How does a leader motivate followers? For many jobs this is a critical question to ask. Organizations want their employees to be productive. For a leader, it is essential to know and understand what can be done in order to create employees that perform well and are satisfied with their jobs. Oftentimes, simply getting a paycheck to do a job isn’t enough to motivate people to perform well. The premise of the path-goal theory is that it is a leader’s job to motivate their followers to achieve goals (Northouse, 2016, p.115). As such, it becomes the leader’s job to understand what will motivate a follower through rewards that act as goals and then help them navigate a path through which to achieve these rewards (PSU WC, 2016, l.6 p. 12).
Thinking back through my own work experiences, I can come up with many instances of when the path-goal theory could be applied in order to illustrate how this theory is effective. Many years ago, I worked for a large national retailer. After two months of working for the company I was promoted into a department in which I knew very little about my role or how to go about performing my job. When I first began this role, the store was experiencing many difficulties with reaching overall sales goals and much of the upper management was dissatisfied with the overall performance of the store’s employees, but unsure how to change this. One tactic that was used to attempt to motivate employees was to give them a bonus when six-month sales goals for the overall store were met. The problem with this was that when the overall bonus was divided up among the many employees, it didn’t really amount to much, and as a result, was not effective as a motivational tool. However, when I started in my new position, I was lucky enough to work under a manager who wanted to change the status quo and improve the store’s sales position within the district. Since I was new to the department and had little idea of what to do, she provided directive leadership towards me. She gave me very clear cut instructions on what to do and how to do it in order to be successful and understand what was expected of me in my new role (Northouse, 2016, p.117). However, I also quickly became competent in my role and the problem with it was that my job became incredibly mundane. I performed many of the same tasks over and over again without having any personal benefit from them, and if my manager had been different I probably would have become very unhappy. At this point, the manager took on a supportive leadership role in an attempt to keep me upbeat and productive. She was very aware of the fact that her success as a manager was dependent upon the people that worked under her. As such she was always friendly and made sure that we could come to her with problems we were having at work and did what she could to make sure that little things that were under her control were accommodated (PSU WC, 2016, l.6 p.13), such as letting me work the morning shift rather than the evening shift on most days. When sales numbers were still low in her departments she finally employed a different tactic in which she used achievement-oriented leadership. She did this by starting weekly meetings that her employees were required to attend. After learning that many of the employees who worked for her were unmotivated to try harder to achieve sales because the company bonus was not effective, she set up a challenge for us in order to get everyone to work harder (PSU WC, 2016, l.6. p.13). She set new standards for each department and came up with ideas to motivate the workers to perform better. These ideas included providing lunch for the employees included in the weekly meeting if sales goals were met, and the person who had the highest amount of sales within a department at the end of the month would receive a gift card. With tangible goals set and rewards that directly benefited an individual for performing well, employees became motivated to work harder and sales within these departments dramatically increased. She came to understand what would effectively motivate the employees working for her, and went about employing tactics in order to make them more productive.
Under the path-goal theory, the manager that I worked for had a grasp of the two basic characteristics that were essential for success: those of the followers and those of the tasks being completed. Under follower characteristics, she was a friendly and supportive leader who created a sense of affiliation for those who worked under her in order to increase our satisfaction with her (Northouse, 2016, p.119). At the same time, while she started off as a directive leader when I was new to my position, she eventually changed tactics as I gained competence. This is because as an individual’s perception of their own ability to complete a job has an effect on some leadership behaviors (PSU WC, 2016, l.6 p.14). She recognized that had she continued to use directive leadership on me once I knew what I was doing, I would have viewed it as micromanaging and would have probably resented her. On the other hand, she was also limited by the task characteristics with which we all worked. Our tasks were structured in that, the longer each of us was in the role, we knew what was expected of us each day and that many of these tasks were repetitive, which required her to not only use very little directive leadership but also to provide us with external motivation (Northouse, 2016, p.120). And because the formal authority system for the company was very clear to all employees, she never needed to make the rules and requirements of our jobs clear, other than using sales goals as a tool to motivate us to win prizes (Northouse, 2016, p.120). At the same time, she did whatever she could to remove any obstacles that she could in order to help us reach our goals, and keep us from becoming frustrated in the process (PSU WC, 2016, l.6 p.14).
In illustrating how a manger motivated employees of a large company, it can be seen that leaders can choose different leadership styles depending upon both the situation and followers’ needs, which is the basic premise of the path goal theory, (PSU WC, 2016, l.6. p.15). Depending upon the situation, as something such as a follower’s level of competence or personal motivation changes, it becomes a leader’s job to change their behaviors in order to increase their subordinates’ motivation levels to complete tasks and achieve goals and thus work as hard as they can. And while the tactics that my manager employed were effective for the group of people that worked for her, different tactics would probably need to be employed in a different setting or with a different group of individuals. Under the path-goal theory, it becomes the leader’s job to find out not only what will motivate a follower, but also help them to achieve their goals by showing them what path to take and helping them overcome obstacles along the way (PSU WC, 2016, l.6 p.15).
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice, (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishing, Inc.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). Lesson 6: Contingency and path theories: Part 2: Path-Goal Theory. PSYCH485: Leadership in work settings. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp16/psych485/001/content/06_lesson/04_topic/02_page.html.