Path-Goal Theory

September 3, 2008 at 1:00 am (Path-Goal Theory)

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. The model was developed jointly by Martin Evans and Robert House.
The Path-Goal Theory developed by Robert House (1971) is based on the Expectancy Theory of Motivation. 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 based on the precepts of Goal Setting Theory 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.
The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership was developed to describe the way that leaders encourage and support their followers in achieving the goals they have been set by making the path that they should take clear and easy.
In particular, leaders:
·    Clarify the path so subordinates know which way to go.
·    Remove roadblocks that are stopping them going there.
·    Increasing the rewards along the route.
Leaders can take a strong or limited approach in these. In clarifying the path, they may be directive or give vague hints. In removing roadblocks, they may scour the path or help the follower move the bigger blocks. In increasing rewards, they may give occasional encouragement or pave the way with gold.
This variation in approach will depend on the situation, including the follower’s capability and motivation, as well as the difficulty of the job and other contextual factors.
A leader’s behavior is acceptable to subordinates when viewed as a source of satisfaction, and motivational when need satisfaction is contingent on performance, and the leader facilitates, coaches, and rewards effective performance. Path-Goal Theory identifies achievement-oriented, directive, participative, and supportive leadership styles.
In achievement-oriented leadership, the leader sets challenging goals for followers, expects them to perform at their highest level, and shows confidence in their ability to meet this expectation. This style is appropriate when the follower suffers from a lack of job challenge.
In directive leadership, the leader lets followers know what is expected of them and tells them how to perform their tasks. This style is appropriate when the follower has an ambiguous job.
Participative leadership involves leaders consulting with followers and asking for their suggestions before making a decision. This style is appropriate when the follower is using improper procedures or is making poor decisions.
In supportive leadership, the leader is friendly and approachable. The leader shows concern for the followers’ psychological well being. This style is appropriate when the followers lack confidence.
Path-Goal Theory assumes that leaders are flexible and that they can change their style, as situations require. The theory proposes two contingency variables, such as environment and follower characteristics, that moderate the leader behavior-outcome relationship. Environment is outside the control of the follower-task structure, authority system, and work group. Environmental factors determine the type of leader behavior required if the follower outcomes are to be maximized. Follower characteristics are the locus of control, experience, and perceived ability. Personal characteristics of subordinates determine how the environment and leader are interpreted. Effective leaders clarify the path to help their followers achieve theory goals and make the journey easier by reducing roadblocks and pitfalls. Research demonstrates that employee performance and satisfaction are positively influenced when the leader compensates for the shortcomings in either the employee or the work setting.
In contrast to the Fiedler contingency model, the path-goal model states that the four leadership styles are fluid, and that leaders can adopt any of the four depending on what the situation demands.

Leaders who show the way and help followers along a path are effectively ‘leading’.
This approach assumes that there is one right way of achieving a goal and that the leader can see it and the follower cannot. This casts the leader as the knowing person and the follower as dependent.
It also assumes that the follower is completely rational and that the appropriate methods can be deterministically selected depending on the situation.
See also
Evans, M.G. (1970). The effect of supervisory behavior on the path-goal relationship. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 5, 277-298
House, R.J. (1971). A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 16, 321-339
House, R.J. and Mitchell, T.R. (1974). Path-goal theory of leadership. Contemporary Business, 3, Fall, 81-98


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