In this paper I present a retrospective review of the
development and history of the path-goal theory of leader effectiveness. 1
briefly describe the origin of the theory. The theory is then summarized. The
various methodologies that have been used to test the theory and lessons learned
from empirical testing are discussed. Two legacies of the theory are described:
the substitutes for leadership theory and the 1976 theory of charismatic
leadership. A reformulated 1996 path-goal theory of work unit leadership is
The reformulated theory specifies leader behaviors that
enhance subordinate empowerment and satisfaction and work unit and subordinate
effectiveness. It addresses the effects of leaders on the motivation and
abilities of immediate subordinates and the effects of leaders on work unit
performance. The reformulated theory includes 8 classes of leader behavior,
individual differences of subordinates, and contingency moderator variables
which are related to each other in 26 propositions. The contingency moderators
of the theory specify some of the circumstances in which each of the behaviors
are likely to be effective or ineffective. It is argued that the essential
underlying rationale from which the propositions are derived is strikingly
parsimonious. The essence of the theory is the meta proposition that leaders, to
be effective, engage in behaviors that complement subordinates' environments and
abilities in a manner that compensates for deficiencies and is instrumental to
subordinate satisfaction and individual and work unit performance. This meta
proposition, and the specific propositions derived from it, are consistent with,
and integrate, the predictions of current extant theories of leadership.
Further, the propositions of the theory are consistent with empirical tests with
empirical generalizations resulting from earlier task and person oriented
It is my hope that the 1996 theory will be subjected to
empirical tests and that such tests will lead to a further improved theory to be
formulated at some future time.
It has been over twenty five years since the original
publication of the path-goal theory of leader effectiveness (House, 1971). Since
that time there have been between 40 and 50 studies designed to test
propositions of the theory. The results of these empirical investigations are
mixed, some showing support and others failing to support the theory.
Unfortunately, as Yukl (1994a) has noted, the theory has not been adequately
tested. This state of affairs is largely a result of the use of inappropriate
methods to test the theory. The use of inappropriate methods is partially due to
the methodological precedents established in the original tests (House, 1971),
as well as the prevailing norms in the 1970s and 1980s which were rather lenient
with respect to methodological and conceptual rigor. Further, the boundary
conditions of the theory were not adequately specified. Upon reflection I
believe it is now possible to specify the boundary conditions within which the
theory likely holds. I will discuss the above issues in greater detail below.
A number of lessons can be learned from a review of the
history of path-goal theory of leadership. In some ways the history of path-goal
theory reflects the history of the field of organizational behavior. In the
following sections I will briefly describe the origin of the theory. The theory
will then be summarized. The various methodologies that have been used to test
the theory and lessons learned from empirical testing will then be discussed. I
will then describe two legacies of the theory. A reformulated 1996 path-goal
theory of work-unit leadership will then be presented. Finally I will conclude
with a personal closing comment. ORIGIN
The path-goal theory of leader effectiveness was
developed to reconcile prior findings and anomalies resulting from empirical
investigations of the effects of leader task orientation and leader person
orientation on subordinate satisfaction and performance. Prior to the
introduction of the theory, the leadership literature was dominated by concerns
with, and research on, task and person orientation. The most frequently used
measures were the Ohio State leader initiating structure and leader
consideration scales (Stogdill & Coons, 1957). The findings were mixed. Some
studies showed positive relationships between these two variables and leader,
work-unit, or subordinate performance and satisfaction. Some studies found
either no such relationships, or a positive relationship between only one of the
two leader behaviors and dependent variables. Further, several studies showed
negative relationships between leader initiating structure and various
indicators of subordinate satisfaction (Bass, 1990; Korman, 1966).
The theory was stimulated by Evans' (1970) paper in
which the relationships between the Ohio State measures of leader consideration
and leader initiating structure and follower perceptions of path-goal
relationships (instrumentalities and expectancies) were assessed. Evans found
support for the hypothesis that the leader behaviors would be positively related
to follower path-goal perceptions in one organization, but not in a second
organization. At the time I read the paper by Evans, I was struggling to make
sense of a set of findings that indicated that the same leader behaviors had
different effects from sample to sample. The findings by Evans suggested to me
that the effects of the two leader behaviors are likely contingent on the
organizational context in which the leaden and followers worked.
More specifically, at the time I read Evans' 1970 paper,
I was thinking about some of my own recently computed findings that showed a
positive relationship between leader initiating structure and satisfaction of
subordinate white collar professional employees in research and engineering
departments of large manufacturing organizations. Such a relationship was not
found in prior studies. Rather, the literature at that time included only
reports of negative relationships between leader initiating structure and
subordinate satisfaction (Korman, 1966). Thus I was faced with an anomaly for
which I had no explanation until I reed the paper by Evans. Evans' paper
suggested to me that the relationship between structure and subordinate
satisfaction and motivation is contingent on the degree to which subordinates
needed clarification of the behaviors required of them in order to perform
effectively. Once I began thinking in terms of such contingencies and the effect
of leaders on subordinate motivation, a number of hypotheses came to mind. I
called Evans and asked him how he felt about my publishing a paper entitled,
"Path-Goal Theory of Leadership." He replied that his paper did not present a
theory, and encouraged me to develop one. Thus the theory was born. THE
The Scope Of The Theory
The scope of path-goal theory reflects the dominant
paradigm of the study of leadership through about 1975. Path-goal theory is a
dyadic theory of supervision. It concerns relationships between formally
appointed superiors and subordinates in their day-to-day functioning. It is
concerned with how formally appointed superiors affect the motivation and
satisfaction of subordinates. It is a dyadic theory of supervision in that it
does not address the effect of leaders on groups or work units, but rather the
effects of superiors on subordinates.
Consistent with the dominant leadership paradigm of the
time, path-goal theory is primarily a theory of task and person oriented
supervisory behavior. Also consistent with the dominant paradigm, it does not
concern the leadership of entire organizations, emergent-informal leadership,
leadership as it affects several levels of managers and subordinates in
organizations, political behavior of leaders, strategic leadership of
organizations, or leadership as it relates to change.
In the initial version of the theory it was asserted
that "the motivational function of the leader consists of increasing personal
payoffs to subordinates for work-goal attainment and making the path to these
payoffs easier to travel by clarifying it, reducing roadblocks and pitfalls, and
increasing the opportunities for personal satisfaction en route." (House, 1971,
In a later version of path-goal theory House and
Mitchell (1974) advanced two general propositions:
Leader behavior is acceptable and satisfying to
subordinates to the extent that the subordinates see such behavior as either an
immediate source of satisfaction or instrumental to future satisfaction. (p.
Leader behavior is motivational, i.e., increases effort,
to the extent that ( 1)
such behavior makes satisfaction of subordinate's needs contingent on effective
performance and (2) such behavior complements the environment of subordinates by
providing coaching, guidance, support and rewards necessary for effective
performance. (p. 84).
The essential notion underlying the path-goal theory is
that individuals in positions of authority, superiors, will be effective to the
extent that they complement the environment in which their subordinates work by
providing the necessary cognitive clarifications to ensure that subordinates
expect that they can attain work goals and that they will experience intrinsic
satisfaction and receive valent rewards as a result of work goal attainment. To
the extent that the environment does not provide for clear causal linkages
between effort and goal attainment, and between goal attainment and extrinsic
rewards, it is the leaders function to arrange such linkages. To the extent that
subordinates do not perceive such linkages when they do indeed exist, it is the
leaders function to clarify such perceptions. Finally, to the extent that
subordinates lack support or resources required to accomplish work goals, it is
the leaders function to provide such support and resources. Thus, consistent
with Katz and Kahn's (1978) definition of leadership, the role of the leader is
to provide the necessary incremental information, support, and resources, over
and above those provided by the formal organization or the subordinate's
environment, to ensure both subordinate satisfaction and effective performance.
According to the theory, leaders are justified in their role by being
instrumental to the performance and satisfaction of subordinates. INDEPENDENT
VARIABLES: LEADER BEHAVIORS
The independent variables of the theory are leader
behaviors. The seminal paper in which the theory was advanced (House, 1971 )
made assertions about two general classes of leader behavior: path-goal
clarifying behavior and behavior directed toward satisfying subordinate needs.
