The research paper compares and contrasts two approaches to leadership, namely the Path-Goal theory and the Situational leadership theory. The analysis grounds on the evaluation of due approaches by Peter Northouse and Nancy J. Adler, as well as the works of other leadership theorists.
The Path-Goal Theory
The Path-Goal Theory regards leader’s capability to motivate subordinates and make them accomplish set tasks. Peter Northouse (2013), argues that the theory emphasizes on the link between the leader’s style, individual features of the employees, and particular conditions of the work setting. The theory grounds on the assumption that a leader should make his/her subordinates believe in their potential and capacity of performing their work. Then, they will know that they are valued members of the organization worth fair payoffs, benefits and promotions. Hence, the most effective leaders of today’s competitive organizations uncover the best talents in their subordinates and make them actively contribute to the achievement of strategic organizational goals. At that, the most effective leaders motivate and develop employees in a way to create leaders around them. Such constructive employee-centered approach ensures high level of corporate loyalty, individual and team performance, cost saving, and organizational profitability and expansion. Given high rates of absenteeism and turnover in the majority of organizations, the implementation of the Path-Goal approach enables corporate management eliminate layoff costs, reduce overtime, and optimize organizational processes. Also, the Path-Goal Theory, fundamentally based on motivation, enables employees to show sound performance and achieve organizational goals (Adler, 2010).
A leader should opt for the most optimal leadership style to make their subordinates both successful and satisfied with their work. The directive leadership style pursuant to the theory complies with the telling style adopted by the situational leadership approach. Directive approach is entirely task-oriented while it assumes task instructions, performance expectations and meeting the set deadline (Adler, 2010).
By contrast, supportive style is more employee-oriented assuming more sympathy to the well-being and human needs of the employees. This is much about leader’s capacity to ensure sufficient work-life balance for their subordinates and arrange productive and positive working environment. Many theorists hold that the establishment of proper working conditions serves as the best motivation to the employees. ‘Feeling at work like at home’ is the best what effective leaders can do for their employees. Further, effective leaders should do everything possible to coach, train, develop and promote their subordinates to the higher levels of organizational structure and professional growth.
In addition, the Path-Goal Theory assumes sharing responsibilities between a leader and employees. The participative behavior advances mutual communication and trust. Participating in decision making processes, employees naturally feel more motivated, valued, and loyal to corporate goals. Participation-oriented style enhances everyone’s belongingness and dedication to corporate values and erases unnecessary subordination between the management and the staff members (Adler, 2010).
Finally, achievement-oriented behavior is featured by a type of leader capable of challenging subordinates and making them accomplish the set tasks to their best capacity. This way, leaders establish high standards of organizational performance and pursue excellence. Organizations seeking permanent improvement and growth gradually turn into domestic industry leaders and internationalize to conquer global markets.
The Situational Leadership Theory
While analyzing various approaches to leadership, leadership theorists (Adler, Blanchard, Daft, Hersey, Jago, Killian, Northouse, Vroom et al) explore various methods and feasible solutions they deem optimal to come up with optimal algorithm of effective leadership. For instance, Peter Northouse offers leadership instruments to critically evaluate the outlined concepts. The Situational Theory emphasizes on the features of the followers that determine particular situation and the mode of leader’s behavior (Daft, 2008). Situational Leadership prioritizes on the conditions of the particular situation, while different situations require different approaches to leadership. Thus, the theory stresses on adaptation and flexibility that necessitate leaders adjust to particular (situational) conditions and circumstances. According to Peter Northouse (2007), the concept of situational leadership involves directive and supportive dimension forcing a leader to apply each of them appropriately to a particular situation (p. 55). This indicates that social scientists do not consider leaders apart from specific situations anymore while feasible solutions to leading specific situations demand close consideration of both personal and situational differences (Vroom and Jago, 2007).
In their approach, Hersey and Blanchard extended Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid by forwarding the Situational Theory (Daft, 2008). The Leadership Grid prioritizes on team management style that assumes collective interaction to handle organizational duties and responsibilities. While adapting to the specific situation and conditions, a leader analyzes the capability of the staff to perform specific assignments. A leader critically evaluates everyone’s capacities, skills and motivations to adjust each performer to the conditions of each particular situation. At that, leaders are free to shape their aptitude while becoming more directive or more supportive depending on the performance of their subordinates (Northouse, 2013).
The situational theory assumes various options for a leader depending on aligning people-centered and production-centered behaviors (Daft, 2008). People-oriented aptitude focuses on development of supportive relationship. Such behaviors facilitate and encourage team members, and make them feel more adopted to particular work-related conditions and situations (Northouse, 2007). Leader’s supportive behavior mainly grounds on the establishment of a two-way communication to ensure smooth interaction with the staff from both socialization and emotional perspectives. This way, subordinates become more inspired and involved in the conditions of organizational setting.
