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What Is the Contingency Leadership Model?

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  • Written By: John Lister
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2016
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A contingency leadership model is a theory about human behavior in an organizational context, particularly in an industry. The idea of the model is to reflect the belief that how management is defined is more complicated than any one single quality of "leadership." The best-known contingency leadership model instead says good leadership can depend on multiple factors including the other staff and the specific situation.

Traditional management models worked on the basis that leadership is a quality in itself. They held that the best leaders had specific traits that demonstrated this quality. Applying these models strictly meant that any two people could be compared and one shown to be the better leader, making them more suitable to a management role.

This was challenged by management psychologist Fred Fiedler, who in 1976 introduced the Fiedler contingency leadership model. He believed leadership was more complex and was influenced by multiple factors. As a result, his model could rank different people as the best leader in different situations.

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The first element of Fiedler's model is about the leadership style of individuals. One measure of this is to ask people to rank others they have worked with for a variety of qualities. In fact, the test is not designed to see how these individuals are ranked, but rather to look at the overall pattern of rankings each person gives, known as a least preferred co-worker or LPC score. The model suggests those who give high scores generally place more emphasis on personal relationships, while those who give low scores are generally more task-orientated. Which is more effective as a leadership style can vary from case to case.

The second element of the contingency leadership model is known as situational favorableness. This is an assessment of three factors about the specific situation on hand. They are: how much trust and confidence there is between the leader and the other staff; how clearly defined are the tasks the group must carry out; and how powerful the leadership position is. A strong rating in each category means the overall situation is considered favorable, while a weak rating — little trust, no clearly defined task, little power for the leader — means an unfavorable situation.

According to Fiedler's model, whenever there is an extremely favorable or extremely unfavorable situation, a leader with a low LPC score will be more effective. For those where the situation is not extreme, for example a mix of strong and weak ratings for the three situational factors, a leader with a high LPC score will be more effective. Those who follow Fiedler's model believe that these patterns mean it may often be more efficient to tweak the situation than change leader. For example, it may be necessary to give a leader more or less power, or to put more effort into clearly defining a task.

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