Reading through the various theories and approaches of leadership in this course, I try to think of ways to apply them to my current leadership situation. The trait, skills, psychodynamic, and behavioral approaches to leadership were all focused on the leader, with little to no consideration given to the followers or the situation (Northouse, 2016). The situational approach and path-goal theory do give more consideration to the application of leadership styles and behaviors with regards to the situation and follower (Northouse, 2016). Because of this, I’ve considered applying the more dynamic approaches (i.e. the situational and path-goal) to the leadership process in my current situation.
A brief description of my current leadership responsibility is that I manage a watch desk position that is manned 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. I have 4 full-time personnel assigned to the position, and another 4 (including myself) that are available to fill in during manpower shortages. Half of these 8 available positions are civilian government employees, each with decades of experience. The other half is made up of active duty Air Force members, myself included. My primary responsibility is to manage the watch desk, and directly supervise the 2 non-commissioned officers assigned to the watch desk.
In order for leaders to be effective with regards to the situational approach, “it is essential that they determine where followers are on the developmental continuum and adapt their leadership styles so they directly match their style to that development level” (Northouse, 2016, p. 97). Therefore, one of the first things the leader must do is consider the goal of the followers, its complexity, and the followers’ skills, ability, and desires to achieve those goals (Northouse, 2016). This is necessary to determine the follower’s developmental level (Northouse, 2016). Based on this determination, the leader can adapt their style (behavior) to be most effective, in accordance with the Situational Leadership II model (Northouse, 2016).
Applying the situational approach to my current leadership situation, I thought about the developmental levels of the 4 personnel assigned to the watch desk. Two of these members are retired military members who are now government civilian employees working in the same field they did as military members. When considering their goal abilities, they have a high degree of competence. However, when considering their commitment, it seems to vary depending on the task. Based on these simplified descriptions, the situational approach prescribes high supportive and low directive behavior for my leadership style (Northouse, 2016). The two other members are military personnel and their competence is currently low because they are newly assigned and currently in training, but their commitment and motivation is currently high. Under the situational approach to leadership, this description suggests I take a highly directive and low supportive behavior, however my directive behavior should decrease and my supportive behavior should increase as the competence of these two members increase (Northouse 2016). Clearly, I will need to be flexible with my leadership style with two very different types of members to manage.
Both the path-goal theory and situational approaches describe adapting leadership styles to follower’s needs and abilities. However, the path-goal theory expands a bit more with consideration to the situation and its effects on followers and leaders. For example, both the path-goal and situational leadership theories address the need for a supportive leadership style depending on particular follower characteristics. However, the path-goal theory also considers the nature of the task characteristics which would obviously affect the follower characteristics. For example, when a follower is working to complete a task that is challenging or ambiguous, the path-goal theory does not recommend a supportive leadership style (Northouse, 2016). Instead, the path-goal theory recommends the supportive leadership style when the tasks are unchallenging or repetitive (Northouse, 2016). The situational approach on the other hand, does not address the task characteristics directly but suggests the follower’s abilities and commitment are not static and will change. However, it fails to address the organizational circumstances or task characteristics that drive the change in follower’s abilities and commitment (Northouse, 2016). Both the path-goal theory and situational approach suggests leaders need to be flexible in their leadership style in order to effectively address the considerations of follower characteristics. When comparing the two, it would appear the situational approach is more reactive while the path-goal theory is more proactive in their leadership situation diagnosis. In other words, a leader using the path-goal theory will consider how the task will affect the follower and adjust their leadership style accordingly, where as a leader using the situational approach will wait for the follower to be affected by the task before modifying their leadership style.
When I consider the path-goal theory with the follower and task characteristics involved with the watch desk position, I can gain a better understanding of when and how to adapt my leadership style. Therefore, for my highly experienced members, I can utilize a supportive leadership style, as they find the tasks repetitive and unchallenging, then switch to a more participative role when the task become challenging or ambiguous. For the less experienced members, I can start with a directive style of leadership when they are starting with training, then switch to a different style as they become more comfortable with the tasks and they indicate their desired goals and abilities to achieve them. Now that I have determined my leadership style and approach, I will consider the specific actions I can take to reflect this style for my team.
I know that this initial diagnosis of applying the leadership process is premature and incomplete. For example, I haven’t considered how positional or personal power will affect my success in applying these leadership styles, such as the expert power my more experienced civilian members have over me and the other military members. There are many more things to consider, so I will continue to review and adapt my behavior and style as appropriate as my leadership knowledge increases. It is obvious that I will need an expansive understanding of the leadership process with developed skills to properly diagnose the multitude of aspects in consideration of the situation and follower characteristics, in order to adjust my leadership behavior and style accordingly.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.