In insight #1 we looked at the theory of motivation, as it pertains to leadership. In this our 2nd insight, we build on Expectancy Theory, and revive another psychological model and update if for 21st Century Leadership.
Many leadership books list desirable leadership traits, but like a 3-legged stool that doesn’t wobble, there are always 3-components to leadership; Leadership Style, Follower Motivation and Environmental Factors.
One of the early theories to look at this 3-way interaction was Path-Goal Theory, introduced by Martin Evans in 1971 and developed by Robert House in 1971.
As mentioned in Insight #1, there are countless definitions of leadership, but for this article we will use one from the book, The book The Social Psychology of Leadership.
“Leadership is the process of influencing others in a manner that enhances their contribution to the realization of group goals.”
For this leadership definition, the Path Goal theory is ‘spot-on’ because the model reminds leaders that to influence their followers, they must adjust their behavior depending on followers needs, and that they must support sub-ordinates to clarify the path to specified goals and support them in overcoming obstacles on the way to getting there.
While Path-Goal Theory is not a detailed process, it generally follows these basic steps:
- Determine the employee and environmental characteristics
- Select a leadership style
- Focus on motivational factors that will help the employee succeed
Employee and Environment
In Expectancy Theory, we discovered employees have different values that motivate them, but they also have different needs. These needs include:
- The need for control
- The need for structure
- The need for competence
- The need for affiliation
So, when setting a goal, the leader needs to ask themselves:
- Does this task/goal require high or low autonomy?
- Does this task/ goal require high or low structure?
- Do the people have the required ability/competence?
- Are the people working together and feeling supported?
By answering these questions, the leader will understand what is required, for example:
- If the sub-ordinates have low control (autonomy) and the task has low structure or high ambiguity, the leaders will need to offer greater support for the goal to be reached effectively.
- If the followers lack the ability/competence, the leader will need to offer training or coaching for them to reach the goal.
- If the work group or team is not supporting each other, the leaders will need to provide some alignment to the task, build trust, and show how achieving the goal is mutually beneficial.
A solution to all of these issues would be developing Self-leadership with the followers, but I will cover that more in a later insight.
Leadership Style & Behavior
Understanding the Employees and Environment means that the leader can adjust their style and behavior. Off course, this assumes some self-awareness and flexibility.
With modern psychometrics, we can now predict a leaders preferred leadership style based on personality, and with this feedback develop the requisite flexibility.
House and Mitchell (1974) defined four types of leader behaviors or styles: Directive, Supportive, Participative, and Achievement (explained in detail below). They are based on two factors Relationship and Task Orientation. We will revisit these factors in our next Leadership Insight about Contingency Theory.
The four path-goal types of leader behaviors are:
- Directive: The Directive Leader is task oriented and typically tells followers what is expected of them, how to perform a task, and scheduling and coordinating work. It is most effective when people are unsure about the task or when there is low structure or ambiguity within the environment.
- Supportive: The Supportive Leader is relationship oriented and aims to make work pleasant for the workers by showing concern for them and by being friendly and approachable. It is most effective in situations in which tasks and relationships are physically or psychologically challenging.
- Participative: The Participative Leader is also relationship oriented and tends to consult with employees before making decisions. This style is most effective when subordinates are competent with high autonomy (control).
- Achievement: The Achievement Leader sets challenging goals (task oriented) expects them to perform at their highest level, and shows confidence in their ability to meet this expectation (relationship oriented). This style is most effective in professional work environments, such as technical, scientific; or achievement environments, such as sales.
These four styles are not exclusive, and further research shows the benefits of facilitation and coaching which will be explored in future insights.
Motivation in Path-Goal theory is about providing suitable support to clarify the path and overcome obstacles. To go beyond needs-based motivation, we need to again review Expectancy Theory and consider, do the employees believe that extra effort will result in performance? will performance be rewarded? and do they value the rewards?