House’s Path Goal Theory

Robert House believed the main role of a leader is to motivate his followers by increasing or clarifying the personal benefits of striving for and reaching the group’s goal and clarifying and clearing a path to achieving the group’s goals.

His theory matched ways of behaving to sets of circumstances.  The circumstances in Path-Goal theory are driven by follower characteristics and workplace characteristics.

Follower characteristics: What do they believe about their own abilities? Where does control reside?  What is the attitude to power and those in power?

Workplace characteristics: Is the task repetitive, interesting, predictable or structured? What is the leader’s formal authority? And is there a sense of group cohesion?

He took these circumstances and matched them to four different leadership styles:

Directive: In the directive style, the leader provides clear direction on goals, tasks and performance standards.  The work will normally be complex and unstructured and followers will usually lack experience and accept a high degree of outside control.  There is little emphasis on personal payoffs for reaching the goal because the work is inherently satisfying.

Supportive: The supportive style puts more emphasis on improving the work environment and looking after individuals’ welfare.  It makes sense to adopt this approach when the followers can perform their tasks skilfully with confidence and do not want close supervision, but do need someone to help reduce the stress that may arise from doing a repetitive task.

Participative: The leader adopting the participative style is facing followers who are similar to those in the supportive style, however, here the work is much less structured, repetitive and predictable.  With this approach, the leader consults their colleagues on decisions and takes their opinions and ideas into account, strengthening the path-goal connection in three ways;

  • The leader aligns followers’ values and concerns with the goals
  • The leader ensures the team are happy with how they are going to achieve the goals
  • The leader gives followers a greater sense of autonomy and satisfaction, improving their motivation

Achievement: The achievement-orientated style is all about encouraging followers to attain outstanding results that they may not aim for on their own.  It makes sense when the followers know what to do and how to do it and are confident they can carry out their tasks. But, they also accept the idea of the leader setting ambitious goals and continue to respect him or her.

Path-Goal theory argues that leaders should vary behaviour according to the situation and the problems or opportunities it presents, encouraging a leader to vary his mind-set and behaviour as needed.

House, Robert J. (1996). Path-Goal Theory Of Leadership: Lessons, Legacy, And A Reformulated Theory. The Leadership Quarterly 7.3 (1996): 323-352. Web.