Leader-Member Exchange Theory. Have you ever noticed that in some environments there is an in and out group – and that some people are more likely to stay than others, and that the “in” group has more information than they others? This theory talks about that phenomenon. I don’t think that this environment is ideal – I think it should be avoided, but understanding what is happening will help you identify what is going on and possibly move into a position where you will receive more information, or would help you break the cycle if you are the leader in this situation.
Path-Goal Theory assumes that subordinates will do a good job and be motivated as long as they believe that they can do a good job (capable of performing their work), and that the reward for doing the work is worthwhile. The leader here seeks to motivate his/her employees. This style also emphasis removing obstacles, clarifying goals, and supporting the people doing the work. I identify with this style of leadership most closely because it is such a close fit to how I see myself and my responsibilities as a project manager. This theory identifies 4 types of leader behaviors (directive, supportive, participative, and achievement orientated) that can be used based on the task and the subordinates needs to provide proper motivation and support. Finally, the theories include subordinate characteristics (need for affiliation, structure preference, control, and task ability) that must be considered by the leader when choosing their own leadership behavior. While somewhat complex, it is a situational approach that focuses on removing obstacles and clearing the way for your staff to do the best work possible.
Contingency Theory attempts to match leaders to specific situations creating a match where they will be most successful. Obviously this doesn’t work in all situations, but can be used in looking at what approach would work best. The theory looks at leader-member relationships, the task structure, and the leader’s positional power, as well as the leaders preferred leadership style. A chart shows what situations the preferred leadership style is most effective in. The leader’s style is based on an assessment on the LPC scale (least preferred coworker) which separates leaders based on relationship versus task motivations.
Situational Leadership. I have encountered this several times before & I find it useful for determining behavior in a situation. This approach looks at the skill of the followers, and has a chart based on two factors – supportive behaviors and directive behaviors. This creates four styles: Delegating, Supporting, Coaching, and Directing. Based on the skill of the employee and the task, a leader can determine which role would be most effective for the situation. This approach assumes that the leader should adapt to the abilities of their subordinates.
I think that I struggle with seeing leadership qualities in average situations. I tend to associate leadership with great people (Lincoln, Roosevelt etc). I think that it is very easy to see leadership flaws in people that I interact with, and I needed to take a step back and view these interactions from a grander viewpoint. Leadership and change are linked – and change is hard, especially organizational change, which I think also minimized leadership accomplishments of those I know. I also have started to consider that leadership often happens in small moments – not large ones. For instance, I had a hard time talking about transformational leadership because I viewed it only in terms of large transformations. Yet I work in an industry that frequently mentors others, and these mentors are exhibiting transformational leadership.
While most leadership books (at least those that are meant to develop leadership abilities) assume that leadership is a skill that can be developed, many rely on personality and traits, that I fee are more difficult to change. The approaches above, to me, provide very concrete concepts of ways to increase leadership ability based on context. In some ways, I think that had I taken this course prior to some of the other classes I have taken; I would probably have viewed them differently. On the other hand, I don’t think that a single exposure to a thought or concept allows full development of the idea – the more often ideas are thought about and developed, the more concrete and meaningful they become, and the more they become woven into your practice.
Images are from Leadership Theory and Practice by Peter G. Northouse.