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Rensis Likert (pronounced 'Lick-urt') (1903–1981) was an American educator and organizational psychologist best known for his research on management styles. He developed his eponymous Likert Scale and the linking pin model.

Rensis Likert was a founder of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and was the director from its inception in 1946 until 1970, when he retired and founded Rensis Likert Associates to consult for numerous corporations. He also helped found what is now known as the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). During his tenure, Rensis Likert devoted particular attention to research on organizations. During the 1960s and 1970s, his books on management theory were extremely popular in Japan and their impact can be seen across modern Japanese organizations. He did research on major corporations around the world, and his studies have accurately predicted the subsequent performance of the corporations.



He was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1903, where his father was an engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad. After the training to be an engineer, he was working as an intern with Union Pacific Railroad during the watershed 1922 strike. The lack of communication between the two parties made a profound impression on him and caused him to study organizations and their behaviour for the rest of his life.

Rensis Likert received his B.A. in Sociology from the University of Michigan in 1926. His early grounding in these fields was the basis for much of Likert's work. The field of sociology in the 1920s was highly experimental and incorporated many aspects of modern psychology. In 1932 he received his Ph.D in psychology from Columbia University. For his thesis work, Likert produced a survey scale (Likert Scales) as a means of measuring attitudes, showing that it captured more information than competing methods. The 1-5 Likert Scales would eventually become Likert's best-known work.

Central aspects of his theories

Employee centered supervision is more productive than job centered supervision. In other words, the more the job is supervised, the less productive the people.

Management Systems

In the 1960s Likert developed four systems of management which described the relationship, involvement, and roles between management and subordinates in industrial settings. The four systems is a result of the study that he has done with the highly productive supervisors and their team members of an American Insurance Company. Later on, he and Jane G. Likert revised the systems to apply to educational settings. Their revision was initial intended to spell out the roles of principals, students, and teachers; eventually other individuals in the academic realm were included such as superintendents, administrators, and parents (Hall, 1972).

(The following descriptions are from

Exploitive authoritative system (I)

In this type of management system the job of employees/subordinates is to abide by the decisions made by managers and those with a higher status than them in the organisation. The subordinates do not participate in the decision making. The organisation is concerned simply about completing the work. The organisation will use fear and threats to make sure employees complete the work set. There is no teamwork involved.

'Benevolent authoritative system (II)'

Just as in an exploitive authoritative system, decisions are made by those at the top of the organisation and management. However employees are motivated through rewards (for their contribution) rather than fear and threats. Information may flow from subordinates to managers but it is restricted to “what management want to hear”.

Consultative system (III)

In this type of management system, subordinates are motivated by rewards and a degree of involvement in the decision making process. Management will constructively use their subordinates ideas and opinions. However involvement is incomplete and major decisions are still made by senior management. There is a greater flow of information (than in a benevolent authoritative system) from subordinates to management. Although the information from subordinate to manager is incomplete and euphemistic.

Participative (group) system (IV)

Management have complete confidence in their subordinates/employees. There is lots of communication and subordinates are fully involved in the decision making process. Subordinates comfortably express opinions and there is lots of teamwork. Teams are linked together by people, who are members of more than one team. Likert calls people in more than one group “linking pins”. Employees throughout the organisation feel responsible for achieving the organisation’s objectives. This responsibility is motivational especially as subordinates are offered economic rewards for achieving organisational goals which they have participated in setting.

(above descriptions are from

"The four systems provide the starting place for a theory of management in which the variable included in the systems are conceptualized as casual variables which through their effect on intervening organization variables [loyalties, attitudes, motivations,etc.]affect the end-result variables of organizational achievement, as measured by such things as productivity, cost and earnings," (Brewer, 1968). System IV is considered to be the most productive and ideal in work settings. When combined with good management and achievable goals, this system has been shown to result in more loyalty, better production, higher motivation, and more profit than the other systems (Effrat, 1968).


  • 'New Ways of Managing Conflict' 1976 (With Jane Gibson Likert)
  • 'Human organization : its management and value' (1967)
  • 'New patterns of management' (1961)


  • 'Some applications of behavioural research' (1957)

Biographical details:

"In Memoriam: Rensis Likert, 1903-1981". Leslie Kish (1982). The American Statistician, Vol. 36, No. 2: pp. 124–12


Brewer, J. D. (1968). Review of The Human Organization. American Sociological Review, 33(5), 825-826

Effrat, A. (1968). Review: Democratizing and Producing. Science, 162(3859), 1260-1261.

Hall, J. W. (1972). A Comparison of Halpin and Croft's Organizational Climates and Likert and Likert's Organizational Systems. Administrative Science Quarterly,17(4), 586-590.

Huczynski, A.A. and Buchanan, D.A. (2007). "Organizational Behaviour". 6th Edition, Pearson Education.



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