What is your leadership style? Does it stay constant, or vary depending on the context and motivation of your employees /team?
Leadership books and leadership blogs are fond of listing leadership traits, but to be an effective leader you need awareness of your default leadership style and behavioral flexibility depending on the context and level of employee motivation. That is going to take some practice.
Before we explore your leadership style, we must address the fact that there are about as many definitions of leadership as there are authors on the topic. This leadership blog is more focused on practice than theory, so a practical definition, from The Social Psychology of Leadership, is:
"Leadership is the process of influencing others in a manner that enhances their contribution to the realization of group goals."
I like this leadership definition because it speaks to a ‘process’ that requires ‘influence’. Leadership, in practice, is not a fixed thing, it’s not ‘one style fits all’. The effective leader 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.
Leadership is therefore a practice and you can practice flexibility of your leadership style.
Path-Goal Theory, introduced by Martin Evans in 1971 and developed by Robert House (1974), looks at the interaction between Leadership Style, Environmental Factors and Employee Motivation.
Path-Goal Theory is not a detailed process it follows these three basic steps:
In a previous leadership blog I talked about how motivation is driven by different values. The Path Goal theory considers motivation in terms of needs. Typical employee needs include:
The environment in which people work varies, as does the type of task or goal. So, when setting a goal, the leader needs to ask themselves:
By answering these questions, the leader will understand what is required, for example:
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.
The four path-goal leadership styles are:
These four styles are not exclusive, and further research shows the benefits of facilitation and coaching.
This theory is highly applicable for leadership development and coaching, as it reinforces the need for self-awareness, situational awareness and flexibility of leaders. How will you practice?
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