Mahatma Gandhi is considered to be one of the world's most influential leaders. He led many successful campaigns for India’s independence from British imperial rule. His concept of ahimsa, or non-violent resistance, was groundbreaking and people continue to practice those principles even today.

In many ways, Gandhi showed people another way of fighting against British rule. This is a good example of how the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership works in real life. Let’s explore this unique leadership style in detail.

What Is The Path-Goal Theory?

Developed by Robert J. House, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior, the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership states that leadership style changes according to the situation a person is in. Leaders adopt a ‘path’ (style) based on the situation, intending to achieve a ‘goal’ (objective). Leaders are flexible and they change their styles depending on the situation they’re in. The theory proposes two factors influencing a leader’s behavior:

  • Environmental factors (for example, workplace culture, timelines and resources)

  • Team characteristics (control, experience and perceived ability)

The Path-Goal Theory is based on Victor H. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation.  An individual will behave or act in a certain way because they’re motivated to select a specific behavior in response to a situation. In the context of the Path-Goal Model, a leader’s motivation is determined by the desirability of an outcome. For example, if a team is unable to meet their goals within their timelines, a leader will become more involved in the process.

Path-Goal Leadership Styles

The biggest assumption of Path-Goal Theory is that leaders are flexible in their styles. Effective leaders clarify the path for everyone to achieve their goals, making the journey easier by reducing roadblocks and pitfalls. The Path-Goal Model of Leadership identifies four different styles:

  1. Directive Leadership

In this style, leaders understand what exactly needs to be done, how many tasks are to be carried out and the best way to meet deadlines. Leaders create a framework that directs their team towards the objectives. In addition to communicating the expectations, a leader explains to others how to perform a task efficiently. This management style is ideal for inexperienced team members who need guidance and support. 

  1. Supportive Leadership

In this type, leaders create a friendly environment and prioritize others’ well-being. They’re empathetic and supportive of their teams. For example, a supportive leader will entrust their team with responsibilities and improve employee engagement, in the process, increasing job satisfaction. This leadership style is suitable for employees who need to overcome personal challenges such as low morale.

  1. Achievement-Oriented Leadership

Achievement-oriented leaders set ambitious goals. They expect the highest forms of achievement, therefore motivating others to strive for excellence. They prioritize deadlines, set up challenging goals and aim for consistent improvement. They have full confidence in their team’s efficiency, productivity and problem-solving skills. For example, managers delegate responsibilities because they trust their employees to meet their objectives.

  1. Participative Leadership

Leaders think that it’s crucial to engage and involve employees in the decision-making process. They work collaboratively with their team members, welcoming their ideas and strategies. Participative leaders act as friends, are open to suggestions and discuss with the team how the organization’s goals can be achieved. For example, managers host brainstorming sessions with their employees for new projects.

Two Sides Of Path-Goal Theory Of Leadership

The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership isn’t ideal for every situation. Let’s look at its advantages and limitations.


  • It’s beneficial for time-sensitive situations, like emergency project deadlines or last-minute changes

  • It provides a framework for leaders to monitor their style and change it according to evolving business needs and demands

  • It leads to improved employee motivation, satisfaction and performance as leaders analyze their needs and expectations


  • The theory is idealistic because if the leader isn’t efficient, then they wouldn’t be able to gauge the needs and expectations for a task

  • There may be times when a particular situation will require more than one type of leadership style to manage it

  • There’s too much pressure on a leader and very little responsibility on the shoulders of team members or employees


A leader’s primary responsibility is to show the team the right path that will lead to the goal. The Path-Goal Theory encourages leaders to empower others through greater involvement, efficiency and productivity. To become an effective Path-Goal leader, you must empower yourself first. Understand your true potential and overcome interferences to fully utilize your potential.

Harappa Education’s Leading Self course will teach you how to overcome limiting beliefs and become more self-aware before you walk on the path of success. The Performance Equation framework, in particular, will help you improve your performance by overcoming obstacles that hold you back. The Iceberg Model will help you navigate obstacles by recognizing areas of improvement. Mahatma Gandhi said it best, “Be the change you wish to see!”

Explore topics such as Leadership TheoriesOpinion LeadersThought LeadershipServant LeadershipTransformational Leadership Transactional Leadership from our Harappa Diaries section and lead on a path of self-development.

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