These behaviors were described generally but not defined operationally as part
of the theory. However, in the tests reported in that paper, The Ohio State
measures of leader initiating structure and consideration (Stogdill, 1965) were
used as approximate measures of path-goal clarifying behavior and behavior
directed toward satisfying subordinate needs. Subsequently, House and Mitchell
(1974) defined four kinds of behavior in more specific terms:
- Directive path-goal clarifying leader behavior
is behavior directed toward providing psychological structure for
subordinates: letting subordinates know what they are expected to do,
scheduling and coordinating work, giving specific guidance, and clarifying
policies, rules, and procedures. Directive behavior is one form of path-goal
clarifying behavior. Nonauthoritarian and nonpunitive directive leader
behavior was asserted in the seminal path-goal theory paper to reduce
subordinate role ambiguity, clarify follower perceptions concerning the degree
to which their effort would result in successful performance (goal
attainment), and the degree to which performance would be extrinsically
rewarded with recognition by the leader through pay, advancement, job security
and the like.
- Supportive leader behavior is behavior directed
toward the satisfaction of subordinates needs and preferences, such as
displaying concern for subordinates' welfare and creating a friendly and
psychologically supportive work environment. Supportive leader behavior was
asserted to be a source of self confidence and social satisfaction and a
source of stress reduction and alleviation of frustration for subordinates
(House & Mitchell, 1974). Supportive leader behavior was asserted to
increase performance of subordinates to the extent that it increases the net
positive valences associated with goal-directed effort (House, 1971). Thus
supportive leader behavior was expected to increase performance when such
behavior was contingent on goal-directed effort.
- Participative leader behavior is behavior
directed toward encouragement of subordinate influence on decision making and
work unit operations: consulting with subordinates and taking their opinions
and suggestions into account when making decisions. Participative leader
behavior was asserted to have four effects: first, to clarify path-goal
relationships concerning effort and work-goal attainment and work-goal
attainment and extrinsic rewards; second, to increase congruence between
subordinate goals and organizational goals, because under participative
leadership subordinates would have influence concerning their assigned goals
and therefore would select goals they highly value; third, to increase
subordinate autonomy and ability to carry out their intentions thus leading to
greater effort and performance; fourth, to increase the amount of pressure for
organizational performance by increasing subordinate involvement and
commitment and by increasing social pressure of peers.
- Achievement oriented behavior is behavior
directed toward encouraging performance excellence: setting challenging goals,
seeking improvement, emphasizing excellence in performance, and showing
confidence that subordinates will attain high standards of performance.
Achievement oriented leader behavior was asserted to cause subordinates to
strive for higher standards of performance and to have more confidence in
their ability to meet challenging goals.
Implicit Assumptions and Boundary Conditions
The initial version of the theory made four implicit
assumptions. First, it was assumed that individuals choose the level of effort
they will devote to their tasks on the basis of the degree to which they expect
to receive, or experience, valued outcomes as a result of their effort. Thus,
the theory makes a strong self interest driven assumption about the nature of
subordinates' work motivation. Second, the theory assumed that the propositions
of valence-expectancy theory of motivation (Vroom, 1964) were adequate to
account for individual work motivation. Valence-expectancy theory on which
path-goal theory of leadership rests implicitly assumes that individuals
cognitively calculate work outcomes contingent on the level of effort they put
forth and that they consciously choose the level of effort to be expended which
will maximize the attainment of valent outcomes. Thus path-goal theory of
leadership made a strong rationality assumption about individual work
motivation. In the reformulated theory advanced below, we define the first two
assumptions as boundary conditions for the path-goal clarifying propositions of
the reformulated theory.
The initial theory further assumed that the experience
of role ambiguity is stressful and unpleasant and that reducing ambiguity will
lead to subordinate satisfaction and effective performance. Role ambiguity is
experiencing lack of clarity about what is expected of one, how one will be
evaluated, and criteria for evaluation. Stinson and Johnson (1975) and Yukl
(1994a) note that some people like jobs in which duties and responsibilities are
not defined in detail and there is ample opportunity to define their own work
role. They therefore argue that path-goal theory rests on a questionable
assumption that role ambiguity is stressful. What Stinson and Johnson, and Yulk,
are talking about has little to do with role ambiguity as defined in path-goal
theory. Rather, they are concerned with latitude for description, not ambiguity
about evaluation criteria and process. I continue to assume that role ambiguity,
as defined in the original path-goal theory, is unpleasant and stressful.
Substantial evidence and managerial implications of this assumption were
reviewed in House (1970). Original data in support of this assumption were
presented in the seminal path-goal theory paper and in two additional papers
(House & Rizzo, 1972; Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970). An abundance of
empirical evidence in support of this assumption has been subsequently reviewed
by Jackson and Schuler (1985) whose meta analysis of over 30 studies clearly
shows that the experience of role ambiguity is dissatisfying and stressful.
Yukl (1994a, p. 290) also notes that the theory assumes
that reduction of role ambiguity will result in increased expectancies and that
sometimes role clarification may make it clear to individuals that successful
task performance and goal attainment is more difficult than the individual
initially expected (1994a, p. 290). Propositions 11, 12 and 13 of the
reformulated theory explicitly recognizes and deals with this possibility.
The mixed findings with respect to empirical tests of
the theory are in part likely due to the strong self interest and rationality
assumptions of the theory. Clearly individuals engage in behaviors that are not
self interest driven. One example of such behavior is organizational citizenship
behavior (Organ, 1988). The rationality assumption has been shown to hold only
under rather limited conditions. It is likely that the propositions concerning
path-goal clarifying behavior hold and are most predictive when it is possible
to rather accurately assess the probability of attaining valued outcomes,
contingent on high, medium, or low levels of effort. Thus, the propositions
concerning path-goal clarifying behavior are most likely invalid when
subordinates are under conditions of substantial stress (Fielder & Garcia,
1987) or uncertainty (Simon, 1987). Such conditions make it impossible to
formulate accurate, confident, and rational expectations of rewards contingent
on effort expended. It is most likely that propositions concerning path-goal
clarifying behavior hold under conditions of certainty or risk, and when
subordinates are not highly stressed. Under such conditions probabilities can be
assessed rationally. Therefore, these conditions satisfy the underlying
rationality assumptions of the theory. These are the boundary conditions of the
path-goal clarifying propositions of the theory. METHODOLOGY
Leader Behavior Scales
The original tests of the theory relied on convenience
samples of white collar employees that I had in my possession at the time I
formulated the theory. The leader behavior measurements consisted of precursors
to the Ohio State Form XII leader consideration and leader initiating structure
scales (Stogdill, 1965). The consideration and initiating structure scales were
assumed to measure leader supportive person oriented behavior and
nonauthoritarian directive path-goal clarifying leader behavior, respectively.
By use of the convenience data collected with these scales, I was able to
demonstrate the plausibility of the validity of the theory. The leader
initiating structure and consideration scales used in the seminal studies, as
pointed out in the original path-goal theory paper, are only approximate
measures of the leader behavior constructs of the theory. Unfortunately, by
setting the precedent of using approximate measures, I stimulated much
unintended mischief by subsequent scholars. This mischief has to do with
inappropriate measurement of the constructs of the theory. I discuss this issue
Confusion Over Scales: Measurement Issues
Unfortunately, several subsequent tests of path-goal
theory employed the subscales of the Ohio State Leader Behavior Description
Questionnaire (LBDQ) (Fleishman, 1957), the Supervisory Behavior Description
Questionnaire (SBDQ) (Fleishman, 1972), or items selected from these scales. It
is likely that these scales were selected due to the fact that Martin Evans and
I had both used versions of the LBDQ, due to confusion concerning the various
versions of previously published Ohio State Scales, and due to the availability
of these scales in the public domain.
Schriesheim and Von Glinow (1977) point out that the
dimensions of these questionnaires "...differ substantially from the constructs
of the theory ..." (p. 399). They state that these scales "...have been found to
measure very different kinds of behavior ...contain punitive, autocratic, and
production oriented items ...which are extraneous to the measurement of the
theory's leadership constructs." (p. 399, emphasis by the authors). Schriesheim
and Von Glinow go on to note that "...nevertheless nearly all tests of the
theory continue to use the Ohio State Leadership scales." (p. 399)
The leader initiating structure scales in the SBDQ and
the pre Form XII versions of the LBDQ do not capture leader coaching, goal
clarification, path clarification, the use of contingent rewards, or a number of
other work facilitating behaviors included in the path-goal clarification
construct of the theory. Further, the inclusion of production emphasis,
autocratic, and punitive items in these scales are inconsistent with the
path-goal clarification construct of the theory. In contrast the initiating
structure scale used in the seminal path-goal studies (House, 1971 ) did not
include any items descriptive of punitive, production emphasis, or autocratic
leader behavior. Thus, it can be argued theoretically that tests of the theory
based on the SBDQ and the pre Form XII versions of the LBDQ are not valid. Since
this issue is crucial to assessing the validity of the theory, I review the
relevant empirical evidence below.
