Leadership Portrayed in the Movie Twelve O’ Clock High

Topics: Leadership, Path-goal theory, Charismatic authority Pages: 10 (3302 words) Published: November 17, 2008



The movie “Twelve O’ Clock High” is a case study in the application of leadership theory during World War Two. Gregory Peck portrays Brigadier General Savage, a United States Army Air Force officer thrust into a situation that requires a maximum effort both on the ground and in the air as he attempts to re-invigorate an undisciplined, anxiety ridden, and ineffective combat unit. Throughout the movie we observe Peck’s character employing a variety of leadership methods, but ultimately discovering that true combat effectiveness and cohesion is accomplished through a transformational leadership style. While the movie illustrates these leadership theories practiced by General Savage, these theories are not all inclusive and fail to explain the behavior of General Savage during the movie. Specifically, transactional leadership is inherently limited compared to the effects of transformational leadership, while the latter is relatively ineffective without first employing or practicing the former style. In order to fully understand General Savage’s motivation and behavior during this movie, we must use employ the Path-Goal Theory and transformational theory concepts in concert. The theory of Path-Goal Leadership (Evans 1970; House 1971) sets the conditions of the unit’s recovery based on the leadership interaction with the subordinates needs and expected outcomes. In organizational studies, the path-goal model is a leadership theory that states that a leader's function is to clear the path toward the goal of the group, by meeting the needs of subordinates. While Path-Goal theory establishes a basis for high performance, it relies heavily upon the leader and does not allow the followers to further self-actualize or grow (Maslow 1943; Alderfer 1972) to develop higher levels of performance. In this case, the concept of transformational leadership is required to fully realize the potential of the followers, and in the case of the movie, the unit’s potential to achieve high levels of performance without the leader’s direct input. Transformational leaders offer a purpose that transcends short-term goals and focuses on higher order outcomes (Burns, 1979). This introduces the concept of morality into leader-follower dynamic since both “can be lifted into their better selves” (p. 462) through this relationship. The followers internalize these needs, take on the characteristics and perspectives of the leader, and become like the leader himself. Graen and Uhl-Bien (1991) found that while the initial leader follower exchange is typified by a transactional relationship, in order to be truly effective the exchange needs to become transformational. However, attempting to employ transformational leadership without first meeting the lower order needs and establishing trust between the leader and the followers will result in the rejection of the leader by the followers (Bass, 1997). Path-Goal Leadership Theory

The Path-Goal Theory developed by Robert House (1971) is based on the Expectancy Theory of Motivation (Vroom, 1964). The manager’s job is viewed as coaching or guiding workers to choose the best paths for reaching their goals. Best is judged by the accompanying achievement of organizational goals. It is related to the precepts of Goal Setting Theory (Lock & Latham, 1990; Tetlock & Kim, 1987) and argues that leaders will have to engage in different types of leadership behavior depending on the nature and the demands of a particular situation. It is the leader’s job to assist followers in attaining goals and to provide the direction and support needed to ensure that their goals are compatible with the organization’s goals. A leader’s behavior is acceptable to subordinates when viewed as a source of satisfaction and motivational when need...

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