Leadership is the “ability or authority to guide and direct others toward achievement” (Ferrell, Fraedrich, & Ferrell, 2008, p. 131). Leaders exert their influence in a variety of ways, and researchers have struggled to define and classify the nature of leadership. Their research has resulted in the contingency theory of leadership, the path-goal theory, the Vroom and Yetton model, and leader-member exchange theory.
Fred Fiedler developed the contingency theory of leadership to explain how effective leadership is a combination of individual characteristics and leadership situations. Fiedler’s theory defines two kinds of leaders: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. Task-oriented leaders place higher importance task completion than personal relationships. Relationship-oriented leaders focus on building relationships with subordinates. The leader’s style is compared with the leader’s situation to predict the likelihood of success. The situation is described by three facts including relationships between the leader and subordinates, how well defined tasks are, and the formal authority of the leader. These factors can be combined in any way to describe the leader’s current situation. The results of the Fielder’s research show that task-oriented leaders thrive in situations that are either very favorable or unfavorable for leading, while relationship-oriented leaders flourish in moderately favorable situations (George & Jones, 2008).
Robert House’s path-goal theory explains how leaders use motivation and behavior to accomplish goals. House found that the best way to motivate subordinates was to discover subordinates’ goals, reward subordinates for performance, and make goals realistic and achievable. Similarly, House found that certain behaviors could influence subordinate performance. For example, providing clear instructions ensure subordinates understand the leader’s expectations. Subordinates are also motivated by leaders that are supportive in work and non-work situations. Leaders that allow subordinates to be involved in the decision-making process find that tasks are readily accepted and accomplished. Finally, subordinates often perform above expectations when leaders show confidence in their abilities and appreciation for their success (George & Jones, 2008).
Although participation in the decision-making process is important for subordinate motivation, Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton found that certain situations required more or less subordinate participation. The Vroom and Yetton model suggests that leaders decide what kind of decision needs to be made before deciding who should be involved. For example, some decisions are of a highly technical nature and must be delegated to the group’s experts. Other decisions must be left to the leader, although the leader may seek input from the group. This model suggests that each decision has the potential to be made in a different way and strives to help leaders determine which decision-making method works best in each situation (George & Jones, 2008).
The final leadership theory is the leader-member exchange theory. This theory suggests that the relationship between leaders and individual subordinates determines how effective a leader can be. When a leader and subordinate have a strong relationship based on mutual respect, both the leader and subordinate profit. When the subordinate develops a more traditional leader-follower relationship, the leader must use her authority to influence the behavior of the subordinate. The result of the leader-member exchange theory suggests that to achieve maximum performance, a leader should develop as many strong relationships as possible. The result of these relationships is subordinates that perform at a high-level with little need for discipline (George & Jones, 2008).
Although I tend to be a task-oriented leader, that does not exclude the possibility for respectful relationships with subordinates. The best thing I could do to increase my leadership effectiveness is to focus on building subordinate relationships. In the past, I have been guilty of making autocratic decisions for my teams without explaining my position or asking for input. Recently, I have been mindful of this poor management habit and focused on soliciting input from my teams. This has the effect of motivating subordinates to work harder to achieve the goals they helped design and build relationships as subordinates feel they have earned my trust.
Ferrell, O. C., Freadrich, J., & Ferrell, L.. (2008). Business ethics: Ethical decision making and cases (7th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
George, J. M., & Jones G. R. (2008). Understanding and managing organizational behavior (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.