Navigating Leadership Styles: Insights from Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Exploring Fiedler’s Contingency Model in Leadership Leadership and Management

Leaders must flex their style to navigate workplace situations best. However, this isn’t easy because leaders tend to let their prevailing leadership styles atrophy as they transition into new jobs.

Fiedler’s contingency model helps to combat this phenomenon. This model teaches leaders how to compare their inherent leadership style with the demands of the situational context.

Understanding Fiedler’s Contingency Leadership Model

According to Fiedler’s Contingency Theory, leadership effectiveness is determined by the leader’s inherent style and the situation in which it is being applied. In this way, the model is similar to Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model or Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid.

To determine a leader’s inherent style, Fiedler developed the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale. Using the scale, leaders think of their least preferred team member and rank them on a number of criteria. A higher ranking indicates a relationship-oriented leadership style and a lower ranking indicates a task-oriented leadership style.

Once a leadership style is established, the model then compares the person’s leadership style with the demands of the current situation. In this way, the model provides a guideline for selecting the most suitable leadership style for any given situation.

However, there are some limitations to the model. First, it doesn’t provide direction for leaders who fall in the middle range of the LPC scale. It also doesn’t suggest any solutions for leaders whose leadership styles don’t match the situation they are in.

For example, let’s say you are a high LPC and you have a weak position of power as a leader. Your natural leadership style is relationship-oriented, but you aren’t able to do much to influence the team in the current situation. The model would suggest that you should try to change the situation, such as delegating tasks or improving trust and communication in your team, to make it more favorable for your natural style.

However, if changing the situation isn’t feasible or isn’t effective, this type of scenario might be a sign that you aren’t a good fit for your role. In that case, you might consider finding a different job or developing new leadership skills to fit your personality and the demands of your current work environment.

Assessing Leadership Styles: The Role of Questionnaires

The number of leadership theories available can make it difficult to determine the best approach in a given situation. Contingency theory proposes that the style that will produce the most positive response from teammates depends on various aspects of the team and its current circumstances. By assessing various factors, managers can adapt their leadership style to suit the situation.

The first step in this process is identifying your natural leadership style. This can be done through the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale, which prompts leaders to consider someone they would like to work with least and rank them on a scale of 1 to 10. Leaders who rate their least preferred coworkers more favorably tend to be relationship oriented while those who rate them less will be more task oriented. Leaders who have no clear preference fall somewhere in the middle.

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Once you have identified your leadership style, the next step is to assess the situational favorableness. To do this, ask yourself three questions:

Are leader member relations good and trustworthy? Are the tasks at hand clear and structured? Is the leader’s authority and influence over the team strong? A high score indicates a favorable situation and a low score indicates an unfavorable one.

Ideally, the scenario should match your leadership style. If not, a change in the situation may be needed. For example, if you are a relationship oriented leader in an unfavorable situation, try to improve the status quo by building trust and making the task list more concrete. Alternatively, you can also delegate a more task oriented leader to the situation in order to improve its favorability. In either case, a negative rating on the LPC scale should serve as a warning sign to make a change in the situation.

The Dynamics of Commanding Leadership Style

Leaders often rely on leadership styles that are innate to them. However, leadership styles can be influenced by situations in the workplace. Fiedler’s contingency theory emphasizes the importance of adapting a leadership style to match the situation in which you find yourself.

Fiedler developed a leadership behavior model based on a scale that asked leaders to rank their least preferred coworker (LPC) on a number of bipolar adjectives. This enables leaders to identify which leadership behaviors they prefer and the type of work environment that will most likely fit those preferences. For example, a leader with an LPC that ranks well on the “condescending” adjectives would be suited for work environments that require a more authoritative approach to leadership.

The LPC scale can also reveal which leadership behaviors a leader prefers to use with different types of employees. For instance, a leader with an LPC that rates poorly on the “difficult” adjectives would prefer to work with employees that have a high level of maturity. This leader might utilize a democratic leadership style by providing decision-related options to the team for discussion and feedback, and then open this decision up to a vote.

Another example is a leader who has an LPC that ranks poorly on the “emotional” adjectives, such as anger, fear, and envy. This leader might employ a pacesetting leadership style, where she sets ambitious goals for the group to achieve in order to motivate team members. This leader might also seek out employees who are willing to work hard to meet these demanding goals. Leaders who can adjust their leadership style to match the demands of a specific environment are most successful, according to Fiedler’s theory.

Adapting Leadership Styles to Situational Demands

A leader’s ability to adapt their leadership style to the demands of a situation is an important aspect of leadership effectiveness. According to Fiedler’s Contingency Theory, the most effective leaders are those that match their prevailing leadership style with the specific circumstances of the task at hand. Unlike Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model, which places emphasis on leadership styles that are adapted to followers’ maturity levels, Fiedler focuses on evaluating environmental or situational factors to determine the most appropriate leadership style. The primary determinants of a favorable or unfavorable situation are leader- member relations, the complexity and structure of the task at hand and the level of power a leader has over the team.

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For example, a task that requires close supervision and regular guidance may necessitate a telling or directing leadership style. But as the project progresses and the team gains confidence and expertise, the leader may want to transition to a participative leadership style. Alternatively, if the team members are capable of performing a task but are lacking motivation or self-starting skills, the leader might utilize a selling style by sharing ideas to motivate them and help them gain confidence.

While it is impossible to change a leader’s natural leadership style, the model suggests that if the current situation does not compliment a leader’s prevailing leadership style, the best course of action is to delegate or find another leadership role. Alternatively, the leader can attempt to improve the situation by changing leadership-member relations, enhancing trust and transparency or ensuring that the task list is clearer. Unfortunately, this does not work in every situation. If a leader finds that their leadership style does not match the task at hand, they are left with only one option – to either leave the job or figure out how to modify their approach.

Evaluating Leadership Effectiveness with Fiedler’s Model

The Fiedler contingency model is a leadership theory developed by Fred Edward Fiedler in 1967. According to this model, life experiences shape leaders’ natural (and fixed) leadership style, which can be evaluated against three situational factors to determine if the leader is capable of leading a given group situation effectively.

Unlike Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model, which stresses the importance of adapting leadership styles to follower maturity levels, Fiedler’s theory suggests that leadership styles can be adjusted depending on the situation, regardless of team members’ overall level of maturity. This is because each situation requires a specific type of leader to manage its unique challenges and demands.

To evaluate a leader’s natural leadership style, Fiedler’s Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale asks leaders to describe the coworker they least enjoy working with. This information helps determine a leader’s ability to build strong relationships and manage conflict in the workplace. Leaders with high LPC scores are known as relationship-oriented leaders and prioritize building positive relationships over task accomplishment. Leaders with low LPC scores are considered task-oriented and place a high value on completing tasks on time.

The next step in evaluating leadership effectiveness with Fiedler’s model is to understand the favorableness of the situation that a leader is facing. This is determined by assessing the leader-member relations, task structure, and the level of leader power. Leaders with good leader-member relations and structured tasks typically require a task-oriented leadership style. In contrast, those with poor member relations and a lack of influence need a relationship-oriented leadership style. Suppose a leader is not performing well in their current role. In that case, the solution might be to match their style with a more appropriate situation or to increase their power and influence so they can become more effective as a leader.

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