Often times we accept the misconception that our success is self-made. We forget that the most successful people did not make it to where they are on their own. By believing that success is self-made, we sometimes feel down-trodden when we can’t sum up intrinsic motivation to do something and become successful. Malcolm Gladwell says it best in his book Outliers, “…we so profoundly personalize success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung” (2008, p.32). Motivation is important because it is a force that is initiated internally and externally that moves a person to behave a particular way (Muchinsky, 2012).
In the Caribbean there is an old saying, “One hand can’t clap”. People usually say this when someone is refusing help because it expresses the idea that you cannot do it all on your own, you need other people or someone else, whether it’s for emotional support, guidance, etc. The path-goal theory of leadership dwells on the idea that a successful leader maximizes the potential of their subordinates and followers through motivation. As Northouse examines the path-goal theory, he points out that it is a theory of leadership that focuses on follower motivation (2016).
A leader can and should be that second hand to make a clap without being a dictator, but by being a motivator. If you’re needing a push, if you’re feeling demotivated, you should be able to turn to a supervisor, team lead, etc. to be an external source of motivation. Northouse discusses an essential aspect of the path-goal theory being that leaders should employ a style that is most suiting to the follower’s motivational needs. He emphasizes that leaders are responsible for providing the rudiments followers will need to accomplish their goals (2016).
It is important for leaders to generate motivation for followers, in order to for the followers to remain consistent and dedicated in accomplishing their goals. Generating motivation however, is a complex task which can be done in several ways. Northouse presents four types of leader behaviors that the path-goal theory stands on, directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented (2016). Though, I’ve seen each type in action, the most powerful in my opinion is achievement-orientated leadership.
Achievement-orientated leadership calls for a leader that motivates followers through challenges and high standards. As an athlete, I’ve felt most motivated when I was received this form of leadership. For the longest time I’ve been trying to run fast enough to qualify for the NYC Marathon, but I just couldn’t hack it. At a time when my motivation wasn’t the highest, I thought of the saying I’d heard from family members, “one hand can’t clap”. I hired a running coach that seemed to be the perfect fit for me because he showed so much confidence in my abilities and expected a lot from me which was extremely motivating. Though he seemed to be the perfect fit and he was, I realize that he adjusted his leadership style from understanding my characteristics and what my motivation was. He made the work so much more personally satisfying and made the goals clear, all of which motivated me and sustained the motivation, because motivation is continuous. The effectiveness of his achievement-orientated leadership allowed me to successfully run a half-marathon fast enough for qualification for the NYC marathon.
All in all, path-goal theory emphasizes the strength in leadership lies in motivating followers. Are you using just one hand to clap?
Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.