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Path-Goal Theory of Leadership


Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership styles > Path-Goal Theory of Leadership

Description | Discussion | See also



The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership was developed to describe the way that leaders encourage and support their followers in achieving the goals they have been set by making the path that they should take clear and easy.

In particular, leaders:

  • Clarify the path so subordinates know which way to go.
  • Remove roadblocks that are stopping them going there.
  • Increasing the rewards along the route.

Leaders can take a strong or limited approach in these. In clarifying the path, they may be directive or give vague hints. In removing roadblocks, they may scour the path or help the follower move the bigger blocks. In increasing rewards, they may give occasional encouragement or pave the way with gold.

This variation in approach will depend on the situation, including the follower's capability and motivation, as well as the difficulty of the job and other contextual factors.

House and Mitchell (1974) describe four styles of leadership:

Supportive leadership

Considering 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.

Directive leadership

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.

Participative leadership

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.

Achievement-oriented leadership

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.


Leaders who show the way and help followers along a path are effectively 'leading'.

This approach assumes that there is one right way of achieving a goal and that the leader can see it and the follower cannot. This casts the leader as the knowing person and the follower as dependent.

It also assumes that the follower is completely rational and that the appropriate methods can be deterministically selected depending on the situation.

See also

Evans, M.G. (1970). The effect of supervisory behavior on the path-goal relationship. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 5, 277-298

House, R.J. (1971). A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly, 16, 321-339

House, R.J. and Mitchell, T.R. (1974). Path-goal theory of leadership. Contemporary Business, 3, Fall, 81-98

Expectancy Theory, Participative Leadership


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