Empirical Evidence Relevant to Measurement Issues
Schriesheim, House, and Kerr (1976) have shown
empirically how the differential findings using the various versions of the Ohio
State initiating structure scale can be explained in terms of the version of the
scale used and the occupational level of the subordinates of the leaders
studied. Schriesheim and Von Glinow (1977) reviewed prior tests of the theory.
They argued that form XII of the LBDQ is an approximate measure of the
theoretical path-goal clarification construct because it includes a number of
path clarification items but does not include autocratic, production emphasis,
or punitive items. They then showed that tests based on the form XII LBDQ scales
are more supportive of the theory than tests based on SBDQ and the pre Form XII
versions of the LBDQ. Specifically, tests of 5 of 7 hypotheses based on form XII
of the LBDQ and various subsets of items selected from this questionnaire were
supported. In contrast, only 3 of 9 tests of path-goal hypotheses based on items
from the SBDQ or the pre Form XII LBDQ were supported.
Schriesheim (1976) developed scales to specifically
measure path-goal clarifying behavior and supportive behavior in a manner
consistent with path-goal theory. Unfortunately his scales have not been used to
test the theory. Further, and not surprisingly, original data reported by
Schriesheim and Von Glinow (1977) showed that scales that correspond to the
theory produce results more consistent with the theory than the SBDQ or pre Form
XII versions of the LBDQ scales.
The theory asserts that when the task demands of
followers are ambiguous, nonauthoritarian leader directive behavior will be a
source of clarification and therefore instrumental to both follower performance
and satisfaction. The conclusion to be reached from the above empirical evidence
is that the inclusion of punitive, production emphasis, and autocratic items in
the SBDQ or pre Form XII versions of the LBDQ scales offsets the positive
effects of directive path-goal clarifying behavior. Consequently, tests of this
proposition using the SBDQ and pre Form XII versions of the LBDQ scales cannot
be considered valid tests of the theory.
The Ohio State leader consideration scales are also
problematic. These scales include items that describe participative as well as
supportive leader behavior. When tasks are unambiguous, supportive leader
behavior is predicted by path-goal theory to have a positive effect on follower
satisfaction and motivation. However, participative leader behavior is not
necessarily called for under such conditions, and may be inappropriate. Thus,
these items may obfuscate the effects of supportive leader behavior.
A further problem concerns the often found positive
correlation between structure and consideration scales of the Form XII LBDQ
(Stogdill, 1965). When the two measures of leader behavior are significantly
correlated, the prediction should concern the partial correlation of one of the
leader behaviors with the dependent variable, holding the effect of the other
leader behavior constant. The need for this procedure stems from the hypothesis
that each of the leader behaviors will have unique effects.
This procedure was rarely followed in the studies with
which I am familiar. Since several opposite predictions of the theory are made
for initiating structure and consideration, failure to control for the
confounding effects of the second leader behavior on the first completely
invalidates the test. Evidence for this assertion was provided in an early study
by House and Dessler (1974). Failure to use appropriate partial correlations
runs throughout the literature on path-goal theory and is a fatal flaw of many
of the tests of the theory.
The issue of appropriate measurement is important for
future development of the field of organizational behavior. The use of existing
approximate measures of constructs should be seriously questioned. Publication
of empirical research which follows this norm should be allowed only in
exceptional circumstances. Proxies
For Theoretical Moderators
The theory predicts that followers whose jobs are
satisfying, but which have unclear performance demands, will view
nonauthoritarian leader directive behavior as satisfying and instrumental for
performance. In contrast, followers whose jobs are dissatisfying, but which have
unambiguous performance demands, will view leader directive behavior as over
controlling and dissatisfying. Several authors have grouped respondents into
white and blue collar categories, or have grouped followers according to their
organizational level to test the above predictions. The assumption of such
grouping procedures is that white collar and higher level employees have more
satisfying, yet more ambiguous, task demands. While it is understandable that
one might assume blue collar employees to have less satisfaction and mote
routine and boring jobs than white collar employees, it is risky to make this
assumption since many blue collar workers are skilled craft-persons or high
level technicians doing challenging work. Further, many blue collar workers are
quite satisfied when doing routine work and even highly repetitive tasks.
The use of occupational or organizational level as a
moderator is also problematic. Subordinates' level of ability should increase as
a function of level unless one assumes that promotion is random and incompetents
are promoted as frequently as capable individuals. The high level of ability at
higher organizational levels should thus lessen the instrumentality of leader
directiveness. That is, leader initiating structure should theoretically be less
instrumental to high ability individuals at high levels.
However, ambiguity of role and task demands and
satisfaction increase and routineness decreases with increases in level, thus
making initiating structure theoretically more instrumental. Consequently, there
are multiple and contradictory moderating effects of level, thus making the use
of level an inappropriate moderator to test the theory.
The same rationale holds for the moderating effect of
level on relationships between supportive leader behavior and dependent
variables. Stress and challenge may increase with level thus requiring
consideration from the leader. However, satisfaction with the job, job
conditions, and compensation increase along with ability to cope, thus
offsetting the need for supportive leadership.
This analysis shows that findings based on the use of
surrogates to measure the constructs of the theory have resulted in tests that
have multiple interpretations and are not adequate to assess the validity of the
Another problem with tests of the theory to date is that
its intervening variables have seldom been assessed. The following five
variables are the intervening motivational variables of the theory: intrinsic
valence of behavior, expectancy that effort leads to accomplishment, intrinsic
valence of goal accomplishment, expectancy that goal accomplishment leads to
valent rewards, and the valence of rewards available to followers. The theory
asserts that leaders have a direct influence on these variables and that these
variables in turn influence subordinate satisfaction, effort, and performance.
To my knowledge there have been no tests of the effects of leader behavior on
follower valences. Further, the only test of the effects of leader behavior on
follower expectancies is that of House and Dessler (1974) which yielded rather
strong support for the theory based on two independent samples.
Most of the tests of the theory have assessed the
effects of observed leader behavior on followers' satisfaction and performance.
While the original theory predicted effects of leader behavior on these
variables, adequate operationalization of these predictions requires that other
potential sources of variance in satisfaction and performance be controlled. To
my knowledge, none of the reported studies have employed such controls.
Because there are so many additional intervening
variables that may effect performance and satisfaction, the prevailing
literature does not include adequately controlled tests of the prediction of
path-goal theory, with the exception of tests which use satisfaction with
supervision as a dependent variable. When performance is measured, other causes
of performance should be controlled in order for tests of the theory to be
adequate. Almost all of the tests of the theory are based on concurrent
variation rather than longitudinal tests. In the seminal paper, I suggested
experimental as well as correlational tests of the theory (House, 1971, p. 337).
Further, almost all of the studies rely on self support
data with respect to the moderator variables. Such moderator variables may
reflect social desirability response bias. That is, respondents may be unwilling
to describe their jobs, themselves, or their environment in socially undesirable
terms. To do so would imply that they are stuck in bad jobs, are "undesirable"
persons, or work for undesirable organizations which in turn reflect badly on
themselves. Adequate tests of the theory should include independent measures of
moderator variables. Exceptions to this concern individual differences. Again,
the point to be stressed here is that there have been many cognitive gaps
between the theory and its tests.
The conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that
methodological problems associated with prior tests of the theory render these
tests not directly applicable to the theory. Consequently, there are so many
possible interpretations of the empirical findings that it is impossible to
assess die validity of the theory at this time. This is the basis of Yukl's
(1994a) assertion that the theory has not yet been adequately tested. LESSONS
Clearly, the lesson learned from the above observations
is that measures that only approximate constructs of a theory should not be used
to test the theory. Rather, with each new theory advanced it will likely be
necessary to develop and validate measures specifically designed to test the
Further, the few longitudinal tests of the theory do not
control for extraneous situational variables or correlated measurement error.
While these are demanding criteria, it is important that they be met if the
field of organization behavior is to establish valid empirical foundations. The
only way to test for causal effects of leader behavior is to conduct controlled
laboratory or quasi field experimentation. To my knowledge, Ralph Katz (1977) is
the only one to have performed a controlled laboratory experiment to test the
theory. Katz findings supported the theory. Laboratory experimentation can be
used to test for causal inferences. Quasi field experimentation can be used to
test for causal inference and assess effect sizes as well.
The effects of historical context present another lesson
learned from the history of path-goal theory. At the time path-goal theory was
developed, valence-expectancy theory of motivation (Vroom, 1964) was the
prevailing motivational theory of the day. Path-goal theory of leadership took
as its underlying axioms the propositions of valence-expectancy theory. Since
then we have come to realize that individuals are not nearly as rational or
cognitively calculating as valence-expectancy theory would have us believe.
Viewing path-goal theory in this historical context merely reminds us that
theories of the day reflect other theories of the day. While this is to be
expected, and is understandable, it is not widely appreciated in the
organizational behavior community and is worth pointing out.
