Leadership and Motivation: The Effective Application of Expectancy Theory

By Isaac, Robert G.; Zerbe, Wilfred J. et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Leadership and Motivation: The Effective Application of Expectancy Theory


Isaac, Robert G., Zerbe, Wilfred J., Pitt, Douglas C., Journal of Managerial Issues


In this article, we discuss the application of a motivational model that provides a practical tool for individuals wishing to assume leadership roles. This model, namely expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964; Porter and Lawler, 1968), suggests that individuals, acting through self-interest, adopt courses of action perceived as maximizing the probability of desirable outcomes for themselves. This desire to maximize self-interest provides aspiring leaders with unique opportunities to assume leadership roles by simultaneously meeting both follower needs and organizational requirements.

We intend to explicitly link expectancy theory and leadership concepts to demonstrate that leader interactions with followers permit the establishment of highly motivational working environments. In so doing, individuals acquire the means to transcend their traditional roles of supervisor, manager, or follower, and realize their potentials as leaders. In order to remain competitive at home or within the global market, we must stop relegating in our minds the functions of leadership to the office of the president or CEO of the organization. Instead, we must come to view the leadership role as part of every employee's job, at all levels of the organization.

In the next section, we pose the question "How many leaders does an organization require?" and we answer this question by suggesting a change in our way of thinking regarding how we view the traditional roles of manager, supervisor, and follower. In a following section, we fully outline the expectancy theory model and attempt to establish its validity in the mind of the reader. We then break the model apart to examine each of its three major components. In each case, we identify issues to consider and address when attempting to create an environment followers perceive as highly motivating. Next, we describe leader attitudes required to establish a climate conducive to the application of this model with followers in the workplace. Finally, we summarize our discussion and outline implications for the organization.

How Many Leaders Does an Organization Require?

We argue that every organization needs a workforce comprised of leaders, rather than employees. We develop and present our rationale in the discussion that follows.

Much has been written about the differences between managers and leaders. In general, leaders are viewed to take control of situations, while managers learn to live with them (Bennis, 1989). Other distinctions include: leaders create vision and strategy while managers implement the outcomes (Kotter, 1990a), leaders cope with change while managers cope with complexity (Kotter, 1990a and b), and leaders focus upon interpersonal aspects of the job, whereas managers deal with administrative duties (DuBrin, 1995). Perhaps, the best known phrase differentiating the roles of managers and leaders suggests that "managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing" (Bennis and Nanus, 1985:21). Frequently, people who avoid the leadership role are viewed as administrators (Robinson, 1999).

In light of such distinctions, we propose that managers use legitimate power to push employees towards desired ends, whereas leaders use their influence to pull followers towards goals. We all know that a piece of string travels purposefully when pulled and not pushed, as noted by Miller (1996) in a discussion on empowerment of employees, and we support this principle as it applies to leadership and the use of influence. The effective application of influence instils a sense of purpose or mission amongst the workers. The source of this influence stems from the leader and not the organization. The leader emphasizes doing things with people, rather than to them (Blanchard, 1999), and places extreme importance on entering into a relationship with those who follow (Kouzes and Posner, 1993).

The push/pull distinction between managers and leaders is not entirely new by any means. …

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