Contingency models and path theories, also called path-goal theories, can sometimes sound very similar, and it may be difficult to differentiate between the two leadership approaches. A leadership approach is the way you choose to lead, direct, motivate and achieve performance from your employees. Choosing the best leadership theory for your managerial style is important in gaining, maximizing and maintaining personnel effectiveness. Though both contingency models and path theories have similarities, there are also several differences between the two that can affect you and your staff.

Contingency Models

Contingency models, or contingency theories, generally define several different leadership styles or theories based on the contingency of various factors that govern and define the style itself. It is identified by the simple approach that there is no best approach. This means that leaders should examine, review and decide the best approach to take contingent upon the factors such as the leader herself, the organizational culture and environment, personnel abilities and needs, and other situational influences. Once those are assessed, then a person can select a more narrowed leadership style or theory.

Types of Contingency Leadership

In addition to path theories as a type of contingency model, there are also several others. For example, a situational leadership theory includes assessing certain aspects of the situation, mainly the leader’s style and the abilities or inabilities of the group. Another is the Fielder’s contingency theory. In this theory, variables such as tasks, power or authority and the relationship between the leader and subordinates are considered in deciding the approach.

Path Theories

Path theories are types of leadership styles that are associated with the leader’s ability to “cut” the path for the subordinates to follow. After examining and measuring the employee’s needs, their abilities, and other factors such as type of work performed, the leader then selects the type of leadership style appropriate to what is needed at the time. This theory highlights personnel and team motivation by utilizing the leader to her full extent and allowing her to guide her subordinates in the way that best suits them.

Elements of Path Theories

There are four styles of leadership in the path theory, and all are dependent upon what type of leader employees need at the time to attain and maintain motivation, achieve goals and overall success. The directive leadership style is one that is authoritative and commanding. The supportive leadership style is one in which the leader plays an emotionally supportive role to her subordinates, translating care and concern. The participative leadership style engages and includes subordinates in the decision-making process. Finally, the achievement-oriented leadership style is when the leader sets high standards and challenging goals for subordinates to achieve, communicating confidence in their abilities.