For 25 years, from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s,
students of leadership were trapped in the limited person and task orientation
paradigm of leadership. This paradigm, coupled with the prevailing rationality
assumptions underlying motivation theory, resulted in several theories that
ignore the effects of nonconscious motives, affect, symbolic leader behavior,
and leader behavior that appeals to emotions of followers. Several leadership
scholars have become aware of the importance of these variables which were
largely overlooked or ignored until the mid-1970s (Bass, 1985; Bennis &
Nanus, 1985; Burns, 1978; Conger & Kanungo, 1987; House, 1977; Sashkin,
1988). We still do not have theories of leadership as it relates specifically to
major organizational change, political behavior, or strategic competitive
organizational performance. Clearly, social scientists need to escape the
boundaries of prevailing paradigms and to question prevailing wisdom. LEGACY
Path-goal theory has given us a two-fold legacy. First,
the framework for analysis of leadership in terms of substitutes for leadership
offered by Kerr and Jermier (1978) grew out of early work conducted by House,
Filley and Kerr (1971). In the speculative discussion of that paper we advanced
notions of organizational formalization and occupational level as moderators
(substitutes) of the effects of leader behaviors. These notions were further
elaborated in the original statement of path-goal theory (House, 1971, p. 326).
Substitutes theory is an extension of path-goal theory in that it elaborates in
substantial detail many of the moderating variables suggested by path-goal
theory. The evidence relative to substitutes theory is mixed (Podsakoff,
Mackenzie, & Fetter, 1993). Yet it is widely cited in the organizational
behavioral literature and represented in most organizational behavior textbooks.
Second, path-goal theory led to the formulation of the
1976 theory of charismatic leadership (House, 1977). In contrast to earlier
leadership theory which primarily addressed the effects of leaders on follower
cognitions and behaviors, charismatic leadership theory primarily addresses the
effects of leaders on followers' valences, emotions, nonconscious motivation,
and self esteem. Charismatic theory has enjoyed considerable support from a
number of studies using a wide variety of methods and samples. (See Yukl, 1994b
for a review of the empirical evidence and House & Shamir, 1993 for the most
recent version of charismatic theory).
Charismatic theory grew out of path-goal theory notions
as a result of lengthy discussions between David Berlew and me. About 2 years
after the seminal path-goal theory paper was published, I began a rather
ambitious consulting project together with David Berlew. Having been a student
of David McClelland's about 15 or so years earlier, Dave Berlew had naturally
mastered McClelland's theory of personality. According to this theory, the
psychological nature of human beings can be explained fairly well by the
operation of three motives: achievement, affiliation, and power. These motives
are conceived as nonconscious motivators that can be aroused by a select set of
stimuli relevant to each motive.
I had read this literature prior to meeting Dave. I was
impressed with the achievement motivation training that had been conducted by
McClelland and Winter (197 D in India. Dave and I had many long discussions
concerning the McClelland theory of personality. Dave believed that effective
leaders articulate visions and empower followers by building their sense of
From my discussions with him, I concluded that effective
leaders also arouse motives that are relevant to particular followers' tasks.
Thus, I speculated that effective military combat leaders arouse the power
motive; effective leaders of social groups arouse the affiliative motive; and
effective leaders of salespersons, profit center managers, entrepreneurial
firms, and scientists and engineers arouse the achievement motive.
Motive arousal is equivalent to powerfully enhancing
valence (attraction) of particular kinds behaviors and outcomes. As a result of
motive arousal, the intrinsic valence of selected behaviors and outcomes is
substantially increased. From this line of reasoning, and discussions with
Berlew, I developed the theoretical notion that path-goal theory needed to be
supplemented with a set of propositions concerning leaders who empower followers
and arouse motives to enhance intrinsic valences.
If an image of such a leader is formed in the mind's
eye, that image is likely to be strikingly similar to the stereotypic
charismatic leader. Leaders who enhance follower selfesteem and arouse follower
motives appeared to me to be similar to charismatic leaders as commonly
perceived. I learned a great deal from my conversations with Dave Berlew. He was
a major influence on my thinking and the stimulus for the development of the
1976 theory. Thus, the 1976 theory of charismatic leader was conceived. It had
yet to be nurtured and brought to birth.
Later, while at the University of Toronto, I was visited
by an elderly gentleman who was very high up in the government of the People's
Republic of China. His position was something like the equivalent to that of the
head of the National Science Foundation in the United States. When he met me, he
stated, "I've been looking forward to meeting you because there are so few
Marxists in the field of organizational behavior." I asked, "Whatever led you to
believe that I'm a Marxist?" He said, "The path-goal theory. It is a theory of
the people! In your theory it is the needs and the conditions of the people that
determine the behavior of the leaders. According to the theory leaders are
justified only to the extent to which they are instrumental to follower
satisfaction and performance. It is clearly a Marxist theory." I now wonder what
he would say about the 1976 theory of charismatic leadership, which is clearly a
theory about how leaders change people rather than respond to them.
From this story, one can see how path-goal theory led to
charismatic theory. D.O. Hebb, a famous psychologist, stated that "A good theory
is one that holds together long enough to get you to a better theory." (Hebb,
1969, p. 21). Clearly, path-goal theory held together long enough (in my mind)
to set the stage for charismatic theory. Whether charismatic theory is a better
theory is still an open question. However, our recent research, and that of at
least 20 other investigators, much to my pleasant surprise, shows rather strong
support for the theory (Yukl, 1994b). THE
1996 PATH-GOAL THEORY OF WORK UNIT LEADERSHIP
The substantial amount of empirical research conducted
to test path-goal theory suggests that the theory is in need of reformulation.
In the light of this evidence, I suggest a number of propositions as a
reformulated 1996 path-goal theory of leadership. The reformulated theory is a
theory of work unit leadership. It specifies leader behaviors that enhance
subordinate empowerment and satisfaction and work unit and subordinate
effectiveness. It addresses the effects of leaders on the motivation and
abilities of immediate subordinates and the effects of leaders on work unit
The axioms of the theory are propositions assumed to be
true for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from them. The
following axioms of the theory provide the foundation for subsequent more
- Leader behavior is acceptable and satisfying to
subordinates to the extent that the subordinates see such behavior as either
an immediate source of satisfaction or as instrumental to future satisfaction.
This proposition is the first proposition advanced by House and Mitchell
(1974) in the second statement of the path-goal theory of leadership.
- Leader behavior will enhance subordinate goal
oriented performance to the extent that such behavior (a) enhances the
motivation of work unit members, (b) enhances task relevant abilities of work
unit members, (c) provides guidance, (d) reduces obstacles, and (e) provides
resources required for effective performance.
- Leader behavior will enhance subordinate
motivation to the extent that such behavior (a) makes satisfaction of
subordinate's needs and preferences contingent on effective performance, (b)
makes subordinate's tasks intrinsically satisfying, (c) makes goal attainment
intrinsically satisfying, (d) makes rewards contingent on goal accomplishment,
and (e) complements the environment of subordinates by providing psychological
structure, support, and rewards necessary for effective performance.
- Leader behavior will enhance subordinate task
relevant abilities to the extent that the leader engages in subordinate
development efforts or serves as a role model from which followers can learn
appropriate task relevant behavior.
- Leader behavior will enhance work unit
performance to the extent that such behavior (a) facilitates collaborative
relationships among unit members, (b) maintains positive relationships between
the unit and the larger organizations in which it is embedded, (c) ensures
that adequate resources are available to the work unit, and (d) enhances the
legitimacy of the work unit in the eyes of other members of the organization
of which the work unit is a part.
The seminal theory focused on the effects of leaders on
subordinates' motivation, satisfaction, and performance. Proposition 4 broadens
the theory to include effects of leaders on subordinates' ability to perform
effectively. Proposition 5 broadens the scope of the theory to include effects
of leaders on work unit performance as well as performance of individual
Variables: Leader Behaviors
The theory specifies ten classes of leader behaviors
that are theoretically acceptable, satisfying, facilitative, and motivational
for subordinates. In this section I define the behaviors specified by the theory
and advance propositions concerning the effective exercise of these behaviors.
Included in these propositions are specifications of the theoretical conditions
under which each class of leader behavior is likely to be most functional or
Path-Goal Clarifying Behaviors
A number of leader behaviors are capable of making
subordinates needs and preferences contingent on effective performance by
subordinates under a select set of conditions. These include (a) clarifying
subordinates performance goals, (b) clarifying means by which subordinates can
effectively carry out tasks, (c) clarifying standards by which subordinate's
performance will be judged, (d) clarifying expectancies that others hold for
subordinates to which the subordinate should and should not respond, and (e)
judicious use of rewards and punishment, contingent on performance. These
behaviors are referred to as path-goal clarify behaviors in that they
metaphorically clarify subordinates' paths to goal accomplishment.
