Originally presented in the 1964 article “A contingency model of leadership effectiveness”, Fred Fiedler’s Contingency Theory states that there is no one best managerial style effective for all situations. Rather, effective leadership is attained when leader style and situational forces or aligned. (Fiedler, 1964)
Definitions and Descriptions
Similar to Situational Leadership discussed previously, Contingency Theory classifies managerial behavior and style as either task based or relationship based, the former characterized by low interpersonal connections and the latter by high interpersonal connections. Contingency Theory then seeks to define the situational forces as they relate to three main categories: Leader-Member Relations, Task Structure, and Position Power. (Fiedler & Chalmers 1974), with each category being rated in high/low or weak/strong type format.
In order to gauge inherent leadership style, the Leaser Preferred Coworker scale is employed, attained through the use a personality trait questionnaire. This 18 question quiz, asks the respondent to rate their least preferred coworker on scales such as Pleasant to Unpleasant, Agreeable to Disagreeable, etc. (Fiedler 1972) Care is taken to reiterate “That person does not have to be the person you like the least but should be the person with whom you had the most difficulty in getting a job done.” (Fiedler & Chalmers 1974)
With both leadership style and situational forces clearly assessed, prescription can me made regarding what type of leader should be placed in what type of situation.
Like Situational Leadership covered previously, Contingency theory has over 40 years of research and study upon which to rest. This longevity and academic backing is no doubt comforting to companies embarking on the oft times costly journey of leadership restructuring. Yet, that is just the beginning of what makes contingency theory powerful.
Perhaps its greatest strength is its utility in predicting success.(Northouse, 2012) Contingency Theory armed with the Least Preferred Coworker scale, provides upper management and boards of directors the scientific basis up on which to form reasonable and data driven assumptions. Few models will ever be 100 percent effective, yet additional data can improve decision making accuracy.
Lastly, while Situational Leadership sought to free leaders from a one size fits all approach, it still suffered unwittingly from the implication that all leaders could be totally effective in all situations. In contrast, Contingency Theory puts additional pressure on upper management, and boards of directors, to specifically alter, where necessary, the situational forces a leader encounters. Leaders, while surely needing the adaptability required to bend toward follower needs, must be dealt a minimally acceptable situational hand in order to find success.
Limitations and Critiques
Contingency theories main strength, that it can seemingly accurately...