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Path goal theory is a combination of situational leadership theory and Vroom’s Expectancy Model o Motivation. The theory is the most influential contingency approach to leadership. Based on the Basil S. Georgopoula’s original concept (1957) , Martin Evans and Robert House wrote separate papers and developed Path goal Theory in 1971.
The theory revolves around two terms : Path and Goals. Path indicates that an effective leader clarifies the path (way, route or method), goal means outcome or expected results of employee’s efforts that avail them rewards. A leader shows the followers the path to help the reach their work goals, and makes their journey to goals easier by removing road block (difficulties and problems).
Path foal theory explains relationship between four leadership behaviours and two types of situational variables.
i. Leadership Behaviour (Styles)
The leader may adopt one of the four styles depending on the situation. These are explained below:
a) Directive leadership
In this styles leader let the subordinates know what is expected of them. They also tend to provide precise guidance about what is to be done and how it should it should be done. They schedule the work to be done. They establish and communicate clear and definite performance standards to the subordinates. Then, they coordinated the activities of the subordinates. Importantly,they explain the role of the leaders to the group members in an unambiguous manner. When task objectives and assignments are unclear, then directive leadership can help in clarifying such task objectives and the likely rewards.
b) Supportive Leadership
In this styles, leaders adopt friendly and caring approach to the needs, status and well-being of the subordinates. These leaders make every effort to make the work environment pleasant and enjoyable. They also treat their subordinates as equals and treat them with due dignity. Supportive leadership can boost the confidence of subordinates by emphasizing individual abilities and providing customized assistance, especially when the subordinate’s confidence and self belief is low.
c) Participative Leadership
In this style, subordinates are consulted by the leaders on work related matters. Subordinate’s opinion, views, suggestions and ideas are given due consideration by the leaders when they make decisions. Participative leadership will be effective to clarify individual needs and identfy suitable rewards, especially when performance incentives are inadequate.
d) Achievement oriented Leadership
In this style, leaders adopt a task-oriented approach by setting challenging goals for their subordinates. These leaders normally display high confidence in the skill and ability of their suborniates in performing challenging tasks. They seek their subordinates to achieve excellence in performance. When the job does not have adequate task challenges, then achievement oriented leadership can help in setting challenging goals and improving the performance aspiration of subordinates.
ii. Situational Variables
While exercising leadership styles, the leader must consider following situational variables:
a) Characteristics of subordinates
There are three important variables in each employee relevant to effectiveness of leadership : locus of control, willingness to accept influence and self perceived task ability. Locus of control refers to alternative beliefs whether the employee’s achievements are the product of his own efforts (internal locus of control), or the result of outside forces (external locus of control). Willingness to accept influence refers to the degree of willingness or unwillingness of an employee to accept influence of others. Self perceived task ability refers to whether the employee has ability to perform the task or not.
b) Work Environment
Work environment consists of the nature of task, formal authority system, and work group. Nature of job refers to the degree of structuring of the job. The task may be either structured or unstructured. A structured task is well-defined in terms of the activities involved, authority and responsibility associated with the task, and the type of organisational relationships. Unstructured task lacks all these. Formal authority system refers to the degree of authority delegated to the leader for influencing subordinates. Work group refers to the type of group in the organisation the employee belongs to .
The theory proposes that there is nothing like the beast leadership style appropriate in all situations. Appropriate style is one that helps the subordinates cope with the environmental ambiguity. A leader who is able to reduce uncertainties of the task ans sets clear paths is considered to be satisfying because he increases the expectations of the subordinates that their efforts will lead to desired results. Path goal theory makes great sense for academic research and practicing managers. However, the theory lacks empirical supports. Enough researches have not been carried to validate the propositions of the theory and many research findings have given contrasting results.
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