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The Movie "Miracle" and Path Goal Theory

I have chosen the movie “ Miracle” as an illustration of an individual, Herb Brooks, fulfilling the parameters of Robert House’s Path-Goal Theory . There are events that one witnesses throughout one’s life that for various reasons leave an indelible imprint on one’s heart and soul. The unexpected victory of the US hockey over the heavily favored Russian team in the 1980 Olympic Games was one of those events. I was at a cocktail party and someone turned on the TV and soon the entire group was gathered around the set, small talk forgotten, as what has been described as the greatest sporting event of the 20th century unfolded.

The country was still recovering from the negative effects of the Vietnam War, a weak Jimmy Carter presidency , and enduring a low point in national pride and optimism as Japan and Germany seemed to be gaining control of the world economy as our military dominance seemed to be slipping away.

As the final buzzer rang and the “ Do you believe in Miracles? “ issued from the TV, you could feel the surge in national pride and optimism that swept through our little group and of course throughout the whole country.

Herb Brooks supplies an extraordinary example of a positive example of Houses’ path -goal theory, which basically states that the leader’s, manager’s, or in this example the coach’s mission is to guide his subordinates to follow the best paths to reach their goals. According to the theory , the leader employs a variety of leadership behaviors( directive, achievement-oriented , participative, and supportive) to accomplish his mission.

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The theory also postulates that each behavior type was affected by contingency variables, environmental and follower characteristics. The movie afforded a clear picture of the flexibility required by a leader as he guides and inspires his group to achieve their common goal by successfully applying the following four diverse leadership behaviors: 1) Brooks employed directive path- goal leader behavior (“situations where the leader lets followers know what is expected of them and tells them how to perform their task”.-Wikipedia) throughout the majority of the film.

After the tryouts Coach Brooks immediately sets the tone of his coaching regime by informing his assistant and eventually the Olympic Hockey advisory board that he would not consult either of them when deciding the make-up of the squad. He had basically done extensive homework on all of the players, most of whom he was familiar with through his college experience. Brooks also makes it well known that he is “not looking for the best players but the right players.” This statement sets the tone for the rest of the movie. As a seasoned coach Brooks recognizes that the best path to success lies in building a real team, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and clearly avoids choosing a dysfunctional dream team. This example also exemplifies the effect of an environmental contingency factor on leader behavior (directive) as Brooks recognizes and effectively chooses behavior that will deal with the formal authority system (Olympic hockey board) and allow him to implement his coaching strategies without interference.

A second example of Brook’s use of directive leadership techniques is demonstrated by his frequently asking the players , “ Who do you play for?”. Early on in the film , they uniformly reply with the names of their college teams, demonstrating, as Brooks has recognized, that they are still a group of competitive young men and not a team. He continually challenges them, especially after a fight between former collegiate rivals , to start becoming a team and to depend upon “flow , passing , and creativity”-“Who do you play for?”. This example flows into the third example his strong directive leadership abilities when after an exhibition loss to the Swedish national team, he makes the players stay after the game to skate sprint drills. In between sprints he informs them that if they don’t want to work during the game, then they can work after it. He tells them that they don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone and that the name on the front of their jersey means a lot more than the one on the back. He repeats his message of win or loose, play like champions.

Over and over Brooks shouts “ Again “, driving the players to exhaustion. He doesn’t stop, ignoring the pleas of his assistants, until the future team Captain, Mike Eruzione, states “ I play for team USA. “ Brooks lets them go and a turning point has been reached. They are finally becoming a team , one of destiny with a common purpose. This also is another example of Brooks employing directive leadership to reach a goal despite the effect of a subordinate contingency factor, locus of control. When the team first came together, they were group of highly competitive and independent group of young men hwho identified with their past institutions. Their locus of control was mainly internal and Brooks, with his concept of a cohesive tem, dependent upon another and the coach for direction, gradually moving their locus of control toward a more external variety, “ I play for team USA”. He has imposed his will on the team and he is now able to lead direct them completion of their common goal.