The acceptability and motivational effect of path-goal
clarifying behaviors depends on the tasks performed by subordinates. According
to the original path-goal theory, path-goal clarifying behaviors will have the
most positive effect on subordinates when subordinates' role and task demands
are ambiguous and intrinsically satisfying. According to the original path-goal
theory, it was assumed that under such conditions path-goal clarifying behavior
by superiors will be seen as helpful and instrumental to task performance. Thus:
Proposition 1: When the task demands of subordinates are
satisfying but ambiguous, path-goal clarifying behavior by superiors will be a
source of clarification and subordinate satisfaction and therefore will be
The acceptability and motivational effect of path-goal
clarifying behaviors depends on subordinates perceptions of their abilities to
perform effectively and to resolve task and role ambiguity independently of
their superiors. Where subordinates perceive their task relevant ability as
high, path-goal clarifying behavior is likely to have little positive effect on
motivation of subordinates and to be perceived as excessively controlling.
Proposition 2: The higher the degree of subordinates
self-perceived ability relative to task demands, the less subordinates will view
path-goal clarifying behavior by superiors as acceptable.
In contrast, when subordinates' task and role demands
are unambiguous and not intrinsically satisfying, subordinates will see
path-role clarifying behavior as redundant and over controlling. Further, when
subordinates tasks are dissatisfying, path-goal clarifying behavior will be seen
as a means by superiors to induce followers to work harder at distasteful tasks,
thus, consistent with the seminal path-goal theory,
Proposition 3: When the task demands of subordinates are
unambiguous and dissatisfying, path-gal clarifying behavior will be
dissatisfying to subordinates, will be seen as over controlling, will be
resented and resisted and therefore demotivational.
Path-goal clarifying behaviors can be enacted in a
nonauthoritarian directive manner or in a participative manner. Participative
and directive leadership are defined above. Whether nonauthoritarian directive
leadership or participative leadership will be motivational to subordinates will
depend first and foremost on subordinates' level of personal involvement in
their work. When individuals are highly involved in their work, they take
personal responsibility for work quality, take pride in their work, and exercise
initiative and creativity to ensure work is accomplished. Consequently, when
highly involved in their work, individuals desire to have influence over
decisions that affect their tasks or themselves at work. Thus:
Proposition 4: When subordinates are highly personally
involved in a decision or a task and the decision or task demands are ambiguous
and satisfying, participative leadership will have a positive effect on the
satisfaction and motivation of subordinates.
Whether nonauthoritarian directive leadership or
participative leadership will be most effective in providing path-goal
clarification for subordinates with ambiguous and satisfying tasks who are not
highly ego involved in their work will depend on the level of subordinates
preference for independence and self directed behavior.
There are a number of personality traits associated with
preference or motivation for independence and self directed behavior: need for
independence, (Abdel-Halim, 1981; Vroom, 1959), authoritarianism (Vroom, 1959),
achievement motivation (McClelland, 1985), internal locus of control (Mitchell,
Smyser & Weed, 1975; Runyon, 1973), to name only a few. Individuals with
strong preferences for independence and self direction find participative
leadership to be valent, and individuals with strong preferences for dependence
and direction from others find directive leadership to be valent (Abdel-Halim,
1981; Runyon, 1973; Tannenbaum & Allport, 1956; Vroom, 1959). Thus, the
reformulated theory asserts that:
Proposition 5: Whether nonauthoritarian directive
leadership or participative leadership will be most effective in providing
path-goal clarification for subordinates who are not highly ego involved in
their work will depend on the level of subordinates' preference for independence
and self directed behavior. Specifically:
Proposition 5a: Individuals with a low preference for
independence and self direction will find nonauthoritarian directive leadership
to be valent. Therefore, when task demands are ambiguous and satisfying, for
individuals with a low preference for independence and self direction, directive
leadership will be motivational.
Proposition 5b: Individuals with a high preference for
independence and self direction will find participative leadership to be valent.
Therefore, when task demands are ambiguous and satisfying, for individuals with
a strong preference for independence and self direction, participative leader
behavior will be motivational.
As stated above tests of the hypotheses of the original
path-goal theory concerning the effects of path-goal clarifying behavior have
yielded mixed results. The failure to confirm these hypotheses are likely due to
the boundary conditions also described above. Thus:
Proposition 6: Propositions 1 through 5 will be most
predictive when it is possible to accurately assess the probability of attaining
valued outcomes, contingent on high, medium, or low levels of effort, and will
be less predictive when it is impossible to make such assessments accurately.
This proposition suggests that the effects of path-goal
clarifying behavior of superiors cannot be predicted from the theory when
subordinates are under conditions of substantial stress, or non-reduceable
uncertainty. Such conditions make it impossible to formulate accurate and
rational expectations of rewards contingent on effort expended. It is most
likely that the theory holds under conditions of certainty or risk, and when
subordinates are not highly stressed. Under such conditions probabilities can be
assessed rationally. Therefore, these conditions satisfy the underlying
rationality assumptions of the theory. These represent boundary conditions for
the above propositions.
Achievement Oriented Leader Behavior
Another class of leader behavior specified by path-goal
theory is achievement oriented behavior. Achievement oriented leader behavior is
defined above. Achievement oriented leader behavior is not merely performance or
goal emphasis. Through achievement oriented leader behavior leaders stress pride
in work and self evaluation based on personal accomplishment.
The effect of leader achievement oriented behavior will
depend on the achievement motivation of subordinates. Achievement motivation is
a nonconscious concern for personal involvement in competition against some
standard of excellence and unique accomplishment (McClelland, 1985). Individuals
who are highly achievement motivated are motivated to make accomplishments
through their own personal efforts rather than through influencing others or
delegation of responsibility for achievement. Individuals with high achievement
motivation set goals that are challenging, pursue them persistently and
vigorously, take intermediate levels of calculated risk, assume responsibility
for goal attainment, anticipate obstacles, establish strategies for goal
accomplishment and for overcoming obstacles, and seek and use feedback
information (McClelland, 1985).
Nonconscious motivation such as achievement motivation
predicts spontaneous behavior in the absence of stimuli, strength of motive
arousal in the presence of stimuli, and long term (as long as 16 years) global
behavior patterns such as patterns of friendship, leadership, family
relationships, and leisure activities (McClelland & Boyatzis, 1982;
McClelland, Koestner, & Weinberger, 1989; Spangler, 1992).
For subordinates who have a moderate to high level of
achievement motivation, achievement oriented leader behavior arouses
subordinates achievement motivation. Occupations in which the achievement motive
has been found to be most predictive of performance are technical jobs, sales
persons, scientists and engineers, and owners of entrepreneurial firms.
Individuals who are highly achievement motivated respond to achievement stimuli
such as tasks for which one can assume personal responsibility, tasks which when
performed well reflect upon the competence of the individual, tasks that require
moderate levels of risk and therefore are challenging, and tasks that provide
opportunities for development and performance feedback.
Achievement motivated individuals do not obtain
satisfaction from, and usually become frustrated by, tasks that rely on others
for effective performance. Consequently, a high level of achievement motivation
is dysfunctional for higher level managers whose effectiveness depends on
effective delegation (House, Spangler, & Woycke, 1991; Spangler & House,
Proposition 7: Achievement oriented leader behavior will
be effective when enacted by superiors who manage subordinates who have
individual responsibility and control over their work.
Proposition 8: Achievement oriented leader behavior will
be most motivational for subordinates who are moderately or highly achievement
Proposition 9: Achievement oriented leader behavior will
enhance the valence of performance and increase the intrinsic satisfaction of
moderately to highly achievement motivated subordinates.
Leader behaviors that facilitate work consists of
planning, scheduling, and organizing work; personally coordinating the work of
subordinates; providing mentoring, developmental experiences, guidance,
coaching, counseling and feedback to assist subordinates in developing the
knowledge and skills required to meet expectancies and performance standards;
reducing obstacles to effective performance of subordinates by eliminating
roadblocks, bottlenecks, providing resources; and authorizing subordinates to
take actions and make decisions necessary to perform effectively. The following
discussion and propositions specify the conditions under which work facilitation
leader behaviors are likely to be effective.
The ability of a work unit leader to effectively plan,
schedule, and organize work and to coordinate work through formal mechanisms
depends on the degree to which the technology is understood and the work demands
are predictable. Technological uncertainty, that is unclear and unknown cause
and effect relationships concerning the activities that lead to effective
performance, mitigates against one's ability to plan, schedule, and organize
work and to coordinate work through pre-arranged coordinative systems.
