Path-goal leadership is a conceptually complex theory of leadership suggesting that each type of leadership behavior has a different effect on worker’s motivation, and explains how leaders can help followers accomplish goals by selecting the behaviors which are best suited to their needs (Northouse, 2016, pp. 116). The most important concepts in this theory include follower characteristics, such as the satisfaction and self-confidence of the worker, and task characteristics, such as the quality of the authority system, the extent of the task instructions, and group norms. According to the theory, the extent to which a leadership behavior is motivating to followers depends on those two factors. There are four styles of leadership behavior established in path-goal theory which are directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented (Northouse, 2016, pp. 117). An effective leader uses the interchanging of the styles to complement or supplement what is missing in the work environment (PSU WC, 2016, L.6).
There has been only one time in my life that I have experienced leadership as described in the path-goal theory. A couple years ago, I started a new job after leaving my old one at a call center due to the ineffectiveness of the management. The leaders there used a predominately achievement-oriented approach and cared more about the amount of calls we made than if we felt respected or motivated, and it left my coworkers and I dreading coming to work. It was no surprise that a handful of us left in the same month. When I got my new job at a local family-owned restaurant, I did not know what I was expecting in terms of management style, but I was pleasantly surprised. On my first day, I met the manager and nearly all of my coworkers. We all talked informally and very pleasantly in a way that made me feel a strong connection to the group already. I immediately got the sense that the group norms were much stronger than at my old job. Everyone seemed to truly have a sense of mutual respect for each other. During my time there, I got to know why that was. My team leader always reminded us that without our hard work, there would be no restaurant for him to manage. He designed a vision board to hang in the break room that he would fill out every week outlining our goals and always made sure we knew what we were doing and why we were doing it. He also made it his number one priority at all times to maintain a culture of open communication, trust, and mutual respect among everybody despite who you were and what jobs you did. We never felt like the customer’s needs took priority over our own, which motivated my coworkers and I to prove our manager right. We would hardly ever slack off or make mistakes because we were (a) all 100% on the same page for the goals of the day, and (b) made to feel important because we were the ones keeping the doors open, not upper management.
My team leader at that restaurant could have been used as a case study on path-goal theory. Because of the behaviors and skills he was able to use in varying situations, we as workers were motivated and even excited to accomplish our goals and do our jobs. Because of the culture he instilled, we truly felt like the fate of the restaurant depended on our performance and we wanted to do the best job we could. He could be described as a supportive leader in a day-to-day situation or a directive one on special occasions where our jobs became more ambiguous and required more guidance. He could be achievement-oriented when he knew you were not operating at full potential or participative on those autonomous days where shipments came in.
Path-goal theory, while it can be confusing, provides a practical model of leadership that helps us understand how various leadership behaviors affect the production of workers and helps leaders see the different ways they can motivate their subordinates (PSU WC, 2016, L.6). The case of my team member at my old restaurant job clearly demonstrates the use of various leadership behaviors and how they influenced our job performance. The motivation we felt towards accomplishing our goals came from leadership behavior that was flexible, supportive, and attending to our needs as employees.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). Psych 485 Lesson 6: Contingency & Path-Goal Theories. Retrieved June 6, 2020, from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/canvas/su20/2205min-5439/content/07_lesson/printlesson.html
Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice 8th Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing. Retrieved June 6, 2020