8 Path Goal Theory and Outstanding Leadership Theory

In 1971, Robert House introduced his version of a contingent theory of leadership known as the Path-Goal theory. According to House’s theory, leaders’ behavior is contingent upon the satisfaction, motivation, and performance of their subordinates. House argued that the goal of the leader is to help followers identify their personal goals as well understand the organization‘s goals and find the path that will best help them achieve both. Because individual motivations and goals differ, leaders must modify their approach to fit the situation.

Leadership Styles

House defined four different leadership styles and noted that good leaders switch fluidly between them as the situation demands. He believed that leadership styles do not define types of leaders as much as they do types of behaviors. House’s leadership styles include:

  1. Directive, path-goal clarifying leader: The leader clearly defines what is expected of followers and tells them how to perform their tasks. The theory argues that this behavior has the most positive effect when the subordinates’ role and task demands are ambiguous and intrinsically satisfying.
  2. Achievement-oriented leader: 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. Occupations in which the achievement motive was most predominant were technical jobs, salespersons, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
  3. Participative leader: The leader seeks to collaborate with followers and involve them in the decision-making process. This behavior is dominant when subordinates are highly personally involved in their work.
  4. Supportive leader: The main role of the leader is to be responsive to the emotional and psychological needs of followers. This behavior is especially needed in situations in which tasks or relationships are psychologically or physically distressing.

The Path-Goal model emphasizes the importance of the leader’s ability to interpret follower’s needs accurately and to respond flexibly to the requirements of a situation.

Outstanding Leadership Theory (OLT)

In 1994, House published Organizational Behavior: The State of the Science with Philip Podsakoff. House and Podsakoff attempted to summarize the behaviors and approaches of “outstanding leaders” that they obtained from some more modern theories and research findings. Using the Path-Goal model as a framework, their Outstanding Leadership Theory (OLT) expanded the list of leadership behaviors required to channel follower’s motivations and goals more effectively toward the leader’s vision:

  • Vision: Leaders are able to communicate a vision that meshes with the values of their followers.
  • Passion and self-sacrifice: Leaders believe fully in their vision and are willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve it.
  • Confidence, determination, and persistence: Leaders are confident their vision is correct and take whatever action is necessary to reach it.
  • Image-building: Leaders are cognizant of how they are perceived by their followers. They strive to ensure followers view them in a positive light.
  • Role-modeling: Leaders seek to model qualities such as credibility and trustworthiness that their followers would seek to emulate.
  • External representation: Leaders are spokespersons for their organizations (for example, Steve Jobs).
  • Expectations of and confidence in followers: Leaders trust that their followers can succeed and expect them to do so.
  • Selective motive-arousal: Leaders are able to hone in on specific motives in followers and use them to push their followers to reach a goal.
  • Frame alignment: Leaders align certain interests, values, actions, etc. between leadership and followers to inspire positive action.
  • Inspirational communication: Leaders are able to inspire followers to act using verbal and non-verbal communication.

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