Leadership Theories: Path-Goal Leadership Theory

Leadership Theories:
A scholarly Leadership overview

The Leadership Success Institute and Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.

Classic or Traditional Leadership Theories

In this series of articles I will review traditional leadership theories, specifically Functional Leadership, Transactional Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Charismatic Leadership, Situational Leadership, Path-Goal theory, Leadership Behavior Grid and Leadership Trait theory.

This the seventh in a series of leadership theory articles from The Leadership Success Institute and Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.

Path-Goal Theory

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) concluded that “a review of other writers reveals that most management writers agree that leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an individual or group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation” (p. 86).

Another situation-based leadership theory is the path-goal theory, which is built upon the expectancy theory of organizational motivation. The early work by Georgopolous, Mahoney, and Jones (1957) was followed by the work of Evans (1970). Both the 1957 and 1970 works concluded that a successful leader is one who shows his or her followers the potential rewards that are available for completing assignments and fulfilling the job. House (1971) suggested that a successful leader shows the path or behaviors through which a follower will receive potential rewards (pp. 321-338). Expectancy theory argues that when workers believe that successful task completion will consistently provide a path to a valuable goal, they will be motivated to be productive.

House and Mitchell (1974) concluded that a leader’s communication style and selected situational factors would influence the ability of the leader to motivate followers. House and Mitchell identified four leader communication styles: (a) directive leadership, (b) supportive leadership, (c) participative leadership, and (d) achievement-oriented leadership. They identified five path-goal theory factors, which are: (a) leader communication style, (b) directive, (c) supportive, (d) participative, and (e) achievement-oriented (pp. 81-97). Path-goal theory seeks to explain and correlate follower motivation and personal satisfaction in terms of the leader’s behavior and the task structure. Path-goal theory as presented does not appear to take into account the various situational variables that can materially affect the relationship in the triad of leaders, followers, and tasks.

Hersey and Blanchard (1977, 1988) divided leader behavior into relationship aspects and task aspects. They make the case that the maturity level of the followers is a material factor in determining which behaviors a leader selects as appropriate. The Hersey and Blanchard (1969) model of situational leadership was built on the foundation of works by Argyris (1962), Blake, Mouton, Barnes, and Greiner (1964), Fiedler (1967), Halpin (1956), Korman (1966), and Stogdill and Coons (1957).

Hersey and Blanchard (1969, 1972) borrowed the “management grid” originally developed by Blake and Mouton (1964) and later renamed by Blake and McCanse (1991) the “leadership grid.” Hersey and Blanchard (1969, 1972) also incorporated concepts of the “maturity-immaturity theory” of Argyris (1964).

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