The earliest contingency theory is Fiedler’s theory. According to Fiedler & Garcia (1987, p.54) situations will create different leadership styles which are required for managing contingent on a set of factors effecting the situation. Contingency theories perceive leadership styles to be either task motivated or relationship motivated.
“Fiedler’s leadership contingency argues that team effectiveness depends on an appropriate match between a leader’s style, especially a trait measure, and the demands of the situation” (Schermerhorn et al., 2011, p.297).
According to this theory the group performance depends on leadership style and situational favourableness, and three aspects to focus on are:
A) Relationship between leaders and the followers
B) Structure of the task
C) Position power of leader
In accordance to the contingency theory Fiedler (1996) specifies three important situational dimensions that influence the level of effectiveness of the leader: leader-member relations, task structure, and position power.
Leader-member relations relate to the degree of confidence that subordinates have in leader, as well as, the extent of their loyalty. Accordingly, in situations where a leader is accepted by the members of the group, the leader would be in a more favourable situation to lead the group. In contrary, in situations where the level of loyalty to the leader is low effective leadership would prove to be a highly challenging task to accomplish.
The task structure situational dimension, on the other hand, relates to the level to which the jobs of followers are routine as opposed to non-routine. Factors determining the nature of the task structure include the level of understanding of the task by relevant parties, the ways of accomplishing the task, and the numbers of correct solutions to the problem (Gold et al., 2010).
Position power is the power that is innate in the leadership position. The extent of position power can be assessed through the levels of rewards and punishments the leader can engage in. Accordingly, high level of power position would create a favourable situation for the leader.
Fiedler’s theory effectively contributes to the level of understanding of leadership and management issues within the settings of modern workplaces. Specifically, the three important situational dimensions that influence the level of effectiveness of the leader discussed above are closely related to the realities of modern work environment, and therefore, contingency theory proposed by Fiedler can still be applied in order to analyse the level of effectiveness of any particular leader.
In other words, the level of effectiveness of a leadership practice within modern organisational settings can be enhanced by effectively addressing situational dimensions i.e. improving leader-member relations, optimising the task structure of the workforce, and consolidating the position power of the leader.
The least preferred co-worker (LCP) scale proposed by Fiedler is used in order to determine an individual’s leadership style. LCP scale is “a measure of a person’s leadership style based on a description of the person with whom respondents have been able to work least well” (Schermerhorn et al., 2011, p.297).
Fiedler, F.E. (1996) “Research on Leadership Selection and Training: One View of the Future” Administrative Science Quarterly, pp. 241-250.
Gold, J., Thorpe, R. & Mumford, A. (2010) “Handbook of leadership and management development” Gower Publishing
Schermerhorn, J.R. Jr. (2011) “Introduction to Management” 11th edition, John Wiley & Sons