A third and clear example of directive leadership occurs during a session in the film room where he instructs the team on the tactics and strategy they will employ to be able to stay with the more individually talented Russians and eventually beat them late in the game .He tells them that they will be better conditioned than their adversaries and that they will attack instead of defending. This example also illustrates Brooks employment of Directive Leadership taking into consideration the effect s Of Environmental ( task structure)and Subordinate(Percieved ability) Con tingency Factors to enable the team to reach it’s ultimate goal. After the film session , Brooks has not only clarified the task structure but has defined the team’s perception of their abilities so that they are now gaining confidence that those abilities will be sufficient to achieve their goal.

2) Brooks also employed Achievement- Oriented Leadership (AOL) behavior(“ situations where the leader sets challenging goals for followers, expects them to perform at their highest level, and shows confidence in their ability to met this expectation.”-Wikipedia) throughout the film in various appropriate situations. The first occurrence takes place when Brooks gathers his newly chosen squad sets and sets lofty goals for the team. He tells them they are not just going to the Olympics to show but to legitimately compete.

He reinforces their already apparent confidence of having already survived a rigorous tryout and warns them that only 20 names will appear on the final roster and that more of them will be going home. I believe Brooks’ choice of this leadership type behavior was influenced by a Subordinate contingency factor-Experience. Brooks correctly recognizes that his new team’s experience is limited when compared to the other international teams and that confidence in their abilities is an important cornerstone in the team foundation and that the moment called for Achievement – Oriented Leadership Behavior.

Brooks has correctly identified that his squad would need to be superbly conditioned if they could hope to achieve one of their major goals-being able to stay close to the more individually talented and experienced Russians and then outskate them at the end and secure victory. To achieve this announced goal of being the best conditioned team at the Olympic games , Brooks once again employs AOL as he challenges his highly competitive group of players to reach this goal with frequent conditioning drills. His slogan of “ the legs feed the wolves” becomes almost a battle cry and is heard frequently throughout the film as he encourages the players to meet the high physical standards he has set as their goal. Once again Brooks has chosen a leadership behavior pattern(AOL) in consideration Subordinate contingency factor, perceived ability as he reinforces the team’s confidence as they see their abilities increase with their improved conditioning.

In one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie which occurs in the locker room right before the big game with the Russians , Brooks once again demonstrates AOL behavior as he sets the final challenging goal of defeating the Russian team and shows his confidence in their abilities-“You were born to be hockey players” and sends a highly inspired and confident team out onto the ice .

An example Herb Brooks exhibiting Participative Leader behavior(“ leaders consulting with followers and asking for their suggestions before making a decision.”-Wikipedia.) occurs when the coach is determining his various lines- groups of 3 players who play together and who substituted together in relief of other lines. He summons three players referred to as “ The Coneheads” and instead of taking a directive approach , he takes a clear participative path as he involves the young men in the decision making process as he asks them if they would like playing together as a line and if they thought it was a good fit for them. The players agreed with Brooks and go on to be a very effective line. This shows Brooks once again choosing the correct leader behavior-participative- relative to an Environmental Contingency factor-work group-to achieve performance goals and group satisfaction.

Brooks once again demonstrates participative leadership when well into the team’s development, he decides to add a new ,very talented college player to the roster. On their own, 3 team members approach the coach and voice an opinion that this new player is not needed and should not take a roster spot of a player who has worked so hard to earn that spot. The coach argues that the new player is very talented and will help the team and asks why the 3 young men do not want him. They respond he is not “family “. Brooks recognizes that he has achieved his goal of team and has clearly consulted with followers before making a final decision.

