Path-Goal Theory of Leadership Effectiveness

Path-Goal Theory of Leadership Effectiveness

The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership Effectiveness or simply, the Path-Goal Theory and Path-Goal Model is a leadership theory that states that the behavior of a leader should depend on the satisfaction level, motivation, and performance of his or her followers.

Note that the revised version additionally asserts that a leader engages in behaviors that complement the abilities of his or her followers, while also compensating for their deficiencies.

First developed by Robert House in 1971 and revised in 1996, the theory essentially argues that leaders should adjust their behaviors or leadership styles in accordance with the needs of their followers and to the situation in which the followers are working.

The theory further asserts that choosing the suitable leadership behavior would increase the expectations of the followers for success and satisfaction.

Leadership Behaviors According to the Path-Goal Theory

The iterations to the Path-Goal Theory throughout the years since its inception have resulted in the identification of a number of contingencies and thereby, several leadership behaviors. However, the earlier iterations take into consideration four behaviors: directive leadership, achievement-oriented leadership, participative leadership, and supportive leadership.

Below are the specific details of the four leadership behaviors associated with the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership Effectiveness:

1. Directive Leadership

The directive path-goal clarifying leader behavior or directive leadership involves a leader providing instructions about the tasks of his or her followers, including how each task should be performed, when it should be completed, and specific expectations.

A directive leader also sets clear standards of performance or makes rules and regulations that are clear to his or her followers. Note that some scholars have considered considerable overlaps between directive path-goal clarifying leader behavior, transactional leadership, and autocratic or authoritarian leadership.

Nevertheless, this leadership behavior is suitable for dogmatic followers and to those who prefer explicit supervision. In addition, this is also suitable for tasks characterized by ambiguity and complexity. Through a directive approach, the Path-Goal Theory argues that followers will have the clarity needed to focus on their jobs.

2. Achievement-Oriented Leadership

Otherwise known as achievement-oriented leader behavior, an achievement-oriented leadership is a behavior that focuses on challenging followers to perform their tasks at the highest level possible.

An achievement-oriented leader is someone who sets a high standard of excellence for followers while demanding continuous improvements or exploring room for further growth. Of course, he or she also needs to show confidence toward the ability of his or her followers to meet the expectations or standards.

The theory states that this leadership behavior is applicable in tasks that are ambiguous, complex, and challenging, as well as in followers whose individual performance determines the success of a team or entire organization. Examples of situations include sales environment, technical jobs, and science and engineering jobs.

3. Participative Leadership

Participative leader behavior oar participative leadership involves a leader inviting his or her followers to participate in decision-making or more specifically, consults with his or her followers for their suggestions before making a decision.

A participative leader essentially consults with his or her people to obtain their ideas and opinions, and integrate such into decisions involving specific situations. This leader builds and maintains an environment conducive for collaboration. Hence, participative leadership has overlaps with transformational leadership and democratic leadership.

Based on the Path-Goal Theory, participative leadership is ideal in situations that require teamwork. In addition, it is also suitable in a situation in which followers are highly autonomous and require control and clarity, as well as in ambiguous and unstructured tasks.

4. Supportive Leadership

Also known as supportive leader behavior, supportive leadership centers on the need to satisfy the needs and preferences of the followers, as well as on the need to promote the well being of these individuals.

In consideration of the aforementioned, a supportive leader is someone who is friendly and approachable. He or she goes out of his or her way to create a pleasant environment characterized by positive and friendly working relationships. The leader treats his or her people as equals and acknowledges their status in the team or organization.

The theory asserts that this leadership behavior is applicable in repetitive, unchallenging, and mundane tasks, as well as in followers who have low satisfaction level, need affiliation, and value human relationships. Essentially, this behavior is needed in situations in which tasks or relationships are psychologically or physically distressing.


  • House, R. 1996. “Path-Goal Theory of Leadership: Lessons, Legacy, and a Reformulated Theory.” Leadership Quarterly. 7(1): 323-352. DOI: 10.1016/S1048-9843(96)90024-7