Path-Goal Theory of Leadership
Leadership is a dynamic relationship based on mutual influence and common purpose between leaders and collaborators in which both are moved to higher levels of motivation and moral development as they affect real, intended change.
Three important parts of this definition are the terms relationship, mutual, and collaborators. Relationship is the connection between people. Mutual means shared in common. Collaborators cooperate or work together.
This definition of leadership says that the leader is influenced by the collaborators while they work together to achieve an important goal. This paper however, focused on a specific theory of leadership and its importance for the organization’s success.
The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership
The path-goal theory postulates that the most successful leaders are those who increase subordinate motivation by charting out and clarifying the paths to high performance. According to Robert House’s path-goal theory, effective leaders:
Ø Motivate their followers to achieve group and organizational goals
Ø Make sure that they have control over outcomes their subordinates desire
Ø Reward subordinates for performing at a high level or achieving their goals by giving them desired outcomes
Ø Raise their subordinates’ beliefs about their ability to achieve their work goals and perform at a high level
Ø Take into account their subordinates’ characteristics and the type of work they do
However, whether leadership behavior can do so effectively, it is also dependent on situational factors:
· Subordinates’ Personality
o Locus of Control. A participative leader is suitable for subordinates with internal locus of control; A directive leader is suitable for subordinates with external locus of control.
o Self-perceived ability. Subordinates that believe they have a high ability themselves do not like directive leadership.
· Characteristics of the Environment
o When a group is working on a task that has a high structure, directive leadership is redundant and less effective.
o When a highly formal authority system is in place, directive leadership can again reduce workers’ satisfaction.
o When subordinates are in a team environment offering great social support, the supportive style becomes less necessary.
The path-goal theory developed by Robert House is based on the expectancy theory of motivation. The manager’s job is viewed as coaching or guiding workers to choose the best paths for reaching their goals. “Best” is judged by the accompanying achievement of organizational goals. It is based on the precepts of goal setting theory and argues that leaders will have to engage in different types of leadership behavior depending on the nature and demands of the particular situation. It’s the leader’s job to assist followers in attaining goals and to provide direction and support needed to ensure that their goals are compatible with the organization’s goal.
Path-Goal theory assumes that leaders are flexible and that they can change their style, as situations require. The theory proposes two contingency variables (environment and follower characteristics) that moderate the leader behavior-outcome relationship. Environment is outside the control of followers-task structure, authority system, and work group. Environmental factors determine the type of leader behavior required if follower outcomes are to be maximized. Follower characteristics are the locus of control, experience, and perceived ability. Personal characteristics of subordinates determine how the environment and leader are interpreted. Effective leaders clarify the path to help their followers achieve their 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.
A leader’s behavior is acceptable to subordinates when viewed as a source of satisfaction and motivational when need satisfaction is contingent on performance, and the leader facilitates, coaches and rewards effective performance. Path goal theory identifies achievement-oriented, directive, participative and supportive leadership styles.
According to Robert House’s path-goal theory of leadership, there are four leadership styles depending on the situation:
- Directive Leadership
In directive leadership, the leader lets followers know what is expected of them and tells them how to perform their tasks. This style is appropriate when the follower has an ambiguous job. This style is characterized by leaders taking decisions for others – and expecting followers or subordinates to follow instructions.
Specific advice is given to the group and ground rules and structure are established. For example, clarifying expectations, specifying or assigning certain work tasks to be followed
Telling followers what needs to be done and giving appropriate guidance along the way. This includes giving them schedules of specific work to be done at specific times. Rewards may also be increased as needed and role ambiguity decreased (by telling them what they should be doing).
This may be used when the task is unstructured and complex and the follower is inexperienced. This increases the follower’s sense of security and control and hence is appropriate to the situation.
Directive leadership is appropriate and would best fit in circumstances of ambiguous job.
Directive leader is focused on task to tell its subordinates what is expected and the “how” and “when” to do it. The leader considers the task on how it would fit with others. Moreover, the leader dwells on proper scheduling and standards in responding to the job. It is also the leader that would set the procedures and regulations needed in performing uncertain and indefinite tasks.
Impact on Subordinates
This style of leadership would clarify the path to reward.
- Supportive Leadership
In supportive leadership, the leader is friendly and approachable. He or she shows concern for followers’ psychological well being. This style is appropriate when the followers lack confidence. Good relations are promoted with the group and sensitivity to subordinates’ needs is shown.
Supportive leadership considers the needs of the follower, showing concern for their welfare and creating a friendly working environment. This includes increasing the follower’s self-esteem and making the job more interesting. This approach is best when the work is stressful, boring or hazardous.
Supportive leadership is suitable when followers lack self-confidence.
Supportive leadership means building relationship with subordinates. Therefore, the leader should be courteous and friendly. The leader is concern for the well-being and needs of its followers. Moreover, he/she must be open and approachable and have a sense of equal balance in status treatment.
Impact on Subordinates
Supportive leadership, in its own way, will have a desirable impact on followers. This leadership style will increase the subordinate’s confidence in achieving work outcome.
