The Path-Goal Theory
Bryce J. Gatrell
Florida Institute of Technology
In order to create effective leaders, there are many pieces that need to fit together. An individual’s personality, beliefs, education, and personal interpretation of leadership, all come together to produce a person’s leadership style. Defining leadership can be just as complicated, there are numerus definitions and many differ from one another.
Richards and Engle define leadership as “the ability to articulate visions, embody values, and create the environment within which things can be accomplished” (Richards & Engle, 1986). While, Rauch, and Behling define leadership as “the process of influencing the activities of an organized group toward goal achievement” (Rauch & Behling, 1984). Whereas, Yukl defines leadership as “The process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives” (Yukl, 2013). The one thing most of the definitions have in common is, a leader must be able to guide and influence people.
The path-goal theory is a method in which leaders determine certain behaviors that are suitable for both, the employee and organizational needs, so they may influence or guide their employees on a trail to achieve their goals (Northouse, 2013). The path-goal theory was presented in 1970 by Martin Evans and in 1971 was refined by Robert House (Clark, 2015). The path-goal theory was built upon Victor Vroom’s (1964) expectancy theory, in which, an individual’s performance is founded on the idea that their actions are followed by a consequence or incentive and on the allure of that outcome to the individual (Vroom, 1964).
Leaders with Path-Goal leadership styles, explain tasks and provide direction for employees, they eliminate barricades, and provide encouragement for accomplishing goals. These types of leaders are successful in obtaining results, due to their influential attitude, ability to instill teamwork, and their skill in producing employee happiness (Youngjin, 2006; House and Mitchell, 1974). Path-goal leadership influences employees to achieve goals and calls attention the relationship between the leader, the employee, and the tasks (Northouse, 2015). Path-goal leadership increases employee motivation, due to the rewards of completing goals (Bickle, 2017). Essentially, leaders are paving a road for their employees to be successful.
The path-goal theory consists of four leadership styles, directive, supportive, participative, and achievement (House & Mitchell, 1974). In the directive style, the leader informs their employees of their expectations, such as how and when a task is to be performed. The directive style is useful when employees are unclear with either their task or the environment is unfamiliar. The supportive style is used when a leader wants to relieve the burden of undesirable tasks or when they want to be seen as relatable by demonstrating support and empathy toward their employees. If the employees are highly experienced and take direct ownership of their jobs, the participative style would be effective. In the participative style, a leader consults with their employees before making a decision on how to continue. Finally, the achievement style is when a leader sets high goals for their employees and expects them to achieve these goals with great results. The leader must also, show a high level of confidence that their employees will accomplish their tasks (Clark, 2015).
Determining which leadership style to implement is dependent upon many situational factors. These include the workers’ character and level competence and the environmental conditions such as moral and culture (Vandegrift ; Matusitz, 2011).
In Jason Bickle’s, Developing Remote Training Consultants as Leaders—Dialogic/Network Application of Path-Goal Leadership Theory in Leadership Development (2017), he explores how software training consultants are put into leadership roles without leadership experience. He discovered that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) projects can provide opportunities for virtual teams to employ dialogic-networked activities and path-goal leadership styles to develop leaders and stimulate teamwork (Bickle, 2017)
The path-goal theory pairs well with the challenges associated with ERP teams in terms of, adjusting to deviations in a project’s goals and tasks while still meeting the team member’s needs. The dialogic-networked techniques were used to develop specific leadership dimensions that are relevant to ERP teams. The path-goal theory was used to improve these leadership traits with the goal of strengthening the leadership dimensions of training consultants.
In Antoinette Phillips’ and Carl Phillips’, Behavioral Styles of Path-Goal Theory: An Exercise for Developing Leadership Skills (2016), they discuss the importance and applicability of the path-goal theory and how robust and comprehensive the leadership model is. They designed a two-goal exercise to first, help students understand the four behaviors and second, to provide ways to practice simulating each behavior by creating clear sample statements for each behavior that can be used in leadership. They provide discussion techniques to analyze and determine how and when to use each behavior and guidelines on how to implement those behaviors (Phillips & Phillips, 2016).
The path-goal leadership theory can be effective in most sectors. As long as leaders need to motivate subordinates to accomplish a designated goal, the path-goal leadership proves to be beneficial (Northouse, 2013). Personally, I see path-goal leadership being especially effective in areas, such as, technology, manufacturing, communications, and any other sector that rapidly evolves.
Bickle, J.T. (2017). Developing Remote Training Consultants as Leaders—Dialogic/ Network Application of Path-Goal Leadership Theory in Leadership Development. Performance Improvement, vol. 56, no. 9, Oct 2017
Clark, D. (2015, 09 September) Path –Goal Leadership Theory. Retrieved from: http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/lead_path_goal.html
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Northouse, P.G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice (7thed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Phillips, A.S, Phillips, C.R. (2016). Behavioral Styles of Path-Goal Theory: An Exercise for Developing Leadership Skills. Management Teaching Review, Vol. 1(3) 148-154.
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Rauch, C. F., Behling, O. (1984). Functionalism: Basis for an alternate approach to the study of leadership. In J. G. Hunt, D. M. Hosking, C. A. Schriesheim, & R. Stewart (Eds.), Leaders and managers: International perspectives on managerial behavior and leadership. (pp. 45–62). Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.
Vandegrift, R., Matusitz, J. (2011) Path-Goal Theory: A Successful Columbia Records Story, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21:4, 350-362
Vroom, V.H. (1964). Work and motivation. New York: Wiley.
Youngjin, K. (2006). Supporting Distributed Groups with Group Support Systems: A Study of the Effect of Group Leaders and Communication Modes on Group Performance. Journal of Organizational and End User Computing 18 (2): 20-38.
Yukl, G. (2013). Leadership in Organizations (8th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson