Sunday, February 21, 2010

Path-Goal Theory

Path-Goal theory

·         This theory is about how leaders motivate subordinates to accomplish goals.

·         It focuses on enhancing employees performance by focusing on employees motivation.

·         It first appeared in the 1970s heavily drawing from research on motivation based on the works of (Evans, 1970), (House,1971), (House & Dessler, 1974).

·         The path-goal theory emphasis the relationship between the leader's style and the characteristics of the subordinates and work setting.

·         Based on the expectancy theory, the Path-Goal theory, assumes that subordinates will be motivated

o    if they think they are capable of performing their work 

o    if they believe their efforts will result in a certain outcome

o    if they believe that the payoffs for their work are worthwhile

·         Effective leadership will select the style that meets the subordinates needs

o    Choose behavior that supplement or complement what is missing in the work setting.

o    Leaders information or rewards to subordinates to enhance goal attainment (Indvik, 1986)

·         Leadership motivates when it makes the path to the goal clear, easy to reach, provide coaching, removes obstacles, make the work itself personally satisfying. (House & Mitchell, 1974)

·         When leaders select the proper style, they increase the subordinates chance for success and satisfaction.

·         Path-Goal theory is complex. 



The basic principle behind Path-Goal theory


The major components of the Path-Goal theory 


Leader Behavior

·         There are four behaviors, but the theory is left open for inclusion of additional behaviors.

·         The following 4 behaviors were examined

o    Directive

·         Similar to "Initiating Structure" or "Telling" style in situational leadership

·         A leader who gives instructions about a task, how is it done, expectations, and the timeline.

o    Supportive

·         Resembles "Consideration Behavior".

·         Being friendly and approachable as a leader, attending to the well being and human needs of subordinates.

·         Supportive leaders go out of their way to make work pleasant for employees, treat them as equal.

o    Participative

·         Refers to leaders who invite subordinates to share in decision making.

o    Achievement-Oriented

·         Characterized by a leader who challenges subordinates to perform work at the highest level possible.

·         This establishes a higher standard of excellence and seeks continuous improvement.

·         These leaders show a high degree of confidence that subordinates are capable of accomplishing the work.

·         House & Mitchel suggested that leaders may exhibit any or all of these behaviors with various subordinates and in different situations. The leader is NOT locked into a specific style.

·         There maybe instances where a leader may use a blend of different behaviors.

·         Leader should adapt their behavior to the situation and the motivation of the subordinates.

·         The leader behavior itself is contingent on the other two components of the Path-Goal theory (Characteristics of the subordinate and characteristics of the task)


Subordinates Characteristics

·         Determines how the leader behavior will be interpreted by subordinates in a given work context.

·         Research has focused on subordinate needs for affiliation, preferences for structure, desire for control, and self perceived levels of task ability.

·         Affiliation

o    The theory predicts that subordinates who have a strong "Affiliation" needs prefer supportive style. Friendly and concerned leadership is a source of satisfaction.

o    The theory predicts that subordinates who are "Dogmatic and Authoritarian" prefer Directive style. This provides psychological structure and task clarity. These subordinates feel more comfortable when a leader provide a sense of certainty in the work setting.

·         Desire for control

o    Subordinates with internal locus of control believe they are in charge of the things that occur in their life.

·         Participative style is most satisfying. It allows subordinates to feel in charge and be a part of the decision making.

o    Subordinates with external locus of control believe that chance, fate and outside forces are the determinants of life events.

·         Directive leadership is best because it parallels the subordinate feelings that outside forces are in control.

·         Motivation

o    As subordinates confidence of their own abilities go up, the need for directive leadership goes down.


Task Characteristics

·         Task characteristics have a major impact on the way a leader's behavior influences subordinates.

·         The characteristics include

o    Design of the subordinate task

o    Formal authority system of the organization

o    primary work group of subordinates

·         These characteristics can collectively provide motivating for the subordinates.

·         An example is when a situation provides a structured task, strong group norms, and an established authority system, the employees will feel as if they can accomplish the task on their own. Leadership in these contexts can be seen as unnecessary, un-empathetic, and excessively controlling.

·         Other examples that need leadership include tasks that are repetitive, so leadership can keep the employees motivated, or ambiguous tasks that may need leadership to clarify them.

·         A special focus of the path-goal theory is for leaders to help remove obstacles. This increases the odds of the successfully completing the tasks and increases the employees confidence.

·         in 1996, House published an additional 8 classes of behaviors for the Path-Goal theory

o    Directive

o    Supportive

o    Participative

o    Achievement oriented

o    Work facilitation

o    Group oriented decision process

o    Work Group representation and networking

o    Valuer based leader behavior

·         The revised theory asserts that effective leadership need to help subordinates by giving them what is missing in their environment and by helping them compensate for deficiencies in their abilities.


Leader Behavior

Group Members

Task Characteristics

Directive Leadership

Provides guidance and psychological structure




Unclear rules


Supportive Leadership

Provides nurturance


Need affiliation

Need human touch




Mundane and Mechanical


Provides Involvement


Need for control

Need for clarity




Achievement  Oriented

Provides Challenges

High expectations

Need to excel







How does the Path-Goal theory work?

·         The Path-Goal theory is complex, but pragmatic.

·         It provides a set of assumptions about how leadership styles will interact with characteristics of subordinates and tasks and how it affects motivation.

·         The theory provides direction about how leaders can help subordinates to accomplish tasks.

·         For tasks that are structured, unsatisfying, and frustrating, the theory suggests the supportive style.

·         The theory suggests that the directive style is best for the tasks that are ambiguous, unclear organizational rules, dogmatic, and authoritarian employees.

·         Participative leadership is also suggested for ambiguous tasks because it brings clarity.

·         Achievement oriented leadership is most effective in settings where subordinates are required to perform ambiguous tasks.

·         Although  the  path-goal  theory  is  not  applied  in  many  management  training  programs,  it  brings many interesting perspectives to leadership thinking. It was one of the first theories to specify four conceptually distinct varieties of leadership; not only task-oriented and relationship oriented leadership. It  was  also  one  of  the  first  theories  to  explain  how  task  and  subordinate characteristics affect the impact of leadership on subordinate performance.

·         It can be applied at all levels within an organization.



·         It provides a useful theoretical framework for understanding how various leadership behaviors affect the satisfaction of the subordinates and their performance.

·         It attempts to integrate the motivation principles of the expectancy theory into a theory of leadership. It is the only theory that deals with motivation.

·         It provides a model that in a certain way is very practical.

·         It reminds leaders of their purpose which is to guide and coach employees as they move along the path to achieve a goal.



·         It is quite complex and tries to incorporate many different aspects of leadership that make it a little confusing.

·         It has received only partial support from the many empirical studies

·         It fails to explain adequately the relationship between leadership behavior and worker motivation

·         The approach treats leadership as a one-way event w1here the leader affects the subordinate. It places a great deal of responsibility on the leader and less on the subordinates which can make them too dependent on the leader.


Leadership instrument

The path-goal questionnaire is the preferred instrument. The scores represent the four types of behavior and tells the leader which style they use more dominantly.