Use of the Path-Goal Theory in the “Jeanne Lewis” Case

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Path-Goal theory of leadership suggests that a leader needs to influence followers’ perceptions of work goals, self-development goals, and paths to goal attainment: “Leader behaviors thus are expected to be acceptable when employees view them as a source of satisfaction or as paying the way to future satisfaction. In addition, leader behavior is predicted to be motivational to the extent it (1). Reduce roadblocks that interfere with goal accomplishment (2) Provides the guidance and support needed by employees and (3) ties meaningful rewards to goal accomplishment. ” (R. Kreitner & A. Kinicki Organizational Behavior, 8th edition, P475) Path Goal theory is one of important theories in leadership which is developed by Robert House in 1970. This leadership theory describes that “Leaders are those who show employees how their performance would lead directly to tangible results” (Path goal theory-2004). In addition to theory which indicates the responsibility of the leaders to elaborate the path towards desired goals so the subordinates are able to perform their tasks accurately, remove the obstacles in employee’s way and ascend the rewards along the route.

Tom Stemberg saw an opportunity and initiated an office supplies superstore in 1985. The pioneers who helped Tom in seeking new dimensions were experienced professionals including; Krasnow, CFO, VP of Operations and VP of Merchandising. Staples opened its first store in Brighton Massachusetts in1986. After 6 years, this tenacious and enthusiastic team of Staples was able to implement its manipulation over the market and expanded drastically to123 stores especially in northeast to avoid completion and make cost effective to advertise.

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With such pace of growth, it became big challenge for Staples the senior management to handle and move further, so they kept looking for individuals with progressive, completive drive, willing to move literally any department and enthusiastic to learn and move forward themselves. Jean Lewis was hired by Staples as a summer internee in the Marketing department in 1991. After her graduation from Howard University in 1993 she was recruited by Staples as a Marketing Manager for Sales and Forecasting Field Marketing.

Soon after, she secured the position of Director of New England Operations handling with 50 stores with budget of 250 millions. Assessing her leadership style and tenacity in her decisions and her ability to handle such demanding work environment, within a year she was promoted to the position of the Director of Sales for 150 stores on the East Coast. She was promoted again and became the VP and the Divisional Merchandising Manager for furniture and decorative supplies with the budget of 350 millions, right after she earned the position of SVP of Small Business and Retail Marketing.

Lewis’ rapid shifting from operations, sales, mechanizing, and marketing taught her lot about Staples culture. A. Identify the leadership behavior that Lewis used with her employees. Robert House categorized four leadership styles: Supportive leadership, Directive leadership, Participative leadership and Achievement Oriented leadership . The management culture of Staples influenced Jean to choose an Achievement Oriented leadership style because this was an appropriate style for that job.

She took very aggressive steps including shifting 25 store associates, setting vigorous store targets, and renovating training programs in less than 12 months period. This leadership style not only consisted of setting challenging goals f or both work and self development with high standards and expectations but also had one-way communication and central hierarchy. The leader also showed confidence in the capabilities of the follower to succeed and attain desired goal. B. Discuss Lewis’s leadership behavior as it relates to characteristics in the Path-goal theory. Year 1994 was pivotal in the career of Jean Lewis.

She kept moving up in management hierarchy because of her intelligence, mindfulness, tenacious, her vast business acumen and her ability to work in competitive environments. Lewis found her in a critical situation after being appointed as the Director of Operations of New England not only handling $ 250 million dollar budget for 50 stores but also was asked to boost the flat sales of the department. It was hard job especially for Jean apparently because of only one year experienced to manage a group of people who already possessed skill in their work and knew better about the productivity of the subdivision.

Utilizing her capabilities Jean chose Directive leadership style and led her team to attain desired goals. To triple the return on investment was exigent goal which she set for her subordinates and turned around the fiscal situation of Staples. Therefore whetting the Staples culture, a demanding objective was set by Jean to be achieved. She utilized the path-goal theory; motivating the employees by preaching and facilitating what she practiced. Thus she portrayed vivid objective and at the same time expected better performance from her recruits.

In order to boost efficiency and task performance, she set aggressive store standards, launched training programs and rejuvenated performance. Seeing her talents and her ability to handle versatile situations, Jean was soon promoted to the position of a Merchandising Manager for furniture and decorative supplies in the year 1996. It was now her occupation to decide what product to buy, how much to buy, what price to charge and how to display it in stores and catalogues. A shift of responsibilities from Operations to Merchandising was in itself a difficult situation to cope up with.

