Path-Goal Theory of Leadership

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Path-Goal Theory of Leadership

Post updated on 15th Sep. 2023

Introduction – Path-Goal Theory of Leadership

As far as Leadership is concerned, several definitions have been given to date, explaining different qualities, traits, and signs of a good leader. Leadership broadly explained it as a person with the ability to bring together a group of people and guide them toward a common goal. Assigning jobs to others or telling subordinates what to do is not a big task and almost anyone can do it; however, it takes a true leader to actually make others perform that task in the best possible manner. Over time several research studies have been presented explaining leadership in different perspectives, including skills, characteristics, and styles. While the decades of the 40s and the 50s were dominated by leadership types signified as being either participative, task-oriented or relationship-oriented, the 70s brought forward a more diverse leadership type denoting six categories as being associated with the personal factors of leadership.

These factors were presented by Ralph Stogdill. He named achievement, capacity, participation, responsibility, situation, and status as being the personal factors associated with leaders.  The latest Harvard Business review research published in 2000 by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman defined another six unique styles of leadership as being visionary, commanding, affiliative, pace setting, democratic and coaching.

In this post we will be discussing a real-life leadership situation in context with the Path-Goal theory, explaining how leaders motivate followers in order to accomplish goals.


Path-Goal Theory

Path goal theory came to surface in the 70s stating that this leadership theory focuses on enhancing the performance and satisfaction of followers through focusing on their motivation. This theory works in contradiction with the situational approach of leadership, where a leader is defined as adapting to the new environment. Path goal theory in actual realizes the relationship between the follower’s characteristics and the leadership style. In this leadership approach, the leader is required to use or employ a leadership style that works through meeting the motivational requirements of followers.

The path-goal theory defines the leader as choosing behaviors that supplement or complement whatever is missing in the work setting. Leaders that follow this approach of leadership often use means of rewards in work environments.

Evans explains that a leader that generates motivation does so through increasing the kinds and numbers of payoffs that followers receive in their work settings. Also, such a leader makes the path towards the goal very clear, through proper directions and coaching of followers, removing any roadblocks or hindrances that might be in the way. This makes the whole process of achieving the goal more satisfying personally for followers. Leaders that follow this approach of leadership choose appropriate leadership styles to increase and enhance the follower’s expectations of satisfaction and expected success at a task.


Expectancy Theory:

Path goal thus conceptualizes the perspective of expectancy theory stating that followers will be motivated, in case, they think they are capable of doing a task or achieving a goal. If they think they are capable of doing a task and that they are being paid off well for doing it, they will automatically be motivated towards doing it. Here the challenge for the leader in actual is to completely understand the goals of followers and associated rewards with them.

A major component of path-goal theory, the leadership behavior, is said to have different effects on the followers based on the characteristic of the followers and the task.

Leader’s behaviors in path-goal theory include

  • Directive
  • Supportive
  • Participative and
  • Achievement-oriented.

The case studies of real-life leadership examples can further help in defining the path-goal theory.


Real-Life Leadership Case Study

The best example of an exemplary path-goal theory leadership style has been personally experienced by me. When I was working in ABC Company and the company suddenly underwent some crisis owed to a cut in the state budget. The company had to survive out of the crisis and there were rumors that a cut in the number of employees was in line since the cut in budget directly affected the field of Human Services.  My boss, Mr. Davidson at that time was a true example of a leader. His committment to his work and the work of others.

He was greatly appreciated by every person working in the company. He was always ready to help others so that they can excel in their careers. It was a good example of benefiting the company and his leadership in the way as well. Mr. Davidson always believed in the power of innovation and likely empowered his followers and subordinates towards innovating products, processes, markets and almost every other area. He brought his company at a position that was the example for other people to build their strengths.


Skills to Analyze the Company’s Problem

Mr. Davidson decided to tackle the problem at hand through investigation and deciphering. How the company can cut on its budget. Moreover, how matters can be back into hand without having to lay off employees to tackle the situation. As the leader, he suggested several small actions. It included cutting on traveling expenses, saving on utility bills, etc that could contribute to the budget cut. He assigned the job to the employees of the department to investigate how expenses can be down. It was them who came up with the idea of cutting on the overtime expenses which was a major contributor to the cost factor. He realized that if they could manage a significant cut in this expense, there were no employees reduction. Moreover, the company could progress like it was before without having to leave anyone behind.