Coach Brooks also employs Supportive Leadership behavior ( “ behavior directed toward the satisfaction of subordinate’s needs and preferences. The leader shows concern for the follower’s psychological well being.”- Wikipedia.) and his early interaction with goalie Jim Craig demonstrates this type of leadership behavior. Jim is an outstanding goalie whose play has been erratic since the recent death of his mother. Brooks knows that against the aggressive Russian team the goalie will play a deciding role. Jim had earlier refused to take a team test and had expected a tongue lashing from Brooks . Instead , Brooks , cognizant of the psychological aspects of the grieving process which are affecting Jim’s playing and his ability to fully commit emotionally to the team. In private sessions he recognizes and therefore validates Jim’s emotional issues.

After the coach points out an erratic performance, Jim is benched and asks the coach is it because he didn’t take the test and Brooks replies, “ No, I want that guy that wouldn’t take the test”. Jim is named the starter and against the Russians plays an outstanding game, turning back a deluge of shots on goal by the Russians. If the coach had chosen a harsher style, Jim may have very well shut down further and robbed the team of a valuable asset.

Once again Brooks has chosen the right leadership behavior –Supportive- to bring out the best in his follower, enabling them both to reach a common goal. In doing so he had identified the relation between a subordinate contingency factor, locus of control, and the need for the proper leader behavior-Supportive-to achieve the goal. Jim was feeling isolated and distracted by his grief, leading to a more internal locus of control and Brooks was able to move him toward a more external perception involving the concept of team, discipline and conformity to leadership by employing that behavior style.

In another demonstration of utilization of Supportive leadership, Brooks exhibits compassion and empathy when he drops Ralf Cox from the Olympic squad near the end of the training period. Since Brooks himself was in a similar situation, having been cut from the 1960 Olympic Hockey right before their run for the gold medal, he personally understands the psychological trauma after a rejection of this magnitude. He personally comforts and consoles Ralf and thanks him for his fine effort and tell him that he is a great player. This display of supportive leadership could not help but further strengthen the team’s belief in their coach’s leadership abilities and character.

A final example of supportive leadership, occurs , when understanding the psychological and physical distress of the injured Jack O’Callahan, Brooks meets with him privately and assures him that he remains confident in his ability to perform and that he will not be , as Jack so desperately feared, be cut from the team. Jack goes on to heal and play an important role in the US victory, vindicating Brooks’ discision and use of supportive leadership.

As presented, Herb Brooks clearly demonstrates in the movie “Miracle” the effective use of House’s Path-Goal Theory as he guides his team, the 1980 US hockey team on its historic journey toward the defeat of the supposed invincible Russian team and the winning of the gold medal. I doubt that Brooks was even aware of House’s work but, guided by experience and instinct he effectively employed the various leadership behaviors and the modifying effect of environmental and subordinate contingency factors to gain the trust and respect of his peers and his players, leading them to the ultimate prize. In doing so , Brooks demonstrates to all leaders the importance of flexibility in leadership techniques and of not only gaining the trust of one’s followers but the necessity of fostering trust between those followers.

Part 2
The movie “Miracle” also illustrates examples of Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. As described in Robbins and Judge, pages 86-87, this a motivation theory which postulates there is a certain relationship between personal effort and outcomes and that employees and in our examples, team members, can be motivated to achieve favorable outcomes. ) Vroom describes three processes or links, 1) Effort –Performance , 2) Performance- Reward, and 3) Rewards-Personal Goals” and their relationships. In the first link ( Effort –Performance), the individual ascertains if effort will equate to performance. In the second link (Performance-Reward) , he or she determines whether there be a desired outcome following a good performance and in the third link (Rewards-Personal Goals) will those rewards satisfy my personal needs? I believe the following 3 players dynamically exhibited the 3 links or processes of Vroom’s Theory. 1)Jimmy Craig-A an extremely talented goaltender who led Boston University to the 1978 NCAA Division 1 championship.

