Applying The Path-Goal Theory In Leadership Online Training Courses

Applying The Path-Goal Theory In Leadership Online Training Courses
Summary: Your supervisors, managers, and department heads are the cornerstones of your organization. They provide support and guidance for your staff and ensure that their performance is on-point. The million dollar question is: Are you offering them the support and guidance they need through your online training program? In this article, I'll discuss how to apply the path-goal theory in your leadership online training initiatives by discussing leadership roles, types, and variables.

The Path-Goal Theory In Leadership Online Training Courses: Leadership Roles, Types, And Variables

The Path-Goal Theory was developed by Robert House in 1971, and was later revised in 1996 [1]. It states that there are distinct roles that a leader must fulfill, and leadership traits which managers should adopt based on the needs of their employees. House also suggests that there are certain behaviors which leaders can exhibit in order to complement the talents and abilities of their subordinates, as well as compensate for the skills they lack and their performance deficiencies. By using this theory to create meaningful online training experiences, organizations have the opportunity to strengthen their leadership teams and offer them the skills and know-how they require to motivate and support their staff.

The Role Of A Leader

Based on the Path-Goal Theory, leaders are responsible for motivating, supporting, and inspiring their subordinates so that they are able to improve their performance and become more productive in the workplace. Here are the three key areas that a leader should focus on:

  1. Goal Achievement
    Giving your employees the support and guidance they need to achieve their performance goals. In some instances, you must also help them to identify their goals and objectives.
  2. Overcoming Challenges
    Providing employees with the tools and resources they require to overcome challenges and resolve work-related problems that may be hindering their success.
  3. Offering Incentives
    Offering your subordinates rewards, praise, and other incentives that drive them to succeed and achieve their true potential. This might also come in the form of badges or points if you are using a gamification online training strategy.

Leadership Types

The Path-Goal Theory goes on to state that leaders must be able to adapt their leadership traits and behaviors based on the needs of their employees and the situation, itself. In essence, they must adopt one of these four leadership types [2] in order to help their employees reach their goals and objectives:

  1. Directive
    Makes employees fully aware of their expectations and what they must do in order to improve their performance and build the necessary skill sets. According to the Path-Goal theory, this leadership type is ideal in situations where online tasks or activities may center on intrinsic motivation, or the role of the employee is undefined. For example, if an employee is unsure what their job responsibilities are, their superior can clarify and point them in the right direction.
  2. Achievement-Oriented
    This leadership type involves setting goals for a subordinate, then setting a high standard that they must meet. The leader must also offer the employee praise and encouragement, showing that they have faith in their abilities and skills. For example, a manager might set a sales goal for a member of their team, then offer them constructive criticism and recognition to reinforce positive performance behaviors.
  3. Participative
    This relies heavily on employee input and feedback. Leaders meet and work closely with their subordinates to identify and achieve goals. They will typically ask employees for their suggestions and opinions in order to formulate a plan that works best for their individual needs. According to the Path-Goal theory, this leadership type is best for situations that call for a more involved, hands-on approach. The employee is given more control over their personal online training path, which can also help to increase their intrinsic motivation.
  4. Supportive
    This leadership style is highly learner-centered. The leader offers support and guidance to the employees in order to meet their needs, taking their preferences and emotional state into consideration. They show that they are genuinely concerned about the employee and respect them as an individual. It is ideal for tasks or situations that may be more stressful and time consuming, such as achieving challenging long-term performance goals.

Leadership Variables

According the Path-Goal Theory, there are certain variables that can help you determine which leadership type is best. Essentially, you must adjust your leadership style on a case by case  basis to ensure that your employees get the most out of the online training experience. Here are the two key variables [2] that can have a direct impact upon the success of your online training strategy:

  1. Employee Traits
    There are some employees who are more receptive to online training than others. Likewise, certain subordinates may welcome the support of their managers, while others may be more resistant. This is due to the fact that each employee has their own traits and behavioral characteristics. Their needs, goals, locus of control, experience level, and job satisfaction are all examples of traits that you should consider. In fact, by carefully analyzing the characteristics of your employees you may be able to select another online training style that is more effective.
  2. Environment
    This refers to the workplace environment, the relationships among team members, and the nature of job-related tasks. In short, everything that an employee is unable to control directly. For example, an employee who is part of a team that lacks effective communication and collaboration skills may require a more supportive leadership style, as it can offer them the personal guidance and encouragement they need to resolve conflicts and alleviate stress. A more demanding task may call for a directive leadership approach, as it will enable the employee to enhance their performance and clarify their role.

The Path-Goal Theory not only improves the productivity of your leadership team, but benefits every member of your staff. This is due to the fact that every manager and supervisor will be able to guide your employees in the right direction and provide them with the support structure they need to achieve their objectives.

Are you looking for additional management online training advice? Read the article 7 Tips For Developing Effective Leadership Online Training Programs to learn how to create more effective online leadership training programs.


  1. House, R.J. (1971). A Path-Goal Theory of Leader Effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly. 16, 321-328
  2. House’s Path Goal Theory