Path-Goal Theory – The Road to Success

path-goal theory team members

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Are you familiar with the path-goal theory? Do you know what an effective leadership style entails? A great part of being a leader involves being able to shape your leadership style according to the needs of the team that you are leading. And this is precisely what we are going to be talking about today. We will explore the so-called path-goal theory, look at what it means, why it is effective, and how you can apply it accordingly. Let’s begin!
path-goal theory team members

The Path-Goal Theory – The Basics

Martin Evans introduced the path-goal theory in 1970. He based it on the expectancy theory put forth by Victor Vroom in 1964. The expectancy theory basically says that the way a person acts is dependent on what he or she believes the reactions to his or her behavior will be. So if the outcome seems positive, it will motivate the person to behave in a certain way in order to achieve said goal. But what is the path-goal theory? Well, the path-goal theory works in a similar way. It is basically the idea that a leader decides on how to behave towards the team that he is leading. His behavior should benefit both the team and himself. The role of such a leader is to adapt to the working environment and his team’s characteristics, and lead them to success.
You could think of the path-goal theory as a road, or a process. The leaders decide how they are going to behave towards the team. They take this decision according to the needs that they show and the working environment. Then, they guide the members on a path that will eventually end in them achieving their goals. This is why we call the theory the path-goal theory. While taking the road to success, a great leader has to pay attention to keep his team satisfied, motivated, empowered, and productive.

Path-Goal Theory Steps

The path-goal theory is not a fixed process, but you should usually follow some basic steps. First of all, a team leader should think about the work environment and each of his or her team members, and establish their main characteristics. After that, he or she has to select the leadership style that best suits the team. The next concern is to know how to apply it in order to lead the team to success. Leaders will never be able to shape a successful team if they don’t know their team members, what they need, and how to motivate them.
In this respect, they can apply 4 different types of leadership contained in the path-goal theory. These types of leadership were created by taking into account the relationship that forms between the employer and employee, and the overall task structure, organizing, and scheduling. But without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the 4 types of leadership: participative, supportive, directive, and achievement-oriented.

The Four Types of Leadership

Three out of the four types of leadership in the path-goal theory are based more on the relationship between the leader and the team members. We only base one of them, the directive one, on establishing a clear structure of the tasks and schedule.

Directive Leadership

As a result of what we’ve stated above, the directive type of leadership entails the leader telling the team exactly what he or she expects them to accomplish. The leader will help the team clearly understand what they have to do. He or she will clarify how they should do it, and what is the time frame. You might want to try this type of leadership if you notice that the people in your team are not sure what their responsibilities are. Or if they need your guidance more than usual. At the same time, if the team members have little experience and the tasks are really complex, this leadership style might prove the most effective one.

Participative Leadership

This type of leadership entails the leader fully trusting his team members. Trust is necessary before consulting with them on what path to take. This leadership style involves a lot of trust and expertise. So you should only consider using it when you know your team is highly experienced. They should be able to provide you with pertinent opinions and advice.

Supportive Leadership

In this leadership style, the leaders will form a closer relationship with the team members. They will be approachable, even friendly, and they will show a lot of interest in the well-being of their team. The supportive leadership is perfect when the team needs a self-esteem boost. This can be due to really stressful work conditions or difficult tasks that they have to accomplish. For instance, if the work is really demanding, both physically and psychologically, you might want to consider the supportive type of leadership.

Achievement-Oriented Leadership

Finally, in the achievement-oriented leadership, the leader has high expectations about his team’s performance. He sets really challenging tasks and goals, but also highly trusts the team members to go through with them. You can use this type of leadership when you feel that your team members are not motivated enough. Also, if they need a bigger challenge in their work environment.

Path-Goal Theory in Sports

If we were to apply this path-goal theory to sports, what would we discover? Which leadership style you think works best when it comes to athletes and sports players? The answer depends, of course, on what type of sport we’re talking about. The athletes’ abilities and attitude, and what is the goal that the leader or trainer wants to achieve, also matter.
path-goal theory team
But just to give you a brief overview, you should know that in a directive leadership style, you would be giving really specific tasks and ways to take care of said tasks. Be as clear as possible and make sure everybody has understood what they have to do. If you want to apply the participative leadership, you will have to fully trust that your team members are prepared to take part in the organizing of the tasks and responsibilities. You should be able to share your thoughts and goals with them. At the same time, they should be able to contribute for a successful result.
If the achievement-oriented leadership sounds more like something you would want to apply, then be prepared to challenge the athletes as much as you can. Tell them exactly what you expect from them, and be decisive and confident. This will inspire the same attitude in them. Also, as you guide them, make sure they also have enough freedom to make their own decisions. Of course, this applies as long as their decisions benefit the entire team.
Finally, the supportive leadership is a great way to go if you feel like the athletes are facing really physically and psychologically challenging situations. Take time to nurture the relationship between you and your team members, and make sure they are aware of how much you support them in their endeavors.
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