Path Goal Theory

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Name(s): Path-Goal Theory
Author: Robert House
Classification: Contingency or Transactional Leadership Theory Year: 1971, revised in 1996

In a situation where something needs to be done in a short time - such as emergencies and complicated situations in which there is a time constraint, this method may be preferable. The formulator of the theory, Robert House acknowledges that "all theories ....are ultimately incorrect..." and that "A theory which cannot be mortally in danger cannot be alive." [1] Hence, there is room for flexibility. The revised theory adds more with respect to group participation, making it more amenable to use in groups who are knowledgeable and intelligent. The Path-Goal Theory has a common sense ring to it and the ideas are easy to convey. The analogy to a path needing to be cleared and workers driven along it is an easy visualization.


This theory assumes that the group members do not know what is good for them. It is inherently undemocratic. If the leader has flaws the whole method stands a good chance of failure. Leaders are not always rational, and a course of action might be based on delusion, thus jeopardizing group members. The leader-led-task system could collapse, if there is too much dependence on the leader and where either something happens to the leader or he simply cannot carry out his leadership functions.


The path-goal theory, path-goal theory of leader effectiveness, or path-goal model can be considered as a variant on Transactional Leadership Theory, where the leader clearly is directing activity and the only factor that varies is the manner in which this is done. There are some aspects of Contingency Theory, as well, where various means of application vary with the situation. The leader sees a path that needs to be tread, one leading to the accomplishment of a goal and she or he attempts to clear it and get the group members to tread...
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