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In organizational studies, the path-goal model is a leadership theory that states that a leader's function is to clear the path toward the goal of the group, by meeting the needs of subordinates. The model was developed jointly by Martin Evans and Robert House.

The Path-Goal Theory developed by Robert House (1996) is based on the Expectancy Theory of Motivation. The manager’s job is viewed as coaching or guiding workers to choose the best paths for reaching their goals. Best is judged by the accompanying achievement of organizational goals. It is based on the precepts of Goal Setting Theory and argues that leaders will have to engage in different types of leadership behavior depending on the nature and the demands of a particular situation. It is the leader’s job to assist followers in attaining goals and to provide the direction and support needed to ensure that their goals are compatible with the organization’s goals.

A leader’s behavior is acceptable to subordinates when viewed as a source of satisfaction, and motivational when need satisfaction is contingent on performance, and the leader facilitates, coaches, and rewards effective performance. Path-Goal Theory identifies achievement-oriented, directive, participative, and supportive leadership styles. In achievement-oriented leadership, the leader sets challenging goals for followers, expects them to perform at their highest level, and shows confidence in their ability to meet this expectation. This style is appropriate when the follower suffers from a lack of job challenge. In directive leadership, the leader lets followers know what is expected of them and tells them how to perform their tasks. This style is appropriate when the follower has an ambiguous job. Participative leadership involves leaders consulting with followers and asking for their suggestions before making a decision. This style is appropriate when the follower is using improper procedures or is making poor decisions. In supportive leadership, the leader is friendly and approachable. The leader shows concern for the followers’ psychological well being. This style is appropriate when the followers lack confidence.

Path-Goal Theory assumes that leaders are flexible and that they can change their style, as situations require. The theory proposes two contingency variables, such as environment and follower characteristics, that moderate the leader behavior-outcome relationship. Environment is outside the control of the follower-task structure, authority system, and work group. Environmental factors determine the type of leader behavior required if the follower outcomes are to be maximized. Follower characteristics are the locus of control, experience, and perceived ability. Personal characteristics of subordinates determine how the environment and leader are interpreted. Effective leaders clarify the path to help their followers achieve theory goals and make the journey easier by reducing roadblocks and pitfalls. Research demonstrates that employee performance and satisfaction are positively influenced when the leader compensates for the shortcomings in either the employee or the work setting.

In contrast to the Fiedler contingency model, the path-goal model states that the four leadership styles are fluid, and that leaders can adopt any of the four depending on what the situation demands.


  • House, R. (1996). Path-goal theory of leadership: Lessons, legacy, and a reformulated theory. Leadership Quarterly, 7 (3), 323-352.
  • Moorehead, Gregory; & Griffin, Ricky W.. Organizational Behavior, Managing People and Organizations (7th ed.). Houghton Miffin Company. ISBN 0-618-30587-4.
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