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Leadership has been a mysterious and controversial topic of discussion. Researchers have tried to discover, what factors determine how a leader acts and what traits, abilities, behaviors, sources of power or aspects of the situation determine how well a leader is able to influence followers and accomplish group objectives. To demystify leadership many research findings and theories have emerged. One such theory is the path-goal theory.
Path-goal theory deals with how leaders motivate subordinates to achieve specific goals. The focus is on motivating the subordinate to enhance performance and satisfaction. To motivate the subordinates the leader’s behavior should match the characteristics of the subordinates and the work setting. Path-goal theory assumes that the subordinates will be motivated if they think they can perform their work, if they believe their effort will result in a certain outcome and if they believe that the payoff for doing their work are worthwhile. This theory uses the expectancy theory of motivation to explain how a leader can influence subordinate satisfaction and effort. In other words, the path-goal theory of leadership was developed to explain how the behavior of a leader influences the satisfaction and performance of subordinates.
In path-goal theory the leader is supposed to help the subordinate make through the path to productivity or goals. The leader can do so by defining goals, clarifies path, remove obstacles and provides support. The role of the leader is to help the subordinates do work to stay on the path to achieve the desired goals. To do this the leader used the following components of path-goal theory leader behaviors, subordinate characteristics, task characteristics and motivation. The leader behaviors are directive, supportive, participative and achievement-oriented. These leader behaviors, according to Northouse (2018) affect subordinates’ motivation differently.
In Directive leadership, the leader sets clear and concise standards and the rules, give explicit instructions. The directive leader lets the subordinates know what they are expected to do as well as providing specific guidance. I can recall instances when I instances when I have had directive leaders. For example, after college I joined the National Guard. During basic the drill sergeant told us that we were expected to follow commands without questioning. He would give the commands and we to executed. When there were tasks to complete whether it was the proper way to put on a gas mask or saluting an officer the standards and instructions were clear and precise. There is no doubt that the drill sergeants were using directive leadership.
Supportive leadership is concerned with the welfare of the subordinates. The supportive leader considers the needs of the subordinates, shows concern for their welfare. This type of leader takes cares of the subordinates by creating a friendly and comfortable working environment. My family owned a bakery and a restaurant. My aunt who managed both was a very supportive leader. I witnessed her supporting an employee who was having a difficult time while her mom was in the hospital. She helped a new employee who was from England acclimate to the island lifestyle. She was supportive to the worker who worked the wood fired oven because she knew how dangerous his job was.
A leader who involves the subordinates in the decision-making process, consults with them and take their opinions and suggestion into account is exhibiting participative leadership. My sister is the manager at a factory that makes filters for industrial air conditioners. She said that sometimes when there are defective products. She would ask the employees on the assembly line for their opinions. They also brainstorm how they could improve productivity and reduce incidents of mistakes on the line.
Northouse (2018) described achievement-oriented leader as a leader who challenges subordinates to perform work at their highest level possible. In Achievement- oriented leadership leaders have high performance expectation of subordinates. The subordinates are rewarded if expectations are fulfilled. I have seen achievement-oriented leadership on display at my workplace. Often, we are told that if complete a specific task we can leave early or do not have report on a planning day. Also, bonuses are given to those who have met or exceed expectation.
Besides leadership behaviors, subordinate characteristics and task characteristics are components of path-goal theory. Subordinate characteristics defines how a leader’s behavior will be perceived by the subordinated in a given work context.
Subordinates with a high need for affiliation will like friendly and concerned leadership and supportive leader would be ideal. Directive leadership would be most suited for the subordinates who have a strong need for structure because they need task clarity and psychological structure. For subordinates who has internal locus of controls need participative leadership because it allows them to feel in charge of their work and part of the decision-making process. Directive leadership works best for subordinates with external locus of control. The directive leader will help to lessen the subordinates feeling of anxiety about outside forces controlling the subordinates’ circumstances.
Task characteristics involves clearly structured tasks for the subordinates, group norms, established authority system. When all these characteristics are in place the subordinates will have little or no need the leader because the work will be motivating. However, if task characteristics are not in place, tasks are repetitious, ambiguous, the authority systems are not strong and group norms are weak then leadership need to be involve to provide and build cohesiveness, define roles and create rules as well as provide support, structure and motivation. In path goal theory the leader impact the performance, satisfaction and motivation of the subordinates by giving rewards to achieve the goal and removing obstacles to performance,
The strengths of path-goal theory are it provides a useful theoretical framework, it integrates motivation and it is practical. Some criticisms of path-goal theory are it is complex and confusing, it has only partial empirical support, it does do a good job of explain the relationship between leadership behavior and worker motivation, and it places a lot of responsibilities on the leader and not too little on the subordinates. This could foster dependency.
The Path-Goal Leadership Questionnaire is used to provide information for respondents about four different leadership styles- directive, supportive, participative and achievement-oriented. I took the Path-Goal Leadership Questionnaire to find out my style of leadership. After reviewing my scores, I found out that I am more supportive and directive leader than a participant and achievement-oriented leader. I was surprised that my lowest score, twenty-three, was in the achievement-oriented style category and less surprised that my highest score was in the supportive style category. I also thought that I was more a participative leader than a directive leader. None of my scores were in the high or low range. In fact, my scores had a one or two points difference from the hypothetical scores. It would be interesting to see if I complete the questionnaire again in a few months I would get the same results.
In the YouTube video, The Biggest Mistake a Leader Can Make, Evan Wittenberg identified betraying trust as one of the biggest mistake a leader can make. I too see betraying trust as major pitfall of a leader. According to Bennis and Goldsmith (2003) trust is the essential quality that creates a following for leaders and enables them to make a difference. We all want leaders we can trust. How could you continue to follow a leader who has betrayed you?
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