Alternate Experience Theories in Action

Task-Focused Leadership in Law

Tim Hourican is a personal injury lawyer who has worked in law for over 20 years. When speaking with me, he discussed a variety of different aspects of his field, including working with a jury and the differences between a day filled with paperwork and a day in the courtroom or conference room that is much more exciting. However, one of the things that he discussed above all is the importance of being able to do the work and do the work well. The way he described the culture and environment, as well as the leader and follower dynamics, demonstrated the influence of task-focused leadership above all.

The theory of task-oriented leadership can be traced back to the Ohio State University leadership studies and is among the first theories of leadership in modern times. Since then, there have been many further studies that published similar theories of leadership. The Ohio State study makes a distinction between “showing consideration” and “initiating structure”. “Showing consideration”, more commonly referred to as relationship-oriented leadership, is much more focused on a leader building bonds with their subordinates. They would be helpful, encouraging, and understanding in addition to showing concern and being sympathetic toward their issues. “Initiating structure”, or task-oriented leadership, is understandably focused on the goal or outcome of a project instead of forging bonds.  There are clearly defined roles, goals, and expectations and monitoring of assignments.

While interviewing Hourican, he clearly expressed many signs that task-focused leadership is being employed at his firm. When asked how the firm is run, he said there were a small number of senior partners and they each mentored an associate. They would teach them what to do and how to do it, providing clear instruction for them to properly do the job they were assigned. It is incredibly important to do the job that’s given, and to do it with professionalism as the ultimate goal is for everyone to become successful; there is a mutually shared interest to succeed.

There is a lot of sense in what Hourican says. In his firm, failure to properly do an assigned task could cost the firm and its client a lot of money. In addition, the people there should be capable of doing the work assigned, especially the associate partners who have gone through the necessary steps to get a law degree. In all, focusing on the goal and tasks in a law firm like Hourican’s is important for the success of the firm. By leaders initiating structure for their subordinates to follow, they are all able to succeed and prosper.


Shartle, C. L. (1979). Early years of the Ohio State University leadership studies. Journal of Management, 5(2), 127-134.