What is Path-Goal Theory?

What is Path-Goal Theory? 2017-01-10T12:13:18+00:00

The Path-Goal model is a theory based on specifying a leader’s style or behavior that best fits the employee and work environment in order to achieve a goal. The path-goal theory can best be thought of as a process in which leaders select specific behaviors that are best suited to the employees’ needs and their working environment so that they may best guide the employees through their path in the obtainment of their daily work activities (goals).

Origins & Theory

The Path-Goal theory, inspired by the work of Martin G. Evans (1970),[1] can best be thought of as a process by which leaders select specific behaviors that are best suited to their employees’ needs and their working environment, so that leaders may best guide their employees through their path in the obtainment of their daily work activities (goals) (Northouse, 2013).

The theory 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 role to assist employees in attaining goals and to provide the direction and support needed to ensure that their individual goals are in concert or compatible with the organization’s goals.

Path-Goal’s Four Styles

The Path-Goal model is a theory based on specifying a leader’s style or behavior that best fits the employee and work environment in order to achieve a goal.  The goal is to increase an employee’s motivation, empowerment, and satisfaction so they become a productive member of the organization.  Employee satisfaction is contingent upon the leader’s performance as both a facilitator and coach and rewards their employees for effective performance.  The original Path-Goal theory identifies achievement-orienteddirectiveparticipative, and supportive leader behaviors rooted in four (4 styles).

The Four Styles:

  1. The directive path-goal clarifying leader behavior refers to situations where the leader lets employees know what is expected of them and tells them how to perform their tasks. The theory argues that this behavior has the most positive effect when the employees’ role and task demands are ambiguous and intrinsically satisfying.
  2. The achievement-oriented leader behavior refers to situations where the leader sets challenging goals for employees, expects them to perform at their highest level, and shows confidence in their ability to meet this expectation. Occupations in which the achievement motive were most predominant were technical jobs, sales persons, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
  3. The participative leader behavior involves leaders consulting with employees and asking for their suggestions before making a decision. This behavior is predominant when employees are highly personally involved in their work.
  4. The supportive leader behavior is directed towards the satisfaction of employees’ needs and preferences. The leader shows concern for the employees’ psychological well-being. This behavior is especially needed in situations in which tasks or relationships are psychologically or physically distressing.

How to use it:

If you have a good understanding of what the needs of the group are, then you can adapt to the styles as the situation demands:

  • Achievement oriented works best when the staff suffers from lack of challenge and boredom.
  • Directive leadership helps workers cope with otherwise vague and unclear job responsibilities.
  • Participative leadership is effective in situations where the follower is making poor decisions or improper procedure and the leader can take steps to help them improve.
  • Supportive leadership is useful with a team that is new, inexperienced, or otherwise lacking 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 employee 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 employee outcomes are to be maximized. Follower characteristics are the locus of control, experience, and perceived ability. Personal characteristics of employees determine how the environment and leader are interpreted. Effective leaders clarify the path to help their employees achieve 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 conclusion The Path-Goal theory is useful because it reminds leaders that their central purpose as a leader is to help employees define and reach their goals in an efficient manner.

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