Applying Fiedler’s Contingency Theory for Effective Leadership

Fiedler's Contingency Leadership Theory Explained Leadership and Management

Contingency theory, developed in the 1960s by Austrian psychologist Fred Fiedler, emphasizes that leadership is contingent upon the situation. Like other leadership models, this one focuses on matching a leader’s personality and characteristics to the group’s environment.

A leader’s effectiveness is determined by how well their natural (and fixed) leadership style matches three situational factors: leader-member relations, task structure and leader-position power.

Exploring the Fundamentals of Fiedler’s Contingency Model

When you think of a good leader, you might envision someone who can effectively manage a project with an organized schedule. Or, you might picture a relationship- oriented person who can build trust with her team members. Both types of leaders can be effective, but only if their leadership style fits the situation they’re in. Fiedler’s Contingency Theory, developed in the 1960s by Austrian psychologist Fred Fiedler, states that the best leadership styles fit the situation rather than the individual leader. In this piece, we’ll break down the theory and teach you how to use it to assess your own leadership style.

The theory suggests that leader-member relations, task structure and position power are the primary contingency factors for determining leadership effectiveness. Leader-member relations refer to the level of trust and respect between a leader and her team members. Generally speaking, higher levels of trust and stronger relationships result in more relationship-oriented leadership. Task structure refers to the extent to which a leader defines what needs to be done, while position power refers to the authority a leader has to reward or punish his team members.

Unlike Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model, which also places emphasis on the importance of matching leadership styles to a given situation, Fiedler’s Contingency Theory takes an approach that’s a little more nuanced. According to the theory, there’s no one correct leadership style. Instead, a leader’s leadership style depends on the current circumstance and how favorable it is. As a result, it’s important for managers to be highly adaptable and aware of their skill sets so they can adjust accordingly when necessary. This leadership approach is ideal for product managers who often collaborate with cross-functional teams and can require a wide range of competencies from their employees.

Assessing Leadership Styles with Fiedler’s Theory

The key to this theory is that leaders need to be able to match their own leadership style with the needs of the situation. It’s a fairly straightforward concept, with leaders who are more relationship-oriented doing better when the tasks have less structure and are more informal, while task-oriented leaders do well in situations that require more discipline. Administrators can use this model to help assign managers and supervisors to team settings that suit their abilities.

Unlike other leadership models, which focus on the personality of the leader or their ability to build rapport with employees, Fiedler’s contingency theory emphasizes that there isn’t one right way to lead. This is a helpful concept for business owners who want to find ways to support their leadership teams without placing too much pressure on the leader.

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This approach to leadership also stresses the importance of evaluating a team’s maturity level and how this influences their ability to follow instructions. For example, highly motivated and experienced employees who are comfortable making decisions independently have high maturity levels while enthusiastic but receptive employees have moderate levels of maturity. Depending on the team’s maturity level, the administration may choose to use a Participating Leadership style or a Selling Leadership Style.

While there are advantages to this leadership model, it does not offer a solution for the 42% of leaders who say they want a more accurate way to assess their strengths. It is also unclear what to do when a person’s natural leadership style doesn’t match the requirements of a certain situation or isn’t possible to change.

Situational Variables in Fiedler’s Leadership Model

Fiedler’s model differs from the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model in that it emphasizes a leader’s inherent leadership style and how that style affects team performance. While the Hersey-Blanchard model suggests that personality is relatively fixed though it can be improved, the contingency theory holds that a person’s effectiveness depends on how well his leadership style matches the demands of a specific situation. This can be accomplished through job engineering, in which the business owner alters the environment to match the leader’s natural style or, as is more common, by increasing or decreasing certain situational factors. These situational variables include the leader-member relations factor, task structure factor and the leader’s position power factor.

A person’s leadership style is determined by his life experiences, making it hard to change, according to the contingency theory. This is why the model developed a least preferred co-worker scale to help individuals understand their leadership styles and how they can match them with various situations. By comparing their natural (and fixed) leadership style to three situational factors, leaders can determine whether or not they can be effective.

For example, suppose an individual is a highly task-oriented person with good relationship skills. This means that he works best in situation one of the chart, but he will not be effective in situation six, which is dominated by the leader-member relations factor. In this case, the leader could increase his ability to build relationships with his team members to improve this situation and move it closer to situation two.

As another example, suppose Abby is a good speaker but has trouble speaking publicly. Then, she could strengthen her position power factor by letting employees know that her speaking skills are a valuable asset to the company and by showing how they can help her get promoted. This will move this situation closer to situation two.

Practical Applications of Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

For example, let’s say you’re a leader in charge of an office program that provides services to adults with disabilities. You’ve just accepted a new position and are working to build relationships with your team members. This scenario calls for a relationship-oriented leadership style, but the situation isn’t very favorable as the program recently suffered a number of deficiencies during an audit. Using a contingency theory approach, you can match your leadership style with the demands of the situation to improve team relations and advance the goals of the organization.

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While it takes some vulnerability and flexibility to adjust your leadership styles, this type of self-awareness will help you be a more effective manager in any type of business environment. This approach is especially beneficial for product managers, who often collaborate with cross-functional teams and are responsible for addressing many different challenges in the workplace.

To determine your own leadership style, take a personality assessment such as the Least Preferred Coworker scale or the Hersey-Blanchard model for Situational Leadership. These tests will provide a baseline for your leadership abilities and indicate which types of situations are most suitable for your skillset. Considering this, you can then pair your preferred leadership style with the necessary skills required for each work task. This will improve your efficiency and productivity in the workplace while helping you stay comfortable and confident in the challenging environments where you’re most likely to succeed.

Critiques and Expansions of Fiedler’s Leadership Approach

Fiedler’s leadership theory holds that the effectiveness of a leader is directly proportional to the way her dominant leadership style matches her situation. It’s one of the earliest situational leadership models, and it did something that virtually all previous leadership theories failed to do: It made the elements of a leader’s situation key, predominant factors in her ability to lead effectively.

According to this model, a leader’s natural (and fixed) leadership style is determined by her personality traits and life experiences, and she must choose a work situation that fits well with her dominant style. Once she does, her effectiveness in the role is maximized.

In this leadership model, the situational factors that influence a leader’s effectiveness are trust, task structure, and authority. Trust is the most important factor in increasing team member engagement, while task structure and authority are the primary drivers of a leader’s effectiveness in achieving her goals.

Despite the advantages of the Fiedler Contingency Theory, this leadership model has some weaknesses. For example, the LPC scale can give an inaccurate picture of a person’s leadership behavior, and it doesn’t take into account leadership flexibility.

Aside from these limitations, the Fiedler Contingency Theory is a useful model for business owners to understand how their leadership styles can impact employee productivity and morale. Moreover, this leadership theory can help business owners find the right type of leaders for their companies by helping them match the leadership style with the situation. It also teaches leaders how to adapt their leadership styles depending on the situations they face, and this is one of the most important leadership skills for business owners to master.

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