, leaving the responsibilities in the hands of a capable team who would become excellent leaders in the future.

It is essential to understand that most organizations fall between the two extremes. This Continuum is a theoretical model; hence, organizations are unlikely to follow any leadership styles mentioned in the extremities. 

The model provides a good idea about the different ranges in leadership styles and is a practical example for management trainees and prospective leaders. Whether or not to use this model while implementing needs analysis about its advantages and disadvantages. 

Tannenbaum And Schmidt Leadership Continuum Advantages And Disadvantages

Leadership Continuum Advantages

  • The model is a good example that shows the different control ranges in leadership styles. Hence, when mentioning two extremities and the in-between options, one can strike a balance and use the same in real life.

  • Even though some degrees of control in leadership style seem impractical, this model covers it all to provide an exhaustive example.

  • Some modes or approaches will work in one industry, while others may work in the other. Hence, when the leaders know all seven leadership styles based on the degree of control, it will simplify the application.

  • The first mode, the expressive style, is more dictatorial. It is something which was only part of history. But this model covers it as well. Of course, the model justifies that collaborative approaches are balanced and provide the perfect light.

Leadership Continuum Disadvantages

  • At some point, the readers feel that the leader applies one leadership style in all situations. But in reality, leadership styles change as per the situation. Thus, this model ends up being only a theoretical model.

  • The model shuns away from the fact that different departments of the company would be comfortable under different leadership styles. Something that would work for the research department may not work for the accounts department.

  • There might be times like emergencies when the company would have no option but to rely on the top-down approach. The team members and the employees have to do what the leader says. Here there is no consulting or no selling. The model doesn’t provide any scope to change as per the emergency.

  • The model is quite limited in scope as it only provides an idea about the decision-making process and ignores other parameters like inspiration, motivation, etc.

Apart from the above Continuum, these psychologists also came up with the idea that the leader’s leadership style would be based on three pressures: situational, subordinate, and psychological. 

Thus, this model provides an excellent tool-based approach showing different degrees of control in decision-making. The type of corporate setting and the kind of pressure on the leader will provide an idea about the degree of control while adopting a leadership style.


There are other leadership models that are more practical for a corporate setting; the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Leadership Continuum model provides a good idea about the different leadership styles and decision-making styles. 

Looking at the extremities, striking a balance is vital. This tool has proved to be important in the study of various leadership styles and decision-making processes.

Depending on the corporate setting, the leaders can decide what is more substantial, to delegate the decision-making to the team members or to completely take over the decision-making task. Understanding what control range is good enough will create a balance in the condition. 

The leaders should be prepared to understand what is suitable for the company. By knowing this model, there can be a proper framework about how the leaders must make decisions so that there are also good feelings among the employees, which keep them motivated and inspired. 


what did tannenbaum and schmidt suggest about leadership style?

Tannenbaum and Schmidt suggested that effective leadership requires a flexible approach that is based on the situation at hand rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all style.

They proposed a leadership continuum that ranges from a manager-centered approach to a subordinate-centered approach, with varying degrees of involvement and decision-making authority for both the leader and the followers.

Their model emphasized the importance of considering factors such as the task at hand, the maturity level of the employees, and the level of trust and communication within the team when determining the appropriate leadership style to use.

Overall, their research suggested that a more participative and collaborative leadership style tends to be more effective in most situations, as it fosters greater buy-in and commitment from employees, leading to improved performance and job satisfaction.

Tannenbaum And Schmidt 7 Leadership Styles

Tell – the leader makes the decision and announces it to the team.

Sell – the leader makes the decision but explains and persuades the team to support it

Consult – the leader presents the problem to the team and seeks their input before making a decision.

Join – the leader presents the problem and collaborates with the team to develop a solution.

Delegate – the leader provides little to no direction and empowers the team to make the decision

Abdicate – the leader provides the team with the problem and leaves them to make the decision without any guidance.

Force – the leader makes the decision without any input from the team and uses authority to ensure it is carried out.

Tannenbaum And Schmidt Leadership Continuum Examples

The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Leadership Continuum provides a framework for assessing the level of authority and involvement that leaders should have with their teams.

Examples of leadership styles that fall on the continuum include a manager-centered approach, where the leader makes all the decisions, to a subordinate-centered approach, where the team has more input and decision-making authority.

The appropriate leadership style depends on various factors, such as the task at hand and the team’s maturity level.

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