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Determining A Leadership Style: Path-Goal Theory Of Leadership

By Mei BeiNo Comments

Effective leadership techniques can increase productivity, foster better business alignment, and enhance employee satisfaction. A theory many organizations and leaders consider when determining how to manage their teams most effectively is the path-goal theory. Based on the needs of your people and your existing situation, the path-goal theory assists you in choosing an effective leadership strategy. Applying the path-goal theory of leadership to your corporate training project will generate effective and competent leaders who can lead and inspire people, enhance team performance, and lead your company to success.

What Is the Path-Goal Theory Of Leadership

According to the path-goal theory, the leader is responsible for giving followers the knowledge, encouragement, or other resources they need to reach their objectives. Path-goal theory indicates that a leader must properly design a way to a goal, guide followers along that road, and explain how to accomplish the objective successfully. The theory says a leader's approach, personality, and actions affect their team's output, inspiration, and satisfaction.

The phrase "path-goal" means that a leader must illuminate the path to the goal and explain how to make the journey successful. After that, leaders should be flexible enough to strengthen their team members and compensate for their weaknesses using certain leadership styles. 

Robert J. House first created the idea and was first published in the Administrative Science Quarterly in 1971. It was later modified and published in the Leadership Quarterly in 1996. This theory is founded on the idea that people behave in a certain way when they anticipate a positive outcome, which is known as the expectancy theory.

Components Of Path-Goal Theory

Path-goal theory suggests four different leadership styles which can be adopted by the same leader in different situations. Utilizing a certain leadership style would depend on the organizational structure of the company and relationship behaviors amongst team members, such as respect and trust. There are four leadership styles based on the path-goal theory that can be used by both leaders and trainers and instructors conducting corporate training.

Directive Leadership

In directive leadership, the leader lays out the procedures for the team, what is expected of them, and how they should go about doing their jobs. Directive leadership gives greater satisfaction to unclear or stressful tasks when they are meticulously planned and well structured. This leadership approach seeks to make work procedures more clear and less ambiguous. As a result, employees may feel a higher level of certainty regarding procedures, policies, and rules. By doing this, you may straightforwardly delegate duties and explain goals and expectations.

When using this leadership style, try to leverage incentives for success, especially when workers hit significant milestones. This style works best when projects or tasks are unstructured, when team members are inexperienced, and the tasks are complex. This leadership style is compatible with novice workers who require guidance and routine monitoring because it involves close supervision of the workforce. It is likely redundant among employees with high abilities or various experiences. This type of leadership establishes specific goals for the present and the future. It is heavily task-oriented and based on the organizational structure of the workplace. Here, the leader plays a more active role and establishes clear standards for objectives and output.

Supportive Leadership

When a leader practices supportive leadership, they are aware of their team members' needs and welfare and go out of their way to make their time at work enjoyable. Leaders here are sensitive to the demands of specific team members and take into account the interests of their team members. This management style is useful when employees need a boost in motivation or confidence or have personal issues. This type of leadership respects employees and provides assistance when necessary. When dealing with monotonous or demanding jobs, this leadership style works best. Supportive leadership produces great performance and pleasure from the workforce for carrying out defined responsibilities.

Supportive leaders can concentrate on fostering a welcoming environment and demonstrating to staff that they are approachable and kind in the event of a problem or complaint. Managers may create safer workplaces and more cohesive cultures by being inspirational and compassionate. To assist their employees in reaching their goals for professional development, leaders should be concerned about the needs and desires of their team members. Making the training accessible for self-directed learning is one method to do this. Make it simple for them to access the professional development training courses and new manager training courses they require whenever they need it, as well as timely help and direction when required.

Participative Leadership

A participative leader always consults with their team, solicits ideas, and invites input into decision-making. A lot of emphasis on shared engagement is on participatory leadership. Before making a decision, you talk with your team and take into account their knowledge and suggestions. This typically results in the employee exerting greater effort to accomplish the goals they chose.

This approach performs best when team members have relevant experience, the tasks are challenging and complex, and the team members are eager to offer their opinions. Their perspective can be incredibly helpful to the leader in these circumstances. Participative leadership could fail if employees lack experience and expertise. This is especially if the workforce is large, it may slow down decision-making, output, and performance.

This management enables employees to participate in goal-setting. Meet with employees on a regular basis to discuss goals and develop a plan for how you intend to reach them. Encourage employees to provide feedback regarding progress. Together, you can accomplish goals, enhance workflow, and advance business initiatives.

Achievement-Oriented Leadership

An achievement-oriented leader who is focused on achieving results and sets high expectations for their team members. Encouraging subordinates and showing confidence in subordinates’ abilities is necessary. Achievement-oriented leadership may promote ongoing high performance but could backfire if the goals are ambiguous or unclear. Leaders who place high expectations on their team members exhibit this achievement-focused mentality. It's also frequently referred to as the goal-setting theory. In order for this method to be effective, leaders must exude confidence in their team's capacity to overcome challenges. As a result, you must have high expectations for your team's performance. 

