Article by: Christopher Boyne
Most leadership theories involve a three-way process, which focuses on analyzing leaders, followers, and situations (PSU WC Lesson 6, 2014, p. 16). Path-Goal Theory contrasts with the majority of these theories in that it can be described as studying how leaders motivate their followers when pursuing goals (PSU WC Lesson 6, 2014, p. 12). Though Path-Goal Theory uses subordinates characteristics to determine how they interpret a leader’s behavior, this approach primarily focuses on the leader and the way they affect subordinates, and does not concentrate on how subordinates affect a leader (PSU WC Lesson 6, 2014 p. 16). The leader analyzes their followers’ motivation to enhance their performance levels (Northouse, 2013, p. 137). Motivation is the source to understanding behavior in any workplace environment. Motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic, meaning an individual can be motivated by internal factors or external factors (PSU WC Lesson 1, 2013 p. 2). Path-Goal Theory examines external motivation from leaders and the influence that their leadership behaviors have on their followers. This theory can be applied to the leadership situation of Army Ranger Staff Sergeant Matthew Eversmann and his actions during The Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
In Mark Bowden’s book, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (1999), he compiles eyewitness accounts of The Battle of Mogadishu, a battle that occurred on October 3, 1993 in Mogadishu, Somali between United States Army Rangers and Special Forces operators and Somali militiamen supporting warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, who had possible ties to the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda (Bowden, 1999). The mission was supposed to be a swift snatch-and-grab operation of Aidid’s top officials, and was estimated to last less than an hour. The conflict went terribly wrong when multiple Black Hawk helicopters got shot down, and concluded with 18 dead United States soldiers, estimates of over 1,000 dead Somali militiamen, and one American prisoner of war (Bowden, 1999). Eversmann was a leader of one of the four Ranger groups, or chalks, and his leadership approaches can be explained using Path-Goal Theory.
The day of the intended-to-be routine mission, Eversmann was abruptly assigned the duty of leader of Chalk Four because he two superiors in his chalk were sent home due to illness related issues (Bowden, 1999). As the newly appointed leader, Eversmann displayed the supportive leadership behavior. This leadership behavior can be described as friendly, approachable, and respecting followers. This type of leader tends to the well-being and needs of their subordinates (PSU WC Lesson 6, 2014, p. 13). This behavior was indicative of Eversmann, because he too, just a few shorts hours before, was a not an assigned leader, but in the same position as the rest of his chalk. He knew he chalk members well, and respected each individual (Bowden, 1999). The task characteristics involved with this leadership behavior are repetitive, unchallenging, and mundane (Northouse, 2013, p. 143). This mission was one of many similar missions for the Rangers that they had conducted in the last few months. They were comfortable with the mission guidelines, and felt so comfortable that they would quickly and successfully complete the mission. Many of the men did not bring along water, extra ammunition, or night vision goggles, which later proved to be problematic (Bowden, 1999). The nonchalance of the soldiers, the unchallenging initial task characteristics, and Eversmann’s respectful and humble attitude culminated in a supportive leadership behavior.
Once the mission began, and Eversmann’s Chalk Four was to fast rope from Black Hawk helicopters and secure a position around the target building where Aidid’s top officials were holding a meeting, one of Eversmann’s soldiers, Private Blackburn fell an estimated 80 feet when he missed grabbing a hold of the rope (Bowden, 1999). Eversmann used the directive leadership behavior when he set clear standards of what he wanted his men to do, and gave his subordinates instructions about their task (PSU WC Lesson 6, 2014, p. 13). Eversmann instructed his men to quickly fast rope off the helicopter, give medical attention to the fallen soldier, and form a perimeter. This leadership behavior is effective when task characteristics become unclear, or complex. The subordinate characteristics also were in-line with this leadership behavior because Eversmann’s followers, as Army Rangers are accustomed to doing, support obedience to authority, (Northouse, 2013, p. 143).
As the mission evolved, and became more multifarious, with multiple Black Hawk helicopters being shot down, and Eversmann’s chalk suffering from casualties and being out-gunned by the opposition, Eversmann exhibited the achievement-oriented leadership behavior. This behavior can be described as challenging subordinates to perform at their highest levels. This type of leader has high standards for their followers and has confidence that they will complete the desired tasks (PSU WC Lesson 6, 2014, p. 13). Eversmann’s subordinates needed to excel in relocating to the crash site of one of the helicopters to limit more deaths occurring. The task characteristics in this leadership situation include a challenging and complex environment. Most of Eversmann’s men had never been in a firefight that was this intense, and by being out numbered by the enemy, and low on supplies, Chalk Four was presented with a multitude of complex tasks. Eversmann’s achievement-oriented leadership behavior in this situation effectively helped the men get to the crash site.
Staff Sergeant Matthew Eversmann exhibited all the leadership behaviors of supportive leadership, directive leadership, and achievement-oriented leadership on that fall day in 1993. He was challenged with analyzing his followers’ motivational characteristics to enhance their performance levels. With the changing environment of the mission, Eversmann was able to successfully change his leadership behaviors to adapt to the situation. With the help of his courageous leadership, and the heroism of his subordinates, Staff Sergeant Eversmann and the Army Rangers were able to fight off militiamen and eventually get to safety hours after the misconceived mission began.
Bowden, M. (1999). Black hawk down: A story of modern war. New York, New York: Grove Press.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2013a). PSYCH 484:lesson 1: Introduction to work motivation Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa13/psych484/001/content/lesson01/lesson01_02.html
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2014b). PSYCH 485 lesson 6:Path-goal theory. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp14/psych485/001/content/06_lesson/04_topic/05_page.html