How the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership can Help You Grow as an Executive

Executives no doubt have a huge impact on the organizations they lead. The path-goal theory of leadership can help executives evaluate their current roles and impact on employees. And now more than ever, it’s crucial for executives to evaluate their current roles and impact on their organization and employees, as well as level up their leadership accordingly to further grow as successful executives, bringing the company along with them. 

In the US, 50% of employees reported feeling stressed at their jobs on a daily basis, and only 33% reported feeling engaged. Businesses with employees who are not engaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, while businesses with engaged employees have 23% higher profits. So, where does this all start? The answer is the obvious choice, an organization’s executive team. An executive’s leadership style and flexibility trickle down to each employee and overall affect the bottom line. And while executives ultimately can’t control individual employees’ every move, they can control their leadership style and the steps they take to improve. In today’s age, if organizations want to start seeing an overall rise in global metrics, executive growth and leadership is the first place to start.

In such a diverse workplace we now exist, it may feel overwhelming and difficult to cultivate a leadership style and skills that take into account every follower, especially as an executive with so many people under their leadership. However, there is a way: the path-goal theory of leadership. Understanding the path-goal theory can help executives determine the best leadership styles their employees need to best motivate and improve performance. In this blog, we’ll discuss what the path-goal theory of leadership is, how it can help executives grow, and how to start applying it. 

What is the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership?

All employees are not the same. One leadership style that may work for one employee may not work for another. The path-goal theory of leadership essentially says that all good executives and managers can motivate and lead all employees, maintain balance in the workplace, and work together more efficiently to achieve common goals. This is done through flexibility and executives picking a leadership method that best suits their employees and the work environment. 

This theory was formed in 1971 by Robert House, who believed that good leaders, just like employees, are not one-size-fits-all and that their actions and leadership styles adapt to the needs, motivations, and performances of the teams they lead. According to House’s theory, a leader should help team members identify their personal goals and organizational goals and then find a path to achieve both. Hence the name path-goal leadership. And because individual goals and motivations differ, a good leader must be able to modify their approach per situation, which is why adaptability is highly prized in the path-goal leadership theory. 

Path-Goal Theory Leadership Styles

Within the path-goal leadership theory, there are four different leadership styles, wherein House stated that a good leader is able to switch fluidly between the four as needed. The leadership styles include:

  • Directive, path-goal clarifying leader. In this leadership style, leaders clearly define what is expected of their team and tell them how to perform their tasks. Path-goal leadership theory argues that this leadership style has the most positive effect on people whose roles and tasks are ambiguous. Employees are also usually closely supervised with this type of leadership style, which makes it good for team members who are inexperienced and need more guidance.
  • Achievement-oriented leader. This leadership style involves setting challenging goals for team members, expecting them to perform at their highest level, and showing confidence in their ability to meet those expectations. This type of achievement-oriented motivation predominantly shows up in industries such as tech, sales, science, engineering, and entrepreneurship. This style also works well with employees who are comfortable working more independently or have strong problem-solving skills. 
  • Participative leader. Within this style, the leader seeks to collaborate with team members and include them in the decision-making process. This type of leadership is commonly seen when team members are highly involved in their work or have specialist knowledge. 
  • Supportive leader. In the supportive leadership style, the leader’s main role is to be responsive to the emotional and psychological needs of their team members. This type of leadership style is especially important in roles in which tasks or relationships can be physically or psychologically distressing. This style is also useful if employees need extra motivation, a confidence boost, or are dealing with a personal issue that’s affecting their work. 

How to Apply and Benefit as an Executive

Applying the path-goal theory of leadership to your role as an executive and experiencing the benefits from it is actually quite simple to start. To get started, you’ll need to understand your team’s situation and each person’s needs. Once you know these two aspects, you can start applying and adapting this theory to your leadership as you work with different people in different situations. 

Here are some tips for applying each leadership style after you’ve analyzed the situation, organization goals, and team member needs and determined which leadership style is most appropriate:

  • Directive leadership styles can be more individually intensive or time-consuming for executives since it is mainly task-oriented and usually require closer supervision. Because of this, this style is best applied in training or one-to-one mentoring situations.
  • If achievement-oriented leadership is best for a situation, goal, or team, you’ll be most successful when displaying a high level of confidence in each person’s abilities. Set high expectations for goals, create a list of objectives with a timeframe, and continue to motivate the team by expressing your confidence in their ability to achieve the objectives within the timeframe.
  • The participative leadership style is going to be most successful if you use it in a setting where your team is highly involved in the work being done to achieve organizational goals. You can best apply this through regular team meetings and check-ins for people to discuss goals and ideas, collaborate, come up with strategies, and achieve the goals together.
  • The supportive leadership style is great for executives showing concern and care for their teams and building a more supportive relationship between leader and subordinate. As a supportive leader, your main focus should be on creating an open, warm, friendly environment and being approachable to employees. 

How Can Path-Goal Theory of Leadership Benefit You

As an executive, you don’t just have yourself to think about. You have an entire organization and teams of employees to think about as well. This means your leadership styles, how you apply them, and your willingness to grow as a leader don’t just help you, they benefit the whole organization and everyone in it. 

Here are just a few of the many ways you can grow from using the path-goal theory of leadership and use it to benefit your organization:

  • Grow your leadership skills and effectiveness:  An executive is only as good as their leadership skills. If an executive is unable to be flexible within their leadership and unwilling to improve, it will trickle down the company line. The more you start applying various, adaptable leadership styles, the more you’ll grow as an executive.
  • Better relationships among team members: Good leaders have trust with their team members, and it’s easier for people to trust a leader when they display a willingness to adapt their leadership styles to best benefit the team members. Utilizing path-goal theory leadership styles will show that you put your team and their needs first and are willing to be the leader they need. 
  • Overcoming challenges and obstacles more efficiently: Challenges are inevitable within an organization. But it’s how you overcome them that makes a company successful or not. Strategy and leadership that best fits the particular challenge is a steadfast way to overcome obstacles more efficiently as a team. 
  • More clear and direct goal setting and achievement: Being an effective leader and executive not only requires you to guide teams in the right direction towards company goals but also requires you to be able to effectively identify and assist with goals clearly from the start. Before you can choose the best leadership style, you must have a clear definition of what measurable and achievable goals your team is working towards. 
  • A more functional and positive environment: Executives hold a lot of responsibility when it comes to the culture and work environment of the company. You can be the example and change you want to see in the company’s work environment by modeling adaptable and effective leadership through the path-goal theory concepts and leadership styles. When your leadership is more effective and positive, your teams and work environments are more functional and positive as a result as well.

The Bottom Line

A company and how its goals are achieved is only as strong as its leadership. As an executive with various leadership responsibilities and influence within an organization, understanding and applying the path-goal theory of leadership is beneficial for your own growth and the growth of the entire organization. Where other organizations may be limited in their executive leadership due to a one-size-fits-all approach, you can ensure you, and your company’s leadership maintains a competitive edge with adaptability and strong paths toward goal achievement. 

If you’re interested in learning about how Chris Dyer can help you effectively grow your leadership as an executive, get in contact

Chris Dyer is a company culture and leadership expert and CMO of PeopleG2, which has continuously been ranked as one of the best places to work. Learn techniques for leading meetings, creating company culture, dealing with change, creating a remote structure, and much more.