- Participative Leadership
Participative leadership involves leaders consulting with followers and asking for their suggestions before making a decision. This style is appropriate when the follower is using improper procedures or is making poor decisions. Decision making is based on consultation with the group and information is shared with the group.
This style of leadership includes consulting with followers and taking their ideas into account when making decisions and taking particular actions. This approach is best when the followers are expert and their advice is both needed and they expect to be able to give it.
This style of leadership will be best suited in cases wherein there is an incorrect reward.
The leader enables group participation or encourages followers’ involvement in achieving a goal. Initially, the leader shares the work problems to subordinates for a proper understanding and then ask for suggestions or concerns from the followers. After gathering suggestions, the leader then weighs them in coming up with a decision together with the subordinates.
Impact on Subordinates
This certain type of leadership is centered on clarifying follower’s needs and would positively change the reward.
- Achievement-oriented Leadership
In achievement-oriented leadership, the leader sets challenging goals for followers, expects them to perform at their highest level, and shows confidence in their ability to meet this expectation. This style is appropriate when the follower suffers from a lack of job challenge. Challenging goals are set and high performance is encouraged while confidence is shown in the groups’ ability.
Achievement-oriented style of leadership involves setting challenging goals, both in work and in self-improvement (and often together). High standards are demonstrated and expected. The leader shows faith in the capabilities of the follower to succeed. This approach is best when the task is complex.
When the organization lacks job challenge, achievement-oriented style of leadership would be best for the condition. It is the time when the organization demands improvement and the desire to grow.
This style of leadership calls for an aggressive leader aiming high for the organization. The leader is the one who will set some challenging goals that is believed to be attained by the organization. It is the spirit of advancement that would drive the leader for further achievements and seeks continuous improvement. As achievement-oriented as it is, the leader has the perfectionist desire for expecting the highest performance. In addition, the leader is confident enough in the organization’s effort in achieving the challenging goal. The leader then assumes more workers’ responsibility.
Impact on Followers
It would be almost all subordinates’ aspiration to grow and have a direction in their career. The followers would then be comfortable in setting goals high.
In summing it up, all these styles would have uniform outcomes and effects. Supportive behavior increases satisfaction by the group, especially in stressful situations, while directive behavior is suited to uncertain and ambiguous situations. It is also proposed that leaders who have influence upon their superiors can increase group satisfaction and performance.
Through more effort, there would be an improvement in the organization’s performance as a whole, as well as enhanced satisfaction and fulfillment in reaching goals.
House’s 1971 article on Path-Goal Theory argued that a subordinate’s motivation, satisfaction and work performance are dependent on the leadership style chosen by their superior. Multiple dimensions of leadership behavior were examined in the theory including: leader initiating structure, consideration, authoritarianism, hierarchical influence, and degree of closeness of the supervision.
Each of the dimensions was “analyzed in terms of path-goal variables such as valence and instrumentality”. “Initiating structure” was defined as the extent to which the leader imposes psychological structure on subordinates, such as clarifying their expectations, specifying or assigning certain work tasks for them to follow. Consideration was defined as the degree to which a leader provides a friendly, supportive, and helpful environment for subordinates.
There were two principal findings from this classic study: Subordinate role ambiguity was considered to have a negative correlation with initiating structure. That is, if a subordinate has a habitual or accustomed job, then a high level of initiating structure will decrease employee satisfaction. In contrast, an employee has a highly ambiguous role with the organization then a high level of initiating structure by the leader would lead to high levels of employee satisfaction.
In terms of consideration, for subordinates who have routine jobs, a greater consideration by the leader should result in increased job satisfaction. For professional individuals and those whose position is less determined by specific job duties, consideration has been found to have almost no effect. (Adapted from Dick Ecelbarger’s Educational Leadership Portfolio, University of Arizona).
Interpreting the meaning of the theory can be confusing for the reason that it is so complex and incorporates so many different aspects of leadership; as a result, it is difficult to implement.
Experimental research studies have demonstrated only partial support for path-goal theory. Moreover, it fails to adequately explain the relationship between leadership behavior and worker motivation. The path-goal theory approach treats leadership as a one-way event in which the leader affects the subordinate.
In effectively leading, leaders must show the way and help followers along the path. This path-goal theory of leadership assumes that there could be one right way in achieving a desired goal and it can only be seen by the leader. Thus, this would entail that the leader is the knowing person and the follower would be its dependent. Furthermore, the theory also assumes that the follower is completely rational and that the appropriate methods can be resolved through suitable selection depending on the situation.
The path-goal theory of leadership has a very useful theoretical framework. It is useful for understanding how various leadership behaviors affect the satisfaction of subordinates and their work performance.
Another key strength of the path-goal theory of leadership is that it integrates motivation. Path-goal theory attempts to incorporate the motivation principles of expectancy theory into a theory of leadership.
Lastly, the theory presented a practical model. Path-goal theory provides a practical model that gives emphasis and highlights important ways leaders help subordinates.
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