Leader’s open communication, sharing and delegating responsibilities, as well as empathy to the needs and concerns of the subordinates make them open and contributive. Such behavior enables a leader to assure high quality of task-concerned behavior focused on production and individual input. At that, an organization wins by receiving more input from everyone’s performance and their dedication and loyalty to corporate values. Sound directive behavior assist individual members of the staff to accomplish collective goals; at that a situational leader shows how the staff should achieve organizational goals, gives directions, establishes goals, defines individual roles and delegates tasks, sets timelines, evaluates outcomes. In due sense, Peter Northouse (2007) defines four categories of situational leadership style covering both directive and supportive behaviors, namely a leader’s ability to direct, coach, support, and delegate. Directing emphasizes on goal achievement without substantial supportive behaviors. Coaching emphasizes on developing sound communication to meet socio-emotional of subordinates and achieve organizational goals. Supporting assumes supportive behaviors that help a leader to get the most skills and dedication from their subordinates. Delegating assumes that a leader facilitates employees only with task-focused priorities.
Herewith, much depends on leader’s capacity to develop their subordinates o ensure appropriate level of competence and commitment to accomplish set tasks and achieve organizational goals. The situational leadership model utilizes the development level to categorize employees depending on their competence and commitment. Ultimately, the development level of each employee determines the exact leadership style implemented by the leader. In particular, the directing approach will suit best employees who are insufficiently developed to meet organizational tasks priorities. Moderate-to-high developed employees will most benefit from the supporting and coaching styles, while situational leaders should adjust delegating style to highly developed employees (Northouse, 2012). At that, the deployment of individual leadership styles will depend on the leader’s capacity to reveal talents, skills and motivations in their subordinates (Daft, 2008).
In practice, situational approach consists in leader’s acknowledging relative competencies and commitments of the employees. At that, it is crucial to evaluate the exact level of an employee’s development continuum. Without this, adaptation of the abovementioned situational leadership styles is impossible. Primarily, a leader should critically assess the situation considering the development levels of his/her subordinates. Next, a leader should adapt his/her individual style to the chosen leadership style. Providing that a leader copes with insufficiently developed employees, he/she should deploy a coaching style. At that, the leader should adjust his/her leadership style depending on how employees progress/regress along the development continuum (Northouse, 2007). This indicates that situational leadership does not assume a fixed style for leaders, making them demonstrate high level of flexibility.
Contrast and comparison analysis
Both leadership theories outlined above attempt to model the most effective behavior of leaders by adjusting proper leadership styles. The research has shown that much depends on different circumstances and situational conditions, as well as on the human factor. This indicates that effective leader should adjust their skills and competence depending on specific circumstances and motivate their subordinates with the consideration of their individual capabilities. Both theories assume that leadership styles depend on organizational setting and individual employee features.
Being motivation-centered, the Path-Goal theory and the Situational leadership theory hold that individual motivation much depends on leader’s capacity to lead workplace and the employees. Herewith, the theories prioritize on leader’s flexibility allowing leaders adjust to get the best out of their staff and adjust to rapidly changing conditions of business environment.
Situational leadership model assumes that effective leadership depends on situational factors, employee motivation, and opted leadership style. It is vital for a leader to develop sound relationship with his/her followers while utilizing different leadership styles. Such flexibility assures that staff members are confident in their leaders, fully understand their role in organizational structure and know what their managers expect from them. At that they feel motivated and valued, respect formal subordination, and are loyal to corporate values. To ensure this, leaders should direct, coach, support, and observe the performance of their subordinates (Northouse, 2012).
In its turn, the Path-Goal leadership theory assumes that employees’ job satisfaction much depends on the way leaders arrange organizational setting and everyone’s individual performance. At that effective leaders create leaders around them by setting clear goals and charting a path for their followers to achieve the set goals. At that, the ultimate task of a leader consists in determining obstacles and providing right incentives for reaching individual and group milestones within an organizational setting. Once again, much depends on leader’s capacity to be supportive at times when their subordinates need more confidence, instruct them when they cannot understand the set tasks, and demand better performance when employees lack of motivation or fail to meet deadlines. Most situational leaders attain this by establishing open-minded communication practices and involving employees in the decision-making practices (Hersey, 1992).
Based on these theoretical observations, we can assume that both theories are complementary and mutually supportive. In empirical terms, of the situational leadership model offers specific suggestions on how leaders should adapt to different situations by adopting various leadership styles. Initially, effective leaders should prioritize on clear tasks. Next, they should understand the capability of the available resources. Further, they should critically assess skills and motivation of their subordinates. After that, they opt for the leadership style that will suit their strategic leadership purposes most and comply with the particular circumstances or situation. A combination of delegating, instructing, coaching, and demanding leadership styles will ensure their most interaction with various types of employees. The same styles will enable them to motivate their subordinates to achieve the highest outcomes in both individual and group performance. In turn, the Path-goal theory assumes that leaders are perfectly aware about the skills and potential of their employees. This enables them assign responsibilities in proper manner, convince subordinates, and inspire them for future achievements with fair rewards.
- Adler, N.J. (2010). Leadership Insight. Routledge; 1 SPI edition
- Daft, R.L. (2008). The Leadership Experience, Thomson Higher Education; 4th edition
- Hersey, P. (1992). The Situational Leader, Center for Leadership Studies; 4th edition
- Northouse, P. (2013). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.
- Northouse, P.E. (2007). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA; 5th edition.