Similarly, unpredictable changing competitive and
environmental conditions have the same effect. Carl Von Clausewitz (Hartwick
Case, 1993), the philosopher of military strategy, articulates the problem of
adhering to a plan of action. He asserts that uncertainty and chance are the
province of war. Similarly, uncertainty and chance are the province of intensive
competition. According to Von Clausewitz, under conditions of uncertainty and
chance, "... we do not gain all our experience at once, but by degrees: thus our
determinations continue to be assailed incessantly by fresh experience, and the
mind, if we may use the expression, must always be "under arms." (p. 6)
Conditions of uncertainty and unpredictability therefore
require a personal rather than formal planned coordination of work. Thus:
Proposition 10: When the work of the unit is free of
technological uncertainty, and the demands imposed upon the work unit are
predictable, leader planning, scheduling, organizing, and the establishment of
formal pre-arranged coordination mechanisms will facilitate the work of the unit
Proposition II: When the work of the unit is
characterized by technological uncertainty or the external demands imposed upon
the unit are unpredictable, personal coordination of the work by the leader or
reciprocal coordination by members of the work unit will facilitate work unit
Which of these two modes of coordination will be most
effective will depend on the level of ability of work unit members. Thus:
Proposition 11a: When work unit members do not have task
relevant knowledge and experience, personal coordination of uncertain work by
the leader will facilitate work unit goal accomplishment.
Proposition 11b: When work unit members have substantial
task relevant knowledge and experience, coordination of uncertain work by
reciprocal coordination among work unit members will facilitate work unit goal
Proposition 11c: Under the conditions specified in
Proposition lib, work unit effectiveness will be enhanced by delegation of
responsibility for reciprocal coordination to work unit members.
Similarly, the degree to which it is necessary to
provide mentoring, developmental experiences, guidance, coaching, counseling,
and feedback for current performance effectiveness depends on the task relevant
knowledge and experience of work unit members. It is possible that the process
of clarifying path-goal relationships described above will result in making
subordinates aware that effective performance is more difficult than they had
believed. When this occurs, the role of the leader is to facilitate the
development of subordinates or remove obstacles to their effective performance.
Proposition 12: When work unit members lack task
relevant knowledge and experience, developmental efforts on the part of
superiors will enhance work unit effectiveness.
A similar rationale holds with respect to supervisory
behavior directed toward reduction of obstacles.
Proposition 13: When subordinates lack the necessary
task relevant knowledge and experience, supervisory efforts to reduce obstacles
faced by subordinates will facilitate work unit accomplishment.
Proposition 13a: When subordinates have the necessary
task relevant knowledge and experience, supervisory delegation of authority to
subordinates to reduce work related obstacles will facilitate work unit
Supportive Leader Behavior
Supportive leader behavior is described above.
Supportive leader behavior provides psychological support for subordinates. Such
behavior is especially needed under conditions in which tasks or relationships
are psychologically or physically distressing. Supportive relationships increase
the quality of relationships between superiors and subordinates (Graen &
Cashman, 1975) and decreases subordinate stress. Under conditions of stress
individuals are unable to use their intelligence and rely on experience.
Consequently, intelligence becomes negatively related to performance (Fledler
& Garcia, 1987). Therefore, as a consequence, supportive leader behavior
individuals are better able to maximize the application of their intelligence.
The following propositions are consistent with the propositions concerning
supportive leader behavior stated in the seminal path-goal theory. These
propositions have been supported in a number of studies (House & Dessler,
1974; Katz, 1977; Schriesheim & Yon Glinow, 1977).
Proposition 14: When subordinates' tasks or work
environment are dangerous, monotonous, stressful or frustrating, supportive
leader behavior will lead to increased subordinate effort and satisfaction by
enhancing leader subordinate relationships and self-confidence, lowering stress
and anxiety, and compensating for unpleasant aspects of the work.
Proposition 15: When tasks are intrinsically satisfying
or environmental conditions are not stressful supportive leader behavior will
have little effect on follower satisfaction, motivation, or performance.
These propositions have been supported in a number of
studies (Downey, Sheridan, & Slocum, 1975, 1976; Fulk & Wendler, 1982;
Greene, 1974; House, 1971; House & Dessler, 1974; Schriesheim & Von
Glinow, 1977; Stinson & Johnson, 1975).
Leader behavior that facilitates collaborative and
positive interaction consists of resolving disputes, facilitating communication,
giving the minority a chance to be heard, emphasizing the importance of
collaboration and teamwork, and encouraging close satisfying relationships among
members. These behaviors are of special relevance when the work of group members
is interdependent. Thus:
Proposition 16: Leader behavior directed toward
interaction facilitation will increase work unit cohesiveness and reduce
voluntary absenteeism and attrition.
Proposition 16a: Leader behavior directed toward
interaction facilitation will increase work unit effectiveness when the work of
the unit members is interdependent and the norms of the work group encourage
unit members performance.
Proposition 16b: Leader behavior directed toward
interaction facilitation will be unnecessary, will increase social nontask
related communication, but will not increase work unit effectiveness when the
work of the unit members is not interdependent.
Group Oriented Decision Process
Another class of work unit leader behavior concerns the
manner by which decisions that affect the group are made. According to Maier
(1963) the effectiveness of decisions are determined by the degree to which
decisions meet physical and economic requirements, referred to as decision
quality, and the degree to which decisions are acceptable to individuals who
influence the implementation of decisions. A substantial program of experimental
research conduced by Maier (1963,1967) demonstrates that the use of the group
oriented decision making process substantially increases decision acceptance and
quality. Group decision making is a special case of participative leadership
requiring some leader skills that are different from participative leadership
between superiors and subordinates as dyads.
The group decision process consists of a number of
specific behaviors by group or work unit leaders: posing problems, not solutions
to the group, searching for and identifying mutual interests of group members
with respect to solving problems, encouraging all members of the group to
participate in discussion, ensuring that the participation is balanced so that
all contribute and no single individual dominates the discussion, searching for
alternatives, delaying evaluation of alternatives until the group members have
exhausted their ability to generate alternatives, encouragement of the group to
evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative, and combining the
advantages into a creative solution. When problems can be segmented into parts
for analysis, effective group leaders also allocate parts of the problems to
individuals or subgroups who have special expertise with respect to the problem
topic. The research by Meier (1967) and numerous others suggests the following
Proposition 17: When mutual interests among work unit
members with respect to solving problems or making effective decisions exists or
can be established, the group decision process will increase both decision
quality and decision acceptance.
Proposition 18: When decisions require acceptance by
group members for implementation, inclusion of group members in the decision
process whose acceptance is required will increase decision acceptance.
Proposition 19: When group members have expertise
relevant to the technical or economic quality of decisions, inclusion of group
members in the decision process who have relevant expertise will increase
Proposition 20: A boundary condition for the successful
application of propositions 17, 18 and 19 is that a mutual interest in making
effective decisions exists or can be established among the group members
Representation and Networking
Work units require resources to perform the tasks for
which they are responsible. The ability of work units to acquire necessary
resources depends on their relative power within their organizations and on
their legitimacy in the eyes of those upon whom they are dependent. Work units
on whom others depend for resources, performance, or information enjoy a
relatively high degree of power and therefore are able to obtain the resources
necessary to perform their functions and reward work unit members for effective
performance (Mintzberg, 1983; Pettigrew, 1973; Pfeifer, 1981). Work units that
do not control resources, information, or performance of other units must rely
on their perceived legitimacy in order to require such resources. Effective
representation of work units contributes to their perceived legitimacy.
Consequently, a critical function of leaders of such work unit leaders is work
Group representation includes presentation of the group
in a favorable manner and communicating the importance of its work to other
members of the organization of which the group is a part. According to Yukl
(1994a), such representation is enhanced by effective networking of work unit
leaders. Networking involves maintaining positive relationships with influential
others. Also according to Yukl (1994a), positive relationships are developed by
entering into exchanges with others and being an effective trading partner,
keeping in touch with network members, joining groups that offer opportunities
to make contacts, participating in organization wide social functions and
ceremonies, giving others unconditional favors, showing appreciation for favors
and the work of others, and showing positive regard for others. This discussion
of representation and networking suggests the following propositions:
Proposition 21: Work unit legitimacy and ability to
obtain resources will be enhanced by active representation and networking by
work unit leaders.
Proposition 22: Active representation and networking by
work unit leaders will have a more positive effective on work units with
relatively lower inter-organizational power compared to other work units.
