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Path Goal Theory Developed in the ‘70s by Robert J. House



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    Leadership has been a controversial topic within businesses for many years. Many different theories have been researched and discovered, but the factors to determine how a leader should act, what traits they should have, or what kind of behavior they should express is hard to find within one theory. Merging many different strategies into one makes it difficult because leaders need to be able to be flexible with their followers, and know what leadership strategies to use in different situations. One theory that makes it easy for leaders to influence followers and accomplish goals is the path goal theory.

    This theory was developed in the ‘70s by Robert J. House, an expert in the field of leadership, and by Terence R. Mitchell, an organizational expert. The path goal theory explains how leaders should motivate followers to achieve goals in different situations. This theory is based on detecting a leaders style and behavior that can be best suited for the employees, work environment, and the goals trying to be reached by a business . This process helps leaders select a specific behavior that best provides to the needs of the company and helps motivate employees to obtain daily work tasks. There are four behaviors that the path goal theory focus on, they are: directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented.

    Directive Leadership

    The first behavior that I focused on is directive leadership. In this style the leader informs their followers of what exactly needs to be done, how the task should be completed, and the deadline in which the task needs to be finished, along with firm rules and boundaries. This form of leadership gives exact and specific orders to their followers in order to get a task done efficiently and effectively. This style is most effective when followers are unsure what the task is or is uncertain about the work environment they are in. There are many different situations in which this form of leadership would be best. There has been a few times in my life where I have experienced directive leadership from others. One example was this summer when I worked for my cousin.

    He owns Clays Lawn Care and needed an extra worker for a few weeks. His company has two crews running a day and so many houses that had to be finished within a certain time frame, that the best form of leadership for him to use was directive. Every morning he would meet all the employees in his shop with exactly what had to be done for the day. Each crew had a printed list with the order of the yards, the time frame in which they had to be completed, how high the mower had to be set, everything that had to be weeded around, and who was suppose to use the different equipment. This allowed every employee to know exactly what was expected of them so there was no confusion.

    In this particular situation, there are many advantages to using this form of leadership. One advantage is that it provides clarity to the task being performed. Employers who have a boss that uses directive leadership are not left questioning what their assignment is. Directive leaders provide crystal clear expectations of what to follow which can lower stress for the worker, keeping them more motivated. Having clarity helps improve the performance level, making the business more efficient and effective. Another advantage of using direct leadership is that it emphasizes safety and security. Having rules and regulations go hand in hand with being a directive leader. Workers are asked to do tasks in a specific way for certain reasons. Using big equipment means there is no room for error or employees could get hurt. That is why each day we had a list of what exactly was to be done at each yard and who was to use each piece of equipment. This allowed strict and structured orders to keep everyone safe. That is why this style of leadership is often used in the military, law enforcement, construction companies, and factories.

    Although directive leadership seems like a style that is only used in a business, there are many cases where directive leadership is used outside of work. For instance, coaches or captains for sports teams often use directive leader when running practices or during games. The use of directive leadership as a coach allows for structure, organization, and control of your team. From personal experience of having many different coaches, I have found that having specific instructions from a coach makes practices more effective and allows for more goals to be met. Directive leadership is one of the more common styles of leadership used in todays society. The leader must be confident in their ability to communicate information to others, and notice when a follower is resisting commands. This style of leadership is the easiest to learn but not always best to use depending on the situation. That is why the path goal theory focuses on multiple types of behavior.

    Supportive Leadership

    The second behavior focused on in the path goal theory or leadership is supportive leadership. Supportive leadership is less concerned about giving orders and more worried about showing concern for their followers. A supportive leader tries to make work more pleasant for the working by caring for their feelings and being friendly/ approachable. This form of leadership is more effective when task are physically challenging or relationships are mentally draining. When working for a business supportive leadership can be a more challenging style to learn because the leader has to be able to handle emotions well. These leaders have to be good at listening carefully to employees and able to help them deal with stress and confrontation between employees. This requires a certain amount of sympathy and compassion which is difficult for some mangers to accomplish.

    When working for a company having the manager or supervisors support is a great way to keep employees motivated so goals can be achieved. When leaders can be trusted and understanding is allows for others to open up. In my personal experience there are few leaders in my life that are able to accomplish this style. One person that is a successful supportive leader is coach Bass, the head football coach here at Quincy University. Over spring break the mens and women’s golf team went to a tournament in Memphis Tennessee. We needed an assistant coach to attend with us; coach Bass agreed to go even though he knew absolutely nothing about golf. Throughout the whole tournament he would walk with us individually making sure that everything was okay. Anytime that we would hit a bad shot he would be there to talk us up and help build our confidence for the next hole. By having him there, showing concern for our feelings and mental game, helped us score better individually and motivate everyone for the rest of the round.

    Having the ability to be a supportive leader is a great trait to have and there are many advantages to using this styles depending on the scenario. One advantage is that it gains trust of employees. When employees know they can have someone to turn to in a bad situation, it allows them to trust the people in higher position, therefore enjoy the job that they have and in the end do a better job. When an employee feels they are important or that their voice is heard, they feel valued and become more involved in day to day task, accomplishing more goals for the company. Another advantage to using supportive leadership is efficiency improves. When a company find a personal that can successfully use this strategy, the work atmosphere becomes more pleasant to be in. Having a manager show concern for employees well being makes employees more friendly and loyal to one another. One of the main goals of path goal theory is that motivation is key for a well running business. When leaders are able to show support it continues to motive all employees making goals more achievable within a business.

    Achievement- Oriented

    The third behavior/ style that path goal theory focuses on is achievement- oriented leadership. A achievement leader sets goals for their followers to achieve, majority of the time these goals are more challenging. These leaders expect their followers to perform at a higher level and be confident in their ability to meet these goals or expectations. This style of leadership is more effective in a professional work environment. One example of a position that is in more a professional work environment, where goals should be set is a sales rep.

    Path Goal Theory Developed in the ‘70s by Robert J. House. (2021, Feb 10). Retrieved from

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