Contingency theories of leadership

By John Dudovskiy
December 27, 2012

Contingency theories of leadership

The emergence of contingency theories of leadership as a new major leadership paradigm is associated with the recognition in the late 1960s that no one best leadership style was available that was equally effective in all situations (Fitzimons et al., 2011).

A clear distinction has to be made between leadership theories and models in order to avoid misunderstandings. As Lussier and Achua (2011) inform, theories of leadership is an explanation of a specific aspect of the practice of leadership, whereas leadership model involves an example of implementation of the theory in a particular situation.

Contingency theories of leadership “attempt to explain the appropriate leadership style based on the leader, followers and situation” (Lussier and Achua, 2010, p.152) Contingency leadership model can be described as “a model used to determine of leadership style is task- or relationship-oriented and if the situation matches the style” (Lussier, 2011, p.338).

Three variables of contingency theories of leadership are leader, followers, and situation, and the basic idea behind contingency theories of leadership is that the level of effectiveness of a leader depends on how well the style of the leader fits the organisational context.

Contingency theories of leadership focus on specific situational factors such as people, task, strategies, etc. Fiedler’s contingency theory, path-goal theory and situational leadership theories belong to contingency theories of leadership.

The case for the relevance of contingency theories of leadership to today’s business world can be effectively illustrated by referring to the story of Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo – one of the leading global food and beverage company. Growing up in Chennai, India, obtaining BS degree from Madras Christina College, and an Master’s Degree from Yale University, USA, being engaged in corporate strategy and marketing fields with Motorola, Asea Brown Bovri, and PepsiCo, Ms. Nooyi was an appropriate person to head PepsiCo, because she possessed necessary knowledge and experience required in a given situation in PepsiCo, therefore she became a successful CEO (Lussier and Achua, 2010).

Moreover, the contingency leadership model can be employed in order to identify if leadership style is task-oriented or relationship-oriented. Moreover, the model can also assist in identifying if the situation matches a specific leadership style. The leadership style of any specific person can be determined by implementing the least preferred co-worker (LPC) test that involves rating different traits of a least preferred co-worker in a given scale set.



Fiedler, FE, Garcia, JE, 1987, New Approaches to effective leadership, New York: John Wiley
House, R J, 1971, “A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness“. Administrative Science Quarterly 

Fitzsimons, D., James, K.T. & Denyer, D. (2011) “Alternative Approaches for Studying Shared and Distributed Leadership” International Journal of Management Studies, Academy of Management Perspectives (13), pp. 313-328

Lussier, R.N. & Achua, C.F. (2010) “Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development” 4th edition, Cengage Learning

Lussier, R.N. (2011) “Management Fundamentals: Concepts, Applications, Skill Development” Cengage Learning


Category: Leadership