Value Based Leader Behavior
Since the mid-1970s there has been developed a body of
leadership literature concerning leaders who accomplish extraordinary follower
commitment, identification with leader or organizational goals, and performance
above and beyond the call of duty. Theoretically such effects are accomplished
by appealing to subordinates' cherished values and nonconscious motives and by
engaging their self perceived identities, enhancing their self efficacy and
sense of consistency, and making their self-worth contingent on their
contribution to the leaders' mission and the collective (House & Shamir,
1993). This genre of leadership is referred to as value based leadership. Value
based leader behaviors include:
- Articulation of a vision of a better future for
followers, to which the followers are claimed to have a moral right.
- Display of passion for the vision, and
significant self sacrifice in the interest of the vision and the collective.
- Demonstration of self-confidence, confidence in
the attainment of the vision, and determination and persistence in the
interest of the vision.
- Selectively arousal of the nonconscious motives
of followers that are of special relevance to the attainment of the vision.
- Taking extraordinary personal and organizational
risks in the interest of the vision and the collective.
- Communication of high performance expectations
of followers and confidence in their ability to contribute to the collective
- The use of symbolic behaviors that emphasize the
values inherent in the collective vision.
- Frequent positive evaluation of followers and
It is the central argument of the value based leadership
paradigm that, under a select set of conditions, the above behaviors are generic
to the leadership of individuals, small groups, work units, formal or informal
organizations, social or revolutionary movements, political parties, societies,
or nation states. Theories of the value based leadership have been the subject
of approximately 50 empirical studies. Empirical evidence demonstrates that
value based leader behavior has powerful effects on follower motivation and work
unit performance, with effect sizes in the range of .40 to .50, and generally
above .50. (See Bass & Avolio, 1994; House & Shamir, 1993 for a more
elaborated statement of this genre of theory and citations of the relevant
empirical evidence.) Conditions
for the Exercise of Value Based Leadership
Several authors have argued that value based leader
behavior will only be effective under a select set of conditions. All scholars
who have attempted to explain value based leadership agree that it must be based
on the articulation of an ideological goal. However, since ideological goals
often challenge the status quo, their expression is often suppressed.
Opportunity to articulate such a goal, whether in stressful or non-stressful
situations, can thus be considered as one of the situational requirements for a
person to emerge as a value based leader. It is perhaps lack of such opportunity
that accounts for the absence of value based leaders, under condition of
suppression of democracy, of protest movements in totalitarian countries.
Previously I have argued that there are some roles in
society which do not lend themselves to ideological value orientation (House,
1977). These are generally roles requiring highly routine, nonthinking effort in
exclusively economically oriented organizations.
It is hard to conceive of clerks or assembly line
workers in profit-making finns as perceiving their rules as ideologically
oriented. However, the same work when directed toward an ideological goal could
lend itself to charismatic value based leadership. For example in World War II,
"Rosie the Riveter" expressed the ideological contribution of an assembly Free
worker. And such menial effort as stuffing envelopes frequently are directed
toward ideological goals in political and religious organizations.
This line of reasoning implies that whenever the roles
of followers can be authentically described or defined as providing an
opportunity for moral involvement, a leader can have a strong influence on the
motivational states of followers by stressing ideological values and engaging in
the value based behaviors described above.
Based on a study of U.S. presidential leadership House,
Spangler, and Woycke (1991) argued that charismatic value based leadership is
also required, or is at least more effective, in situations that require a
combination of highly involved and active leadership plus emotional commitment
and extraordinary effort by both leaders and followers. Examples of such
conditions would be highly competitive environments in which competitor tactics
change frequently and rapidly; conditions of environmental uncertainty and
change; conditions that are stressful to members of the collective; or
conditions in which members of the collective feel unfairly treated, persecuted,
or oppressed. Under conditions requiring routine but reliable performance in the
pursuit of pragmatic goals, value based leadership is less likely to be required
and may even be dysfunctional.
The values inherent in the leader's vision is also a
relevant consideration. Value based leadership gives meaning to efforts and
goals by connecting them to the deeply held values of subordinates. The values
advocated by value based leaders must, of necessity, not be in fundamental
conflict with strongly internalized values of work unit members. For example if
a CEO of a health management organization were to urge physicians to reduce
patient care costs, in the interest of the economic performance of the
organizations, at the expense of patient care health, physicians with deeply
internalized the Hippocratic oath would likely resist such cost reduction and
not perceive the CEO's urging as legitimate.
Weber (1947), House (1977), and Bums (1978), argued that
stressful situations facing followers facilitate the emergence and effectiveness
of value based leadership. Theoretically, under such conditions there is a felt
need on the part of followers for a courageous leader who will challenge the
established order and offer a radical, or at least innovative, solution to the
stressful conditions that followers experience. If a leader emerges who
expresses sentiments that are deeply held by followers, and a solution which
followers believe will solve the crisis or eliminate the stressful conditions,
such a leader is likely to be viewed as a value based leader. Two empirical
studies have demonstrated that crisis or stressful uncertainty indeed
facilitates the emergence of value based leadership (House, Spangler, &
Woycke, 1991; Pillai & Meindl, 1991). It can also be argued that value based
leaders will be more likely to emerge and be effective under ambiguous and
uncertain conditions. Under such conditions followers theoretically have a need
for the reduction of stressful uncertainty. Waldman, Rameriz and House (1996)
found that CEO value based leadership was predictive of the economic performance
of organizations facing high uncertainty but not predictive of performance of
organizations in relatively certain environments. This discussion suggests the
Proposition 23: Five conditions that facilitate the
emergence and effectiveness of value based leaders are (a) the opportunity for
the leader to communicate an ideological vision, (b) an opportunity for
substantial moral involvement on the part of both the leader and subordinates,
(c) exceptional effort, behavior, and sacrifices required of both the leaders
and subordinates, (d) values inherent in the leader's vision that are compatible
with the deeply internalized values of work unit members, and (e) the experience
of severe threat, crisis, stress, feelings of unfair treatment, persecution, or
oppression induced by sources other than the leader.
Shamir, House, and Arthur (1993) argue that value based
leadership is also more likely to be relevant under conditions that do not favor
transactional leadership, conditions that Mischel (1973) refers to as weak
psychological situations. Transactional leadership involves negotiation between
superiors and subordinates concerning the subordinates obligations in return for
specific performance effort or accomplishments. Transactional leadership relies
on contingent rewards as inducement for performance. Transactional leadership
can only be exercised when leaders have ability to link extrinsic rewards to
individual performance. Cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1980) suggests
that in the absence of extrinsic incentives followers are more likely to look
for self-related justifications for their efforts. Cognitive dissonance theory
also suggests that when leaders engage in specific transactions with
subordinates, and make rewards contingent on specific performance outcomes, such
transactional leadership undermines the leaders ability to foster an ideological
orientation toward work. Under transactional leadership work becomes motivated
toward the satisfaction of subordinates' self interest and this motivation
undermines work unit member moral involvement in work and motivation toward
making contributions to the work unit as a collective. Thus:
Proposition 24: The emergence and effectiveness of value
based leadership will be enhanced to the extent that:
- Extrinsic rewards cannot be, or are not made,
contingent on individual performance.
- There are few situational cues, constraints, and
reinforcers to guide behavior and provide incentives for specific performance.
- The leader refrains from the use of extrinsic
rewards contingent on subordinate performance.
Finally, the relationship to the values inherent in the
leader's vision and those of the larger organization are also relevant. The
vision and powerful motivational ability of value based leaders is often a
double edged sword. For example, a value based leader may emerge as a result of
dissatisfaction of work unit members with the conditions under which they work,
or strong disagreements between work unit members and the dominant coalition of
their organization. As a result, the leader may have a vision that represents
the values of the work unit members and is inconsistent with the values held by
the dominant coalition or the culture of the larger organization. Under such
conditions value based leadership is likely to result in inter-group conflict
between the work unit managed by the value based leader and either other work
units or the dominant coalition of the organization. Thus:
Proposition 25: When the values inherent in the vision
of a value based leader are in conflict with the dominant coalition of the
larger organization or the prevailing culture of the organization, value based
leadership will induce substantial inter-group conflict, or conflict between the
leader's work unit and the dominant coalition of the organization.
