What Is Fiedler’s Contingency Model? Fiedler’s Contingency Model In A Nutshell

Fielder’s contingency model argues no style of leadership is superior to the rest evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Understanding Fiedler’s contingency model

Fiedler’s contingency model was developed during the 1960s by leadership and organizational performance thinker Fred Fiedler.

After researching the various characteristics of leaders, Fiedler believed that the leadership style of an individual was the result of life experiences and therefore exceedingly difficult to change. Instead of expecting a leader to display multiple leadership styles, he noted they should first understand their particular style and then adapt it to reflect a variety of different situations.

The general argument that leadership effectiveness is contingent on the current situation gives the theory its name. This effectiveness is the result of two factors which are explained in the next section.

The two factors of Fiedler’s contingency model

Fiedler argues that leadership effectiveness is based on two factors: leadership style and situational control.

Leadership style

To quantify leadership style, Fiedler developed something he called the least preferred co-worker scale (LPC). The scale asks each leader to consider the person they least enjoyed working with – whether that be in a job, education, or training context.

Then, the leader must rate how they feel about the person based on several factors that exist on a scale from 1 to 8. For example, if a leader rated someone as moderately unfriendly, they may give a score of 3 or 4. 

These factors and their associated scales include:

  1. Unfriendly (1) grading to Friendly (8).
  2. Unpleasant (1) grading to Pleasant (8).
  3. Rejecting (1) grading to Accepting (8).
  4. Tense (1) grading to Relaxed (8).
  5. Cold (1) grading to Warm (8).
  6. Boring (1) grading to Interesting (8).
  7. Backbiting (1) grading to Loyal (8).
  8. Uncooperative (1) grading to Cooperative (8).
  9. Hostile (1) grading to Supportive (8).
  10. Guarded (1) grading to Open (8).
  11. Insincere (1) grading to Sincere (8).
  12. Unkind (1) grading to Kind (8).
  13. Inconsiderate (1) grading to Considerate (8).
  14. Untrustworthy (1) grading to Trustworthy (8).
  15. Gloomy (1) grading to Cheerful (8).
  16. Quarrelsome (1) grading to Harmonious (8).

The scores for each factor should then be added up. Higher scores reflect relationship-oriented leaders who prioritize personal connections and excel at conflict management

Lower scores, on the other hand, reflect task-oriented leaders who prioritize efficiency and excel at task delegation and completion.

Situational control

Situational control depends on three critical factors:

  1. Leader-member relations – or the level of trust and confidence subordinates have in a leader. Trust is positively correlated with influence and is categorized as either good or poor.
  2. Task structure – is the task clear and structured, or vague and unstructured? The latter scenario is unfavorable, for obvious reasons. Structure is categorized as either high or low.
  3. Leader’s position power – or the amount of power a leader possesses to direct the group and provide reward or punishment. The more power a leader has, the more favorable the situation. This factor is categorized as either strong or weak.

Interpreting the results of Fiedler’s contingency model

By examining the aforementioned variables, a multitude of leadership situations can be created which range from highly favorable to highly unfavorable. 

For context, a highly favorable situation is one where leader-member interactions are good, task structure is high, and power is strong.

With that said, let’s revisit the two leadership styles mentioned earlier. Where they do excel, and where are they ineffective?

Task-oriented

Task-oriented leaders perform best at opposite ends of the favourability scale. In other words, they are best suited to:

  • Highly favorable scenarios – when everyone likes each other and the task is clear and structured, the team simply needs a leader that can provide direction. 
  • Highly unfavorable scenarios – similarly, a leader that can provide direction is also important in situations with low task structure and poor leader-member relations.

Relationship-oriented

The relationship-oriented leader performs best in situations displaying moderate favourability. 

In these instances, the leader may be reasonably well-liked and uses some degree of power to supervise moderately structured tasks. 

Crucially, a relationship-oriented leader with superior interpersonal skills can increase task structure through clarification, earn more power through respect, and improve their relationship with subordinates.

Key takeaways:

  • Fiedler’s contingency model argues there is no one-size-fits-all leadership style. Instead, leaders should adapt their prevailing style to suit the current circumstances.
  • Fiedler’s contingency model notes there are two main leadership styles: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. Each can be evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level.
  • In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable, but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Connected Business Concepts And Frameworks

Agile Leadership

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Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

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Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Delegative Leadership

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Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

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Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Micromanagement

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Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

RASCI Matrix

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A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Organizational Structure

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An organizational structure allows companies to shape their business model according to several criteria (like products, segments, geography and so on) that would enable information to flow through the organizational layers for better decision-making, cultural development, and goals alignment across employees, managers, and executives. 

Tactical Management

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Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

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High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

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Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

Change Management

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Agile Project Management

Agile Management
Agile Project Management (AgilePM) seeks to bring order to chaotic corporate environments using several tools, techniques, and elements of the project lifecycle. Fundamentally, agile project management aims to deliver maximum value according to specific business priorities in the time and budget allocated. AgilePM is particularly useful in situations where the drive to deliver is greater than the perceived risk.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"