Behavioral modification is not a leadership strategy or discipline so I find it intriguing that many experts suggest leaders should display consistent optimism and positivity in everything they do at the workplace. Northouse (2010) goes even further and suggests that path goal theory is designed to explain how leaders can help subordinates along the path to their goals by selecting certain behaviors that are best suited to their subordinates needs and to the situation in which subordinates are working. This is accomplished by; defining goals, clarifying paths to those goals, removing obstacles, and providing support and guidance when needed. This approach suggests that the leader chooses to be optimistic when the circumstances are appropriate for such a behavioral approach. The leader’s ability to choose the right circumstance for internal behavioral change seems rather difficult if not simply manipulative. It would seem more appropriate for the leader to concentrate the goal definition and obstacle removal portions of path-goal theory; if that is the desired leadership approach. Rather than a search for optimism, path-goal theory may develop relationships between leaders and followers that are by definition optimistic. These relationships are optimistic because trust and cooperation have developed and the leader has displayed a willingness to meet the needs of the follower.
This approach does not only clear a path for the follower so they can reach their goals, it goes further by addressing the benefits and risks of divergent paths with the ultimate decision on a particular path resting with the follower. When both the leader and follower are intimately aware of the chosen path it becomes much easier for the leader to remove obstacles; perhaps before they even become obstacles. In this way the leader increases the likelihood that a positive outcome will result. Not only does this enhance the optimism of the follower it also increases the chances a preferred future will result for that follower the organization and the leader. Ironically, a pragmatic leadership approach can often result in an optimistic outcome.
Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage.