Effective leadership is essential for a successful organization. However, it is not a simple role to fulfill, and it can involve a lot of different situations, goals, and interactions. This is why there exist many leadership theories that can be applied in various situations. This paper will provide a case of a real situation where leadership theory can be applied, three theories and models will be presented, and one of them will be used to analyze the current situation; also a reflective analysis will be conducted.
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This case revolves around an issue that was caused by an insubordinate employee. Their manager expressed concerns that the employee does not seem to be motivated, often comes to work late, shows no initiative and has no respect for authority. To address this problem, I chose to place this employee on a six-month detail to a place away from the workplace. This should have let them regain their enthusiasm and clear their head in order to focus on their work. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The next day I learned that the employee was kicked off from the detail for falling asleep on the job, and subsequently becoming hostile when he was asked to stand.
I am concerned for the safety of this individual, so I have to find out everything I can about their reasons for this behavior. If the employee refuses to explain the reasons behind his behavior I would have to show that these types of action will not be tolerated and that if their behavior does not improve, I would have to fire them. This will show both my interest in their wellbeing and that I require them to stop their unacceptable behavior.
The three theories that I found to be most applicable to this case are the theory of Situational Leadership, the Path-Goal model, and the Leader-Member Exchange theory. My choices are motivated by the apparent emotional nature of the issue. The employee does not have a history of problematic behavior, so this sudden change of attitude has to do something with their emotional state or personal life. The uniting idea between these theories lies in need of the leader to pay close attention to the needs of the employee (Gregoire & Arendt, 2014).
Situation leadership focuses on the leader changing their style of leadership to adapt to the employee. The style can change over time when the needs of the employees change. Situational leadership categorizes all of the leadership approaches into four styles labeled from “S1” to “S4.” The first one is named “directing, ” and its main characteristic is the one-way communication from the leader to the team on how the task should be completed. The second style is called “coaching, ” and it revolves around two-way communication and emotional support to the team or an individual to motivate them. The third is titled “supporting” and emphasizes the shared decision-making by the team and the leader.
This style involves more attention being given to the emotional aspect of work, and less task oriented suggestions from the leader. The last style is called “delegating, ” and it moves most of the decision-making responsibility onto the team, with leader monitoring the process. These categories are divided based on their level of focus on task vs. relationship behavior. This theory of leadership engages four competencies of the leader. The first is the ability to diagnose.
It governs the process of understanding of the situation. The second is the adaptation, and it is responsible for the adjustment of leadership style to the needs of the situation. The third is communication. It is responsible for interaction with other people with an attitude and approach that they would find acceptable. Finally, it engages the ability to advance through management of the solution (Northouse, 2016).
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The second theory that I believe could be used in this case is the path-goal theory of leadership. It also focuses on the leader adjusting their approach to meet the requirements of a particular situation. The role of the leader in this theory is to help the team to make best decisions to fulfill their goals. Just like the previous theory, the path-goal theory proposes four styles of leadership: directive, achievement-oriented, participative, and supportive. Directive leaders state their requirements clearly and show their teams how to perform the tasks.
Achievement-oriented leaders have confidence in their teams and set difficult goals for them to tackle. Participative leaders focus on the feedback and ideas from the team. Supportive leaders are interested in fulfilling the needs of the team members. This theory requires the leader to be flexible so they can adjust to the environmental factors beyond their control (Polston-Murdoch, 2013).
The final theory that could work with this case is the Leader-Member Exchange theory. This theory is focused on the two-way interaction between the leader and the subordinates. It suggests that if the leader creates a meaningful relationship with the team members then their motivation, responsibility, and work performance would increase (Loi, Chan, & Lam, 2013). Three groups of antecedents make up the LMX: leader characteristics, follower characteristics, and interpersonal relationships. Then this process is affected by contextual variables such as work setting, and in the end causes various job-related consequences (Greenleaf, 2008).
Analysis of the Case
The first step of applying the situational leadership theory is determining the maturity level of the follower. The case suggests that the subordinate is at the lowest level of maturity because they are not able and are not willing to perform the tasks. This means that I would have to employ the “directing” style of leadership. With the follower being unwilling to perform the tasks I would have to provide clear instructions and monitoring. This would leave the follower in a situation where they are required to perform the task or be fired. However, it would not address the psychological issues of the person and could backfire. The subordinate in this case has shown strong opposition to authority so I can see how this situation can deteriorate if they feel that I am trying to control them more strictly.
The subordinate in the case is clearly distressed by something, so the path-goal theory suggests that a supportive leader is required in situations when the team member is psychologically distressed. In this case, I would make an extra effort to understand the reasons behind their behavior and address it accordingly, perhaps with special training or psychological help. The wellbeing of the person is very important to me so I believe this approach could be beneficial.
A similar solution comes from the LMX theory. Follower’s characteristics in agreeableness, openness, and extraversion are low, but they have been a competent worker beforehand. My characteristics include high expectations of followers, agreeableness, and contingent reward behavior. I hope to gain the trust of the follower which would lead to an increase in job performance. The work setting is stressful and can have a negative effect on the process. However, we are culturally aligned which could help. By creating an emotional connection with the follower, I can both help them deal with their issues and increase their output at work which suggests this theory would be the most valuable.
During the course of this assignment, I had to consider a few different aspects of leadership that I usually ignored. It was my belief that a leader needs to create a certain distance between them and the followers in order to facilitate respect. However, despite the different results that I have gained from applying the theories, it became clear to me that a good leader should be much more flexible to perform their work duties. The situational leadership theory was the first one to suggest this notion to me. By analyzing my previous leadership experience, I could see that I have unconsciously employed a similar approach on many occasions. When encountering a problem, I often consider the willingness of the subordinate to perform their required tasks before deciding on the issue. I cannot say that my choices fully correlate to the four leadership styles proposed by this theory, but it was interesting to see that this approach is considered valid by the community.
The path-goal theory taught me that some situations might require a more personal approach to the problems of the team members. In retrospect, this is very logical because emotional and psychological situations cannot be dealt with only through rational instructions. By providing emotional support in the difficult times, I should be able to avoid the loss of productivity and long-term consequences of unmanaged psychological stress. I will focus on this type of support for my team because their emotional state is very important to me.
The same could be said about the LMX theory. It surprised me how detailed it was in the analysis of characteristics. While reading about it, I recalled the efforts of some of my school teachers to connect with the students. Those that succeeded managed to improve the performance of even the most delinquent students. I still remember the respect that everybody in class felt for them, and how devastating it was when we could not meet their expectations. A meaningful relationship is a powerful tool in the hands of a leader, and it should never be understated.
Different situations require different approaches. This is one of the main messages that these theories provide to the leaders. An emotionally distressed team member might not respond well to strict and controlling commands from a leader. In some cases, it could lead to the increase in the stress the person feels doing his job. This is why the leader has to be flexible. By analyzing the current needs of the team, a leader should adjust their behavior to meet the requirements of the situation. Whether the team needs clear instructions or emotional support, the leader should provide it. These theories taught me that I should be more attentive to my team and that the distance I tried to create in the past might be detrimental to their work experience.
Greenleaf, R. K. (2008). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
Gregoire, M. & Arendt, S. (2014). Leadership: Reflections over the past 100 years. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(5), 10-19.
Loi, R., Chan, K., & Lam, L. (2013). Leader-member exchange, organizational identification, and job satisfaction: A social identity perspective. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 87(1), 42-61.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Polston-Murdoch, L. (2013). An investigation of path-goal theory, relationship of leadership style, supervisor related commitment, and gender. Emerging Leadership Journeys, 6(1), 13-44.
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