Fiedler's contingency theory of leadership

Written by eryn travis
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Fiedler's contingency theory of leadership
Fiedler's theory predicts success by comparing a leader's style with situational dynamics. (leadership (vertical) image by Daniel Wiedemann from Fotolia.com)

Many people might think of the phrase "backup plan" when asked to define contingency. However, in Fiedler's Contingency Model, contingency means "depends upon" or "fulfilment of a condition." Fred Fiedler was one of the first scholars to introduce the influence of the situation in determining leadership success in his 1967 book, "A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness."

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Determining Style

Fiedler's model assumes that personal leadership style is set at either task-oriented or relationship-oriented. Task-oriented leaders are focused on completing the job and tend to be autocratic. Relationship-oriented leaders put people first and employ creativity and teamwork to complete a project.

The style can be determined through a technique Fielder developed called the "Least Preferred Coworker" (LPC). The LPC test requires a leader to think about the person she's enjoyed working with the least and then rate that person on a series of traits including cooperation, friendliness, sincerity, trust and outlook. Fielder theorised that those leaders who gave higher ratings to LPCs were relationship-oriented leaders. Those who gave their LPCs low ratings were task-oriented leaders.

Determining Situation

The Fiedler model also requires the leader to determine his situation. According to Fiedler, "situational favorableness" depends on three factors: leader-member relations, task structure and a leader's position and power. Leader-member relations refers to the level of confidence and trust team members give their leader. Task structure describes how much the leader and his followers understand about the task at hand. The leader's position and power has to do with how much influence, such as the ability to dole out positive or negative rewards, a leader brings to the situation.

Application

Application of Fiedler's model involves aligning leadership style with situational favourableness for the most effective results. For example, task-structured leaders who have reward power will be more effective in situations where the group has been assigned a clearly defined task, according to Fiedler. Relationship-oriented leaders will be more effective in situations where the task is unclear and requires creativity and where the leader does not have reward authority but enjoys positive relationships with her team. Between these two bookends example are several potential leadership scenarios that depend on leader orientation and situational favourableness.

Strengths

The strength of Fiedler's theory is its ability to predict leadership effectiveness as individual and organizational variables are introduced. In addition, Fiedler's model paved the way for other theories that have "no one perfect style of leadership" at their core, such as Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership.

Weaknesses

Fiedler argues that it is easier for an organisation to change a situation to match a leader than it is for the leader to change his style. The model is inflexible and ignores a leader's potential for adaptability either through training or personal style. In addition, those who score in the middle of the LPC scale can not be decisively labelled as task-oriented or relationship-oriented, and the model does not allow for partial styles.

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