Again a P & L responsibility of $350 million was assigned to her. With zero experience in buying and negotiating Jean created a merchandising strategy and again made this sick category a winner. Lewis, with the help of her team replaced over 75% of the product assortment and tripled the Direct Product Profitability. Setting a foot in a new pasture and making trends in it was more than an achievement for Jean. Here she was not only testing herself but also her colleagues. She started scrutinizing the cause of troubles.

According to Richard Gentry, the EVP of Merchandising, Jean for the first person to look that what it cost to handle a product in the distribution centers and what it cost in terms of space in the store. Thus she demonstrated high standards of work which is a very important quality of an Achievement Oriented leader. C. Identify the behavior of Lewis’s employees in response to her leadership style. In whatever department’s Lewis worked, her employees comprehended that they could manipulate her by getting in depth of the matter and supporting their position with relevant analyses.

Her employees were of the view that it was her personality, her hard work and her penetrating mind that helped her challenge not only her employees but also stimulated her staff members to challenge each other. Thus, in this way she was able to set and complete demanding goals for the department. Also she did not only reveal high standards of work but also expected them. Lewis won the admiration of her colleagues because of her ability to handle multipurpose job descriptions in a stressful environment.

Her colleagues looked up to her because of her strategic talents that ultimately led them to profitability. Whenever a chore was assigned to her, her indulgence in the depth of the work and her drive to excavate the factors responsible for causing the problems made her stand out in all the employees. According to her colleagues it was yet another strategy of hers to inspire dialogue and debate which most of the colleagues found very productive as opposed to group discussions. Analyzing the issue from an innovative and visionary perspective was another one of her leadership attribute.

When Kransow; Executive Senior Vice President of Marketing announced in the October of 1996 that Jean would be replacing his position in 1998. Jean did her best for the next one year to grapple the Staples culture and get accustomed to managing Small Business Retail Marketing and Advertising departments while she assisted Kransow in his work and tried to captivate the vital information as she could. She arranged several informal interviews with her colleagues and asserted the reasons which she felt were key obstacles in the performance of the marketing department.

She finally fathomed that Small Business Retail Marketing and Advertising were two very different areas and thus should be dealt with different strategies. D. Discuss the relationship of employee behavior in the case to the characteristics of the Path-goal theory According to Robert House leadership style could be influenced by two factors. First one is the characteristics of the followers which include needs, ability, and the acceptance of authority. The other one is the environment which includes the nature of the task and the structure of the organization.

Directive leadership consists of telling followers what needs to be done and giving appropriate supervision along the way. This includes giving them to-do list of specific work to be done at particular times. A general rule is that if employees are performing routine and highly structured tasks they will favor a supportive leader, whereas employees are performing unstructured tasks, they will prefer a leader who directs the workforce like what to do when to do where to do and how to do. Performance ability is one of the characteristics of subordinates has a great tendency to affect leadership style.

If performance ability of an employee fails to match his respective job description, that he is performing, then he would be less productive and he would require a directive leadership to redirect him to attain desired goals. When Jean Lewis conducted formal and informal interviews with many staff members working under Sarah Robins, who was then the Vice President of Direct Marketing and Small Business, she realized that two of her colleagues weren’t at appropriate positions and that their talents would be suited best for each others at respective positions.

Since their abilities failed to match their respective job description, they compelled the need of directive leadership. Moreover, when Lewis joined the Merchandising department, her subordinates initially showed a low acceptance of authority since they were doubtful about her capability of leading them due to insufficient experience. In this situation directive leadership style could not be appropriate since the division employees were competent and knowledgeable enough.

Supportive leadership style was hard to practice since Jean had to produce quick results and turn the fiscal situation around. Participative leadership style could not be adopted for although the employees were skilled and competent, they failed to produce a cost-effective strategy. Thus Jean had to choose Achievement oriented strategy.


Jean Lewis at Staples (A) (Abridged): 1-15. (2006) Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Cases. The McGraw hill companies. (R. Kreitner & A. Kinicki Organizational Behavior (2008), 8th edition Boston: Irwin, McGraw-Hill

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Use of the Path-Goal Theory in the “Jeanne Lewis” Case. (2017, Feb 17). Retrieved from

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