Path-Goal Theory of Leadership – History, Example, Pros & Cons

Leadership scholars are developing a unified body of speculation they call the “Path-Goal Theory of Leadership.” According to this belief, influential leaders affect their followers’ motivation, productivity, and happiness. The name “Path-Goal” comes from the emphasis on the leader’s ability to shape followers’ views of their potential and the means by which they might achieve their professional and personal objectives.

According to this hypothesis, followers are more likely to follow their leader’s lead if their actions help them get closer to their goals and make the steps needed to get there more transparent.

Path-Goal Theory of Leadership – Meaning

According to the path-goal theory of leadership, the group’s production, morale, and overall happiness are affected by how followers react to a leader’s personality and conduct. The view of expectation, which proposes that individuals behave in a specific manner because they hope for a particular outcome, is the source of this concept.

Path-goal theory suggests that a strong leader may compensate for their team’s shortcomings. It is widely held that influential leaders facilitate team success by eliminating obstacles and outlining a clear strategy. Leaders may apply the theory’s suggested methods to increase morale and aid employee success.

Historical Background

The first hypothesis, developed in response to the research of Martin G. Evans (1970), suggests that leaders’ actions and followers’ perceptions of how strongly a particular course of action would produce a desired end are causally linked (goal). The path-goal theory was additionally influenced by Victor Vroom’s (1964) expectation theory of motivation.

Productivity Based on a Path-Goal Approach served as the basis for Vroom’s investigation. Robert House first proposed the path-goal theory of leadership in 1971 as his take on a contingency theory of leadership. House postulated that a leader’s actions would be influenced by how happy, motivated, and productive their subordinates were.

Features –

  • It has different features whereas it includes four different leadership styles; such as supportive, directive, participative and achieve-oriented
  • This style of approach refers to include that a leader should complement their subordinates
  • As they complement their subordinates, such leaders also provide damages for damages
  • In this leadership approach, the most important thing is to show clarity toward achieving goals, so a leader has to encourage and support employees.

Advantages –

  • Employees motivated by results are the most glaring and obvious point in its favor.
  • Effectiveness typically increases when team members clearly comprehend their assigned tasks and the motivations behind them.
  • Additionally, the theory allows for some degree of adaptability in selecting an acceptable management strategy according to the circumstances. It is a beneficial quality, given that there does not appear to be a single method that can be applied universally to the administration of teams. The diversity of tasks calls for a range of distinct operational models.
  • The theory is a technique developed to help leaders become more effective. It provides a beneficial insight into how different leadership styles can be applied to various team members depending on the qualities of those team members and the results those team members will produce

Disadvantages –

The hypothesis is also subject to several criticisms.

  • The most significant drawback is that it may be challenging to implement in real life since it incorporates a great deal of management and leadership theory into its framework.
  • Because of its complexity, understanding it might not be easy.
  • Numerous empirical research investigations have been done to assess its validity, and thus far, they have only provided limited support.
  • More needs to be spoken about how leadership style affects the inspiration of those under them.
  • Leaders are held to a far higher standard, while followers are given a lot lighter load.

How to Implement?

The path-goal theory of leadership can be applied in various ways by leaders. A team’s organizational climate and interpersonal norms, such as mutual respect and trust, are crucial factors in determining the most effective leadership approach.

Leaders and corporate trainers alike can benefit from the following four leadership styles based on path goal theory:

1. Mandatory

This method of leadership establishes both short- and long-term goals. It is heavily task-oriented and modelled around organizational norms seen in the workplace. The leader here plays a more direct role, outlining specific targets and requirements for success.

Rather than relying on unstructured, self-directed study, a training environment may benefit from more one-on-one instruction and mentoring. Breaking down even the most ambitious training goals into more manageable chunks is possible by setting interim goals and benchmarks. The incentive for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior are both parts of the directed technique.

2. Encouraging

Considerations of mutual admiration, trust, and friendly companionship are central to this and subsequent management styles. Leaders of teams should be personable and sympathetic to the issues of their subordinates.

The act of helping people inevitably involves instructing them in something. As a trainer or teacher, you are responsible for prioritizing the wants and requirements of your trainees or students so that you can help them progress toward their career objectives. Making your training accessible as self-study is one approach to this. Provide timely help and guidance when needed, making it easy for them to discover courses like new management and professional growth training.

3. Participative

By including goal-setting exercises in training sessions, participants can feel more invested in the material they are learning. Encourage them to make notes, trade classes, and voice their ideas since this type of leadership thrives on input and dialogue.

Modern learning management systems have the tools to facilitate this kind of social learning (LMS). As a result, employees will be free to interact and learn from one another. Using the activity stream of an informal peer network can encourage healthy rivalry and independent study.

4. Driven by success

Leaders that expect a lot from their teams tend to adopt this behavior. Sometimes referred to as the “goal-attainment theory,” this concept explains why and how one should set and work toward objectives. Leaders need to believe in their team’s ability to succeed despite challenges for this strategy to work.

Raising the standard of staff training initiatives is essential. Create a timeline for staff members to complete the required courses. Make sure that the labor you’re putting in on campus has a greater purpose. Even if time is of the essence, you should still argue that this is a doable goal.

Real-life Examples of Path-Goal theory of Leadership –

The group’s success depends on the quality of the path they’ve paved. A chief executive officer is a role model for success. The ex-CEO of Apple is an advocate of the path-goal theory. He can motivate others by setting clear objectives. Apple’s product design was under Steve Jobs’s direction. He came up with fresh ideas and worked with a team of engineers to develop a brand-new item.

Since he cared about the company’s success, he not only gave directives but also participated in carrying them out. When Steve Jobs was CEO of Apple, he encouraged a culture of equality. He needed enthusiastic team members to succeed as a leader. His team followed his lead and direction.

Apple seeks out talented people from all walks of life. Steve Jobs was the leader at Apple during the company’s worst hours. A group effort was what he advocated for. As they encountered challenges, he was there to lead the way.

On the contrary, he presented himself as a leader who was not fazed by setbacks. Despite his genius as an innovator, Steve Jobs understood the importance of getting the best out of his team. He gave them the green light to display their ingenuity.

After Jobs passed away, Apple flourished thanks to the efforts of its workers. Only some things can be achieved through technological means. Trust that if you equip people with the means to succeed, they will rise to the challenge. He thinks allowing workers to innovate independently is the key to success. He was interested in using technology to enhance the lives of those entrusted with crucial tasks.


According to the path-goal theory, a leader’s role is to teach, guide, and direct followers toward their goals while also assisting them in defining and clarifying those goals and navigating past any barriers that may stand in their way.

Reference List

Cho, Y., Shin, M., Billing, T.K. and Bhagat, R.S., 2019. Transformational leadership, transactional leadership, and affective organizational commitment: a closer look at their relationships in two distinct national contexts. Asian Business & Management, 18(3), pp.187-210.

House, R.J. and Mitchell, T.R., 1975. The path-goal theory of leadership. Washington Univ Seattle Dept Of Psychology.

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