Mr. Davidson used his leadership skills to analyze the problem and devise ways as to how it work. Once he knew he had to cut back on the overtime expenses. He suggested a reduction of 30%, and no employee reduction. He engaged personally with every employee of the department and explained how he or she could manage their overtime, contributing to the cut in the expense and saving their jobs along the way.

Davidson was a firm believer that if leaders engage with their employees considering the well being of them equally as their own. They can create an atmosphere where the leader can convince employees to work in accordance with any devised plan. People believe and trust on such a leader when they know about their progressive future and well-being is not at stake.


Path-Goal Theory Participative Leadership Style and Mr. Davidson

As defined in the path-goal theory summary earlier leaders were required to take up a behavior that is consistent with the followers’ characteristics and their task. For example, in the case study, Davidson dedicated to tackle the problem faced by the company in an efficient manner while also considering the best interest of the employees. His participative style and engagement with the employees led him to explore different ways that could transform into a beneficial situation for both the company and the employees. Not only did his situation helped the company to come out of a crisis situation, but he also managed to earn the trust of the employees. In return, they were now ready to trust him. They follow his command as they assured he was always thinking of their best interest.


Leadership Style

You can analyse the success of this leadership style through the fact that his participative and empowering. His leadership style was so effective that when he announced his new overtime plan. No employee objected to it and the proposed plan was in action into the daily working of the company. Almost instantly making the company fall in line and diminished the loss management. Further on since he was a participative leader. He delegated responsibilities to every individual. And let them handle those responsibilities to a large extent without interfering.  Employees were totally capable and empowered to handle day to day affairs and innovation related matters perfectly. It was to the extent that Mr. Davidson was totally out from the entire scenario without any difficulty. Every function was exactly as it were under his leadership.

Contrastingly, another example is of Manager of the competitor company. My Robert, who was an autocratic leadership style and frequent firing of incompetent workers. When the time for his retirement neared, the entire company went into a buzz as to what will happen to that company and the particular department. When Mr. Robert left, as no one had the authority to make the decision on their own. The employees used to simply taking orders. This defines how important it is to understand the whole scenario and leadership quality. Accordingly, develop behavior that suits the characteristics of the followers to complete the task. Considering the dynamics of the industry that a company is surviving within.


The Case Study Analysis

The case study explains how a participative and supportive style of leadership can work and help the company through a crisis, with the help of the employees. This style of leadership has many advantages with certain disadvantages as well.

The foremost advantage of this leadership style is that the employees’ creativity and knowledge add up to the talent pool. When two heads thinking on a matter are always better than one and it certainly benefiting it to the organization. People suggest ways to tackle the problem, the more chances of finding a suitable remedy for a problem. Next, such leadership does not limit the powers of decision making in the hands of one person and everyone is a part of the whole process, knowing exactly their part of the job. In such a situation removing one person from the whole setup does not affect the working or functioning of the company or department. On the other side different autocratic style leadership, where removal of the leader directly affects the functioning of the whole company.

There is a disadvantage to this leadership style as well. The foremost disadvantage is of bearing an inefficient employee. Since the supportive leadership style believes in helping employees out and providing them the atmosphere where they can excel in their career, sometimes this also requires taking their work or suggestion into consideration in the decision-making process. If an employee is inefficient, he will get ample chances to redeem his behavior. If he continuously makes mistakes and shows inefficiency, it will affect the decision-making process badly, thus affecting the performance of everyone around as well.

Viewing the Path-goal theory, its components, leadership behavior, and the real-life leadership case study of Mr. Davidson, we can say that irrespective of whatever kind of leadership behavior used, the primary need is to understand and consider the surrounding and people working around the leader. Also, adopt a leadership strategy that goes a long way beyond present visible advantages.

As defined in the paper, Mr. Robert too was a successful leader. Who will remember for his leadership skills that were strictly autocratic; however, Davidson’s leadership skills not only helped ABC Company in attaining a top position in a dynamic industry rather this participative and empowered culture-induced in the company. It allows the company to stay at a top position even after Mr. Davidson.


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Read More:

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Fallon, N. (2014). What is Leadership? Retrieved from

Indvick, J. (1986). Path Goal Theory of Leadership: A Meta Analysis. In Proceedings of the Academy of Management Meeting. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Academy of Management

PennState. (2015). When Does The Path Goal Theory Work? Retrieved from

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