When I worked as a recruiter for a staffing agency in Washington, D.C., I encountered leadership in a way that I did not see before in prior work environments. It was the first time that I worked alongside leaders to resolve obstacles, which helped me feel more competent in my work. I worked remotely, so I was never micromanaged. This was great, but it meant that I did not have a supervisor to rely on to resolve obstacles. I had to solve them on my end, but never on my own. My leaders were based in Chicago and North Carolina, and through video conferencing, they provided instructions or made decisions with me on how to handle various issues. My leaders were able to switch their leadership behaviors in a manner that best helped me. They knew when to ask me “how do you think we should solve this?” and when to tell me “This is what we need to do”. By doing so, I felt stable and confident when resolving issues and was motivated to learn more about how to perform my job as effectively as possible, knowing that I had the support and guidance from my leaders. What I did not know then was that my leaders were applying behaviors from the path-goal theory of leadership, called Directive and Participative behaviors.
The path-goal theory of leadership discusses how leaders motivate followers to accomplish designated goals. The theory suggests that it’s the leader’s responsibility to help subordinates overcome obstacles by adjusting the leader’s behavior in a way that helps the followers (PSU WC, 2016, L.6). This theory draws heavily from research on motivation and is different from other theories because it focuses on followers’ needs and motivations rather than tasks and relationship dynamics (Northouse, 2015, p. 117).
The path-goal theory is similar to the situational approach in that it encourages leaders to switch their leadership style when they think it’s needed to help attain the goal (PSU WC, 2016, L.5). When we learned about the situational approach, we learned about the behaviors that leaders demonstrate when trying to motivate their followers. Path-goal re-introduces these leader behaviors as part of the theory. To reiterate what those behaviors are, they are:
- Directive Leadership: characterized by a leader that gives followers instructions about their tasks.
- Supportive Leadership: characterized by friendly and approachable leaders that attend to the well-being and needs of their subordinates.
- Participative Leadership: characterized by leaders that involve their followers in the decision-making process.
- Achievement-Oriented Leadership: characterized by leaders that challenge their subordinates to perform work at the highest level possible and they enforce a high standard of excellence to improve their followers.
Like the situational approach, the path-goal theory does rely on the situation, but mainly how the situation is affecting the followers so that leaders can determine what the followers need in order to complete the tasks and overcome obstacles (PSU WC, 2016, L.6). This theory has been labeled as “complex and confusing” because leaders find it difficult to incorporate all the factors of the theory simultaneously when selecting their preferred leadership style (Northouse, 2015, P. 125). However, I do believe that applying it correctly can help many employees feel confident in their own abilities and can eventually lead to employees being autonomous in resolving obstacles in the work environment.
Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice 8th Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing. Retrieved June 3, 2020
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style and Situational Approaches. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/canvas/su20/2205min-5439/content/06_lesson/printlesson.html
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). Psych 485 Lesson 6: Contingency & Path-Goal Theories. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/canvas/su20/2205min-5439/content/07_lesson/printlesson.html