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

Leadership Styles

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

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

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

Outstanding Leadership Theory (OLT)

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

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

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