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 view on leadership, all piece together to create an individual’s leadership style. Trying to define 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 influence people.
The path-goal theory is a method in which leaders determine certain behaviors that are appropriate for both, the employees’ and organizational needs, so they may influence or lead their subordinates to a path on obtaining their goals (Northouse, 2013). The path-goal theory was first presented by Martin Evans in 1970 and was later refined by Robert House in 1971. The path-goal theory was built upon Victor Vroom’s (1964) expectancy theory, in which an individual’s performance is based on the belief that their performance will be followed by a given consequence or reward and on the appeal of that outcome to the individual (Vroom, 1964).
Leaders with Path-Goal leadership styles, explain and offer guidance for subordinates, they remove roadblocks, and provide inspiration and rewards 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 generating subordinate happiness (Youngjin, 2006; House and Mitchell, 1974). Path-goal leadership influences subordinates to achieve designated goals and highlights the connection between the leader, the subordinate, and the tasks (Northouse, 2015). Path-goal leadership increases the motivation of followers due to the rewards of achieving work goals (Bickle, 2017). In essence, path-goal leaders are clearing a path for their subordinates 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 the subordinates of their expectation’s, such as how to do a task and when it is to be performed. This style is effective when subordinates are uncertain with the task or environment. The supportive style is used when a leader wants to make tasks enjoyable and pleasant by showing concern and support toward their subordinates. The supportive style is most effective when the work and relationships are both mentally and physically demanding. If the workforce is highly competent and engaged in their tasks, the participative style would be most appropriate. Here, the leader consults with their subordinates prior to making a decision on how to continue. Finally, in the achievement style, a leader sets high goals for their subordinates and expects them to achieve these goals with great results. The leader must also, show a high level of confidence that their subordinates will meet their expectations (Clark, 2015).
Determining what 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 develop these leadership dimensions 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 activities for conditional analysis and to determine when to use each behavior and guidelines on how to implement those behaviors (Phillips & Phillips, 2016).
The path-goal leadership theory can be utilized in practically every sector. 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.