This style works best when team members are unmotivated or uninspired by their tasks. Employees who are comfortable working fully independently and have excellent problem-solving abilities are suitable for this type of management. When it comes to employee training programs, set the bar high. Make a list of the courses that you want your employees to complete, and set them a deadline. Even if the deadline is close, make sure to emphasize that this is a doable objective. 

Path-Goal Theory Components

Situational Factors Of Path-Goal Theory

In path-goal theory, leaders can adapt their behavior or style to different circumstances. The leadership style that should be used depends on a thorough review of the circumstances. The nature of your subordinates and the nature of your environment are two situational factors that the Path-Goal Theory defines. These elements have a direct impact on the ideal leadership stance to take when working with a team.

Subordinates’ Characteristics

The subordinates' sense of their capabilities and locus of control are significant personality traits. Directive leadership is the best style to use when leading those who believe they lack ability. If someone has the locus of control, participative leadership is preferred. Leaders may not be able to alter the employees' personality traits, but they can mold their management or leadership style by understanding them.

Understanding your people's needs is key to choosing the best approach for directing your team.

  • How successfully do the people on your team respond to clear instructions? 
  • How do they react when you tell them how to do a particular task?
  • How experienced is your team?
  • How well-versed are they in the work or assignment? 
  • How motivated are they?

Environmental Characteristics

The two environmental aspects are the workgroup and task structure. Directive leadership is less effective when the structure is high than it is when it is low. The nature of the workgroup also influences leadership behavior. When a workgroup is unable to support itself, the leader must step in and help. The leader seeks to sway the perceptions and motivation of the team members by adopting a style that is dependent on the circumstances in order to improve role clarity, goal expectancy, satisfaction, and performance.

You should also assess the current circumstance: 

  • How complex or repetitive is the task or project?
  • How organized or unstructured is the task?
  • How much control do you have over the team? 
  • How effectively do people collaborate?
Stages of Path-Goal Theory

Using Path-Goal Theory

Applying path-goal theory with your team is fairly straightforward. The table below shows how to match the needs of your team members with the surrounding circumstances to select the ideal leadership style for each situation. Being adaptable in your approach is crucial since different people may require various leadership styles. The fundamental issue with path-goal theory is that situational circumstances might be challenging to evaluate. If you do not appropriately evaluate these, you may pick an ineffective leadership approach.

SubordinatesEnvironmentLeadership Style To Adopt
Want Authoritative Leadership

External Locus of Control

Low Ability
Complex or Ambiguous Task

Strong Formal Authority

Good Work Group
Don't Want Authoritative Leadership

Internal Locus of Control

High Ability
Simple or Structured Task

Weak Formal Authority

Not Good Work Group
Want to be Involved

Internal Locus on Control

High Ability
Complex or Ambiguous Task

Strong or Weak Formal Authority

Good or Not Good Work Group
Want Authoritative Leadership

External Locus of Control

High Ability
Simple or Structured Task

Strong Formal Authority

Good or Not Good Work Group

Benefits Of Path-Goal Theory

Overcome challenges in training

Unfortunately, there will occasionally be difficulties and barriers in training, such as low participation rates or incomplete courses. Providing trainers with the four different strategies can better prepare them to avoid problems and equip them with the means to handle different types of learners. Delivering effective business training programs is made easier with this approach.

Achieve training-related goals

By using efficient training techniques, you can achieve your training-related objectives and point your future leaders on the proper path. Making up for weaknesses and assisting its leaders and employees in creating and achieving their goals will, in the end, only be beneficial to the firm.

Boost productivity, motivation, and confidence

Training programs that are completed successfully can result in considerable increases in productivity, motivation, and confidence. Effective leaders and trainers are aware of the significance of praising and acknowledging efforts through the use of rewards and intrinsic motivation. Applying different path-goal leadership styles can drive employees to their maximum potential. 

Encourage a support network

Interactions remain learner-centered when there is supported training and leadership. Your employees' personal preferences and emotional needs are taken into consideration, and they are put at the forefront of decision-making. Employees are more likely to form stronger bonds with the company and their colleagues and to perform better when they feel respected and valued.

Build a positive work environment

When the path-goal theory is used in corporate training, a more uplifting and productive environment is fostered. As communication and collaboration allow employees to be involved in daily workplace happenings, a peaceful workplace can be created and nurtured. By instructing employees in efficient communication and teamwork techniques, professional development training programs also contribute to the formation of a more positive and productive workplace.


Path-goal theory is the belief that managers can influence the performance of their teams by customizing their leadership approach to meet their demands. It is based on the four leadership styles participative, directive, supporting, and achievement-oriented leadership. According to the path-goal theory, a manager's ability to successfully address team difficulties and provide leadership support are key factors in employee motivation. The model can be used to choose the optimal approach after considering your team and the situation. Your team will be more motivated and productive as a result of this.


What Is Path-Goal Theory

Benefits Of Path-Goal Theory

Components Of Path-Goal Theory

Using The Path-Goal Theory

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