During the 1980 Winter Olympic Games held in Lake Placid, New York, the United States Men's ice hockey team, comprised of predominantly college players with no experience in international play, performed one of the most celebrated feats in the annals of team sport. In the midst of an increasingly hostile Cold War with the Soviet Union, the underestimated U.S. team advanced through Olympic group play to play the heavily favored Soviet team in the medal round. Faced with incredibly daunting odds against a juggernaut of a Soviet squad, one which had captured virtually every significant world hockey championship since 1954, head coach Herb Brooks rallied his untested team of American amateurs to an astonishing victory known forever after as the "Miracle on Ice." While the astounding athletic achievements of the U.S. men's team cannot be overstated, the theoretical foundation of the legendary leadership skills displayed by Brooks certainly warrants closer examination. By applying the techniques described by two fundamental theories of leadership, Robert House's Path-Goal Theory and Victor Vroom's Expectancy Theory, to the 2004 film Miracle, a biographical depiction of the U.S. men's hockey team and their inexplicable run to glory, it is possible to observe these immensely powerful leadership skills applied in a real world setting. ***
1.) Using examples from the movie Miracle, explain and support ALL the various aspects of Path-Goal theory. This is a leadership theory, therefore, you need to look at the 'leader' for examples (how can his/her actions be explained using the theory). Please note that 2-3 examples of each area are expected along with a discussion that demonstrates your understanding of the theory.
The original research on Path-Goal Theory published by Robert House in 1971 asserted that "a subordinate's motivation, satisfaction and work performance are dependent on the leadership style chosen by their superior," while identifying four distinct leadership styles used consistently by the most successful motivators of men and women. The effectiveness of each of these four leadership styles is directly related to the situational circumstances dictating their use, and leaders who identify the ideal leadership behavior across the situational spectrum are the most capable of inspiring ordinary people to behave in extraordinary ways. The four leadership styles which form House's Path-Goal Theory are described as follows:
Also known as directive path-goal clarifying leader behavior, the directive leadership style is suitable for situations when subordinates require direct instruction. When a leader informs followers of preconceived expectations and standards, in an effort to clearly define baselines for production, effort and other intangible contributions this is directive leadership in action.
- The film Miracle begins with University of Minnesota head hockey coach Herb Brooks interviewing before the United States Olympic Committee, and the viewer is given a glimpse of Brooks' distinctively directive approach to leadership in the very first scenes. When Brooks expounds on his philosophical approach to the game, reveals his precise plans for vanquishing the vaunted Soviet team, and alludes to the systemic alterations he would implement, he is exemplifying the persuasive power of directive leadership.
- After convening the U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team for their first practice preceding the start of the Games, coach Brooks is immediately forced to confront his team's lack of cohesion after forward Rob McClanahan and defenseman Jack O'Callahan engage in a heated physical altercation based on their college rivalry. Brooks reprimands his undisciplined players and demand that they refocus on the task at hand, warning them that if "you wanna settle old scores, you're on the wrong team. We move forward starting right now. We start becoming a team right now! Skating. Passing. Flow. Creativity. That is what this team is all about, gentlemen, not old rivalries." By decisively stepping in to stop the infighting, while warning his players that they are now playing for their country and must become united to succeed, Brooks demonstrates how directive leadership can be used to assert authority and instill respect.
The concept of achievement-oriented leader behavior is an essential element of the supportive leadership style, and is most effective when utilized to incentivize productivity-based efforts. The establishment of a tangible goal system which challenges workers to exceed their previous expectations of excellence, while rewarding those who perform at optimal levels, is the conceptual core of the supportive leadership style.
- The realm of competitive athletics is perhaps the most conducive environment for utilizing the motivational aspects of supportive leadership, because even the most team-oriented sporting contests require superlative individual efforts to score points and surpass opponents. Coach Brooks engages in a reversal of achievement-oriented leader behavior when he informs starting goaltender Jim Craig that his position is in danger of being usurped by his backup Steve Janaszak. By providing a tangible potential outcome to be reached depending on Craig's performance, Brooks successfully motivates his struggling player to realize his full potential and play to his maximum ability.
- During an especially inspirational scene in Miracle, coach Brooks addresses his team with a rousing pregame speech designed to appeal to their pride and their patriotism. When Brooks solemnly declares to his players that "great moments ... are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here, tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight. One game," his subtle positioning of the upcoming game as an opportunity to realize a lifelong ambition is an adept use of the supportive leadership style.
Proponents of participative leadership behavior are collaborative by nature and often consult with their subordinates to solicit informative input before coming to a collective consensus. The advantages of the participative leadership style are most prominent in situations involving the transfer of expertise or similarly unique skill sets, because the most competent practitioners of any profession are typically independently minded, individualistic people.
- The underappreciated value of the participative leadership style was made clear early in the course of Miracle, when coach Brooks partners with his assistant coach Craig Patrick to determine the team's final roster decisions. While Brooks is receptive to Patrick's criticisms of his personnel choices, allowing him to vent frustration and express contrary opinions, the final authority ultimately resides with Brooks. His willingness to remain accessible as a leader is an admirable trait and one which serves Brooks' overall priority to assemble the most productive team possible.
- Brooks also engages in participative leadership behavior during the team's arduous practice sessions, when the coach illustrates a newly designed play to Buzz Schneider and McClanahan. Engaging his subordinates in the leadership process by soliciting their direct input on policy changes that will affect their performance expectations is an effective element of the participative leadership style, and Brooks shows his mastery of this ability throughout the film.
The subtle deployment of supportive leadership behavior to satisfy the psychological needs of subordinates is an especially useful tool for leaders attempting to motivate or inspire their followers. During extremely stressful situations in which peak performance is demanded under increasing amounts of pressure, the competent deployment of the supportive leadership style can provide encouragement, boost morale, and enhance the collective sense of confidence.
- The physically and emotional strain of rigorous Olympic competition are legendary in terms of their ability compromise optimal performance, which is why the most talented teams are not always declared the winner. Coach Brooks relied heavily on his ability to wield supportive leadership behavior during the U.S. men's ice hockey team's Olympic tribulations. When several members of the team are caught fraternizing with female fans during the course of a dispiriting 3-3 exhibition draw against the Norwegian National Team, coach Brooks subjects the entire team to a torturous round of endurance drills intended to reaffirm their total commitment to the cause of victory. By pushing his subordinates past their preconceived limitations, and provoking the players to the point of rage in the process, Brooks is able to inspire their natural competitive fire and motivate them to pursue excellence.
- During the conclusion of Miracle, with the U.S. team trailing the U.S.S.R. team toward the end of the game, coach Brooks refuses to allow the disheartening circumstances surrounding him to infect his subordinates, exhorting his players to respond as they have so often before: "Listen to 'em (the crowd chanting U-S-A!). That's what you've done. We've come from behind in every game in this tournament so far and we can do it again. We can beat these guys!" The cornerstone of the achievement-oriented leadership style is the uncanny ability shown by extraordinary leaders to remain nonplussed, to keep their poise under pressure while enabling their followers to do the same. The historical resonance of Brooks famous speech, delivered before his team defeated global powerhouse in one of the most momentous sporting upsets of all time, illustrates just how powerful this brand of guidance can be when wielded by a natural leader.
In order to account for the inherent unpredictability of most scenarios requiring true leadership skills, Path-Goal Theory "proposes two contingency variables, such as environment…