It is not necessary that the above behaviors be
performed only by formally appointed work unit leaders. Bowers and Seashore
(1966) studied the relationship between a number of leader behaviors similar to
those specified in the reformulated 1996 path-goal theory of work unit
effectiveness: supportive leadership, goal emphasis, work facilitation, and
interaction facilitation. They measured the extent to which each of these
behaviors was enacted by both superiors and peers in 40 agencies of a leading
life insurance company. They found correlations ranging from .49 to .82 between
the degree to which superiors and peers enacted specific behaviors. Despite the
fact that these correlations likely reflect a fair amount of common
method-common source hits, it is clear that the exercise of leader behaviors can
be shared by members of work units as well as conducted by formal work unit
managers. Further, Bowers and Seashore (1966) found that "peer leadership" often
had a higher correlation with agency performance than leadership exercised by
the formal manager of the agency. Finally they found that the highest
correlations between manager and peer leadership measures consisted of measures
of the same behavior: manager and peer work facilitation, manager and peer goal
emphasis, manager and peer interaction facilitation, and manager and peer
support, suggesting that the manager sets the example of appropriate peer leader
behavior. The findings presented by Bowers and Seashore (1976) suggest the final
proposition of the reformulated 1996 path-goal theory of leadership:
Proposition 26: When the work of work unit members is
interdependent, encouragement by the leader of collaborative shared
responsibility for the exercise of leader behaviors will enhance work unit
cohesiveness and performance. DISCUSSION
The saga of the journey from path-goal theory to then
value based leadership theory and to the 1996 theory of work unit leadership
informs us of two kinds of traps into which social scientists, or for that
matter, any scientific discipline, might fall. First, we too often use existing
measures merely because they are available. We justify the use of such measures
by citing their prior use in published papers, as if that demonstrates both
validity and appropriateness for the topic under investigation. Thus we get
trapped in our measurement system and apply it blindly to new questions for
which it is inappropriate.
Second, we often become trapped in our own paradigms.
Path-goal theory reflects the fact that the leadership scholars of the time were
largely trapped in a paradigm of task and person oriented behavior with respect
to leadership and a paradigm of cognitive orientation with respect to
motivation. Little attention was paid to the importance of nonconscious motives
or valence. To my knowledge, there has not been a single test of hypotheses that
specify the effects of leader behavior on follower valences even though both
intrinsic and extrinsic valences are major variables of the theory.
The propositions advanced here are relevant to 8 classes
of leader behaviors that are likely to enhance work unit performance and member
satisfaction when exercised under the conditions specified. However, it is
unlikely that any one leader will have the ability to engage in all of the
behaviors all, or even most, of the time. Effective leaders likely select those
behaviors with which they are most comfortable, based on their personality and
repertoire of abilities. The specific combinations of leader behaviors most
effective for a given individual will likely depend on that individual's social
skills and abilities. Those behaviors with which leaders are not comfortable, or
for which leaders do not have the necessary abilities or social skills, but
which are nevertheless required in specific situations can be shared with, or
delegated to, work unit members.
The contingency moderators specified in the theory are
intended to specify some of the circumstances in which each of the behaviors are
likely to be effective or ineffective. It is possible that work unit
effectiveness can be achieved in ways which are not considered in the present
theory. No claim is made that the theory includes an exhaustive set of leader
behaviors or that the propositions exhaust the conditions under which the
various behaviors can be exercised.
It is also likely that some of the behaviors are
substitutable for each other. For example, articulation of a vision coupled with
role modeling of appropriate behaviors may be substitutable for the path-goal
clarifying behaviors described above. Or, leader interaction facilitation or
peer supportiveness may be substitutable for, or make unnecessary, supportive
leadership. Some of the moderating variables specified by the theory are also
likely substitutable for each other. For example, subordinate level of self
perceived abilities and subordinate task relevant knowledge may substitute for
At present, in the absence of additional empirical
evidence, I believe the theory would become overly complex by including
speculative propositions concerning the interaction among leader behaviors or
among the moderating variables of the theory. Hopefully, future empirical
research will clarify how such interactions occur.
Current managerial literature emphasizes empowerment of
subordinates. The reformulated theory specifies several ways such empowerment
can be accomplished. Needed path-goal clarification establishes delegation for
authority and responsibility. Work facilitation enhances subordinates'
development and ability to work autonomously. Supportive leadership enhances
psychological security. Achievement oriented leader behavior arouses achievement
oriented behavior and encourages subordinates to take intermediate level
calculated risks. Group decision process allows subordinates to influence
decision making. Interaction facilitation empowers followers to engage in
reciprocal coordination and inter dependent action. Work unit representation
enhances the legitimacy of work units and the resources available to work unit
members. Value based leadership strengthens subordinate' self efficacy and
conviction in the appropriateness of their actions. Value based leadership
strengthens collective identification and the motivation for work unit members
to contribute to collective goals. Thus, the reformulated theory could well be
entitled a theory of work unit empowerment. The advantage of this theory over
the frequently found exhortations for empowerment in the managerial literature
is that the theory specifies not only empowerment behaviors, but also the
conditions under which such behaviors will theoretically be effective. Similar
to the original path-goal theory, the reformulated theory asserts that leader
behavior is justified only to the extent that it is satisfying and instrumental
to the performance of subordinates. A
PARSIMONIOUS INTEGRATIVE PROPOSITION
It can be argued that the reformulated theory lacks
parsimony in that it includes ten classes of leader behavior, individual
differences of subordinates, and task moderator variables which are related to
each other in 26 propositions. However, it can also be argued that the essential
underlying rationale from which the propositions are derived is strikingly
parsimonious. The essence of the theory is the meta proposition that leaders, to
be effective, engage in behaviors that complement subordinate' s environments
and abilities in a manner that compensates for deficiencies and is instrumental
to subordinate satisfaction and individual and work unit performance. This meta
proposition, and the specific propositions relating leader behavior to responses
of subordinates, decision effectiveness, superior-subordinate relationships, and
work unit behavior are consistent with, and integrate the predictions of,
current extant theories of leadership (Bass, 1985; Bennis & Nanus, 1985;
Burns, 1978; Conger & Kanungo, 1987; Fiedler & Garcia, 1987; Graen &
Cashman, 1975; Graen & Scandura, 1987; House, 1977; House & Shamir,
1993; Kerr & Jermier, 1978; Sashkin, 1988; Vroom & Jago, 1988; Wofford,
1982). Further, the propositions of the theory are consistent with empirical
generalizations resulting from task and person oriented research (Bass, 1990;
Bowers & Seashore, 1967; Liken, 1977). That this proposition provides the
basis for identification and integration of multiple leader behaviors,
moderators, and leader effects into a coherent theory, and for the integration
of extant theories of leadership as they apply to work unit behavior,
illustrates the underlying parsimony of the theoretical rationale for the
The reformulated theory, while broader than the original
path-goal theory, remains somewhat limited in scope. It does not concern
emergent-informal leadership, leadership as it affects several levels of
managers and subordinates in organizations, political behavior of leaders,
strategic leadership of organizations, or leadership as it relates to change.
These limitations reflect the limitations of current knowledge about effective
leadership. Hopefully, future empirical research and theoretical developments
will provide additional useful information about leadership not addressed in the
theory presented here. A
PERSONAl CLOSING COMMENT
Since I have the liberty of being somewhat
autobiographical in this essay, I would like to take this opportunity to share
with the reader four assertions that have impressed me and have helped me to
formulate the philosophy of science that guides my theoretical and empirical
- ... all theories, no matter how good at
explaining a set of phenomena, are ultimately incorrect and consequently will
undergo modification over time (Paraphrased from Mackenzie & House, 1977
, p. 13).
- "A theory which cannot be mortally endangered
cannot be alive" (from personal communication to J.R. Platt by W. Ruston,
- "The fate of the better theories is to become
explanations that hold for some phenomena in some limited conditions"
(Statement originally by Mackenzie, repeated in Mackenzie & House, 1977,
- "A good theory is one that holds together long
enough to get you to a better theory" (D.O. Hebb, 1969, p. 21).
The virtue of internalizing the spirit of these
assertions is that if one does so one will never be compelled to defend one's
own theory, which inevitably will be shown to be false. I believe the 1971
path-goal theory of leadership has lead to better theories, namely the 1976
theory of charismatic leadership, the reformulated 1996 path-goal theory of work
unit leadership, and the value based theory of leadership. Hopefully, the 1996
theory will be subjected to empirical tests and a further improved theory will
be formulated at some future time.
Acknowledgments: The 1996 Path-Goal Theory of Work Unit
Leadership presented in this paper was developed and the first draft of this
paper was written while the author was at the Australian Graduate School of
Management, The University of New South Wales, during the summer of 1994. The
author is indebted to Lex Donaldson, Geoffry Eagleson, Boris Kabanoff, Phillip
Yetton and Robert Wood for stimulating discussions of many of the issues
presented in this paper. NOTE
This is not to imply that highly achievement motivated individuals are not
ambitious, do not have high aspirations, or are not concerned with bringing
about outstanding achievements. Rather, I am stressing that achievement
motivated individuals, as defined by the McClelland's (1985) theory of
motivation, do not receive satisfaction for achievement unless they are
personally involved in the achievement and can attribute the achievement to
themselves rather than others.
[*] Direct all correspondence to: Robert J. House, Phd.
The Wharton School of Management, University of Pennsylvania, Room 23. Fels
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