Effort-Performance- Initially deemed the back up goalie, Jimmy makes it clear that he is only attending the try-outs because he promised his mother shortly before she passed away near the end of his college career to try out for the Olympic Team and win a gold medal.. After he makes the team, both Jimmy’s attitude and thus his effort increase throughout the early and middle parts of the film as he is shown practicing harder and engaging in extra drills to increase his hand eye co-ordination and conditioning. As these efforts pay off, his performance begins to improve as he obviously knew it would with increased effort, thus demonstrating the link between performance and effort. Performance – Reward- Recognizing his improved performance , Coach Brooks rewards Jimmy with the the starting goalie position which led to the further rewards of victories against the teams they needed to overcome in the 1980 Olympics. Against a veteran Russian team it was his outstanding performance(36/39 saves) , especially late in the game , that preserved the US victory.

Jimmy and the US team then went on to attain their ultimate reward-the Gold Medal. Reward-Personal Goals- These rewards were of course personally desirable as they led to the attainment of personal goals such as fulfilling his mother’s wishes and helping to improve his grieving father both emotionally and probably financial as the notoriety and exposure led to a professional Hockey career and eventually a successful long term profession as a motivational speake John J. “ r, spokesperson, and marketing and sales strategist. 2) Michael “Rizzo “ Eruzione- Mike was a Boston University hockey standout who graduated several years earlier than his above teammates. He was described by his BU coach, Jack Parker as” Pete Rose on skates”-“Wikipedia”. Rizzo went to successfully play 2 years in the International Hockey League before trying out for the 1980 Olympic team. Effort-Performance- It is clearly apparent from the onset of the film, that Mike is a long shot to make the team and when he does , he is chosen last. It is also obvious that Rizzo is a natural leader as he is portrayed settling disputes between rival Minnasota and Boston players and is a critical factor in coalescing the group into an effective team, when as noted in part one is the player who shouts, “ I play for team USA “.

He not only gives great effort in practice but also in his natural leadership and that led to success in performance in both areas Performance –Reward- Eruzione’s all around performance in rewarded by not only making the team but being appointed Team captain, a prestigious position. He is then further motivated to play to the limits of his ability and makes the winning shot against the Russians. He is the player that Coach Brooks was talking about when he stated “ I don’t want the best players, I want the right players.” Reward-Personal Goals- Initially , recognizing his limited ability Rizzo’s personal goal was just to make the squad and continue to play hockey a little bit longer and he accomplished this and more, eventually winning a gold medal. It is obvious that his personal goals were different than many of his teammates whose personal goals were to go on and play professional hockey. I suspect he had other personal goals as he was able to parlay his Olympic success into a rewarding business and TV careers. 3)John “ Jack “ O’Callahan – Another extremely talented college hockey standout who also played for and was Captain of the 1979 championship Boston University team. Effort-Performance- Jack was a highly competitive player who always gave 100% on the ice.

He once stated in the movie that he had skated so hard he couldn’t feel his legs. He also had definite leader ship abilities and inspired his teammates to also go all out. His continued maximum effort lead to superior performance and a high scoring output. Performance – Reward- Jack’s outstanding performance led to rewards on several different levels. First, he was easily rewarded with a position on the team and granted significant playing time. Then, when he suffered a potentially season ending knee injury during the exhibition game against the Russians, Coach Brooks rewarded him with a show of faith by keeping him on the team despite the fact he was not able to play the opening Olympic rounds. Jack was obviously highly motivated by this gesture and vigorously rehabbed and was able to return to play in the key game against the Russians, making a key play that led to a score that tied the game and eventually led to another reward –the Gold Medal. Reward- Personal Goals- When Herb Brooks stated in the locker room before the pivotal Russian game, “ you were born to be Hockey players” one of the players that definitely fit that description was Jack.

He exemplifies the Expectancy Theory by being able to convert the desired awards into fulfillment of his personal goal –to play professional hockey, playing 390 games in the NHL. I think this movie and the actual reality it depicts is an excellent example of Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. This theory appears to be more applicable to sports than the workplace as there are clear and defined linkages between effort and performance and performance and reward. As compared to the average workplace , the endpoints of reward and personal goals can reach , as we know, extraordinary levels of financial success and notoriety.

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The Movie "Miracle" and Path Goal Theory. (2016, Sep 15). Retrieved from

The Movie "Miracle" and Path Goal Theory
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