With so many theories of workplace motivation and leadership out there, things can get muddied pretty quickly. Is there one theory that paves the way for an individual to rise to success and become an effective leader? Probably not. Is there one theory that encompasses everything an individual will need to become the next rising star of their organizational leadership team? Unlikely. But, I can say, that out of all of the theories out there, the path-goal theory is one that makes a lot of sense to me in terms of its practical application in the workplace.
Everyone has begun their employment career at an entry level position. Despite some of the theories insisting on some individuals being born leaders, the fact of the matter is, no one entered the workforce as a top-tiered leader at the age of 15. We all came in at entry level positions and relied on the guidance and motivational assistance of our leaders. Northouse (2016) states that the emphasis of path-goal theory is centered around the leader tapping into their followers motivations in order to help them follow the path to goal attainment. According to this theory, the leaders are to “complement and suggest what is missing in…provide rewards in the work environment that their followers need to reach their goals” (PSU WC, 2020). In that regard, the theory really makes the connection between the leader, the follower, and the situation. By gaining an understanding of the follower’s needs, the leader is should be able to strengthen the relationship between the leader and the follower as well as provide direction towards accomplishments.
One area in the workplace that greatly interests me is deviant behavior from both the leader and the follower. Why do certain individuals seem to go rogue and follow their own rules instead of the organizational rules outlined for them? Could this be a function of the lackluster or even toxic relationship between the leader and the follower? I have often wondered if a theory such as path-goal theory, has the potential to decrease the occurrence of follower’s deviant behaviors. Given that path-goal theory focuses primarily on the relationship between the leader and the follower, assigning the role of the goal-attainment facilitator, so to speak, to the leader, could it be that this particular theory deters follower’s deviance? And could it be that because the emphasis seems to be on encouraging growth and development of the follower by way of providing them the necessary tools and resources they need to reach goals, this would deter deviance on behalf of the leader as well? Narcissistic and self-righteous tendencies might be better controlled if the focus is intentionally required to be placed on someone else, rather than the leader focusing on themselves and their own gains. Finding empirical research that has been done investigating this has been a difficult feat.
While there is no sure bet, one size fits all, approach that is guaranteed to make anyone a successful leader, path-goal theory brings a lot to the table. This theory drives home the need for the leaders to understand their followers in order to make them successful which, in turn, makes the leader and the organization successful. It is imperative for every leader to form some sort of relationship with their followers. The nature of that relationship has the potential to be a defining factor in the productivity of the follower. Further, that relationship can also play a role in things such as determining the follower’s organizational commitment and job satisfaction which can only prove to be beneficial to the leader, follower, and organization.
Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 485 Lesson 6: Contingency &
Path-Goal Theories. Retrieved from