The Fiedler contingency model is a leadership theory of industrial and organizational psychology developed by Fred Fiedler (born 1922), one of the leading scientists who helped his field move from the research of traits and personal characteristics of leaders to leadership styles and behaviours.
Two Factors of Fiedler's Contingecy Model
Many scholars assumed that there was one best style of leadership. Fiedler's contingency model postulates that the leader's effectiveness is based on situational contingency which is a result of interaction of two factors: leadership style and situational favourableness (later called situational control). More than 400 studies have since investigated this relationship.
Least preferred co-worker (LPC)
The leadership style of the leader, thus, fixed and measured by what he calls the least preferred co-worker (LPC) scale, an instrument for measuring an individualï¿½s leadership orientation. The LPC scale asks a leader to think of all the people with whom they have ever worked and then describe the person with whom they have worked least well, using a series of bipolar scales of 1 to 8, such as the following:
Unfriendly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Friendly
Uncooperative 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Cooperative
Hostile 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Supportive
…. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ….
Guarded 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Open
The responses to these scales (usually 18-25 in total) are summed and averaged: a high LPC score suggests that the leader has a human relations orientation, while a low LPC score indicates a task orientation. Fiedler assumes that everybody's least preferred coworker in fact is on average about equally unpleasant. But people who are indeed relationship motivated, tend to describe their least preferred coworkers in a more positive manner, e.g., more pleasant and more efficient. Therefore, they receive higher LPC scores. People who are task motivated, on the other hand, tend to rate their least preferred coworkers in a more negative manner. Therefore, they receive lower LPC scores. So, the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale is actually not about the least preferred worker at all, instead, it is about the person who takes the test; it is about that person's motivation type. This is so, because, individuals who rate their least preferred coworker in relatively favorable light on these scales derive satisfaction out of interpersonal relationship, and those who rate the coworker in a relatively unfavorable light get satisfaction out of successful task performance. This method reveals an individual's emotional reaction to people with whom he or she cannot work. Critics point out that this is not always an accurate measurement of leadership effectiveness.
According to Fiedler, there is no ideal leader. Both low-LPC (task-oriented) and high-LPC (relationship-oriented) leaders can be effective if their leadership orientation fits the situation. The contingency theory allows for predicting the characteristics of the appropriate situations for effectiveness. Three situational components determine the favourableness or situational control:
1. Leader-Member Relations, referring to the degree of mutual trust, respect and confidence between the leader and the subordinates.
2. Task Structure, referring to the extent to which group tasks are clear and structured.
3. Leader Position Power, referring to the power inherent in the leader's position itself.
When there is a good leader-member relation, a highly structured task, and high leader position power, the situation is considered a "favorable situation." Fiedler found that low-LPC leaders are more effective in extremely favourable or unfavourable situations, whereas high-LPC leaders perform best in situations with intermediate favourability.
Leader-Situation Match and Mismatch
Since personality is relatively stable, the contingency model suggests that improving effectiveness requires changing the situation to fit the leader. This is called "job engineering." The organization or the leader may increase or decrease task structure and position power, also training and group development may improve leader-member relations. In his 1976 book Improving Leadership Effectiveness: The Leader Match Concept Fiedler (with Martin Chemers and Linda Mahar) offers a self paced leadership training programme designed to help leaders alter the favourableness of the situation, or situational control.
Examples of Fiedler's Contingecy Model
- Task-oriented leadership would be advisable in natural disaster, like a flood or fire. In an uncertain situation the leader-member relations are usually poor, the task is unstructured, and the position power is weak. The one who emerges as a leader to direct the group's activity usually does not know any of his or her subordinates personally. The task-oriented leader who gets things accomplished proves to be the most successful. If the leader is considerate (relationship-oriented), he or she may waste so much time in the disaster, which may lead things to get out of control and lives might get lost.
- Blue-collar workers generally want to know exactly what they are supposed to do. Therefore, their work environment is usually highly structured. The leader's position power is strong if management backs his or her decision. Finally, even though the leader may not be relationship-oriented, leader-member relations may be extremely strong if he or she is able to gain promotions and salary increases for subordinates. Under these situations is the task-oriented style of leadership is preferred over the (considerate) relationship-oriented style.
- The considerate (relationship-oriented) style of leadership can be appropriate in an environment where the situation is moderately favorable or certain. For example, when (1) leader-member relations are good, (2) the task is unstructured, and (3) position power is weak. Situations like this exists with research scientists, who do not like superiors to structure the task for them. They prefer to follow their own creative leads in order to solve problems. In a situation like this a considerate style of leadership is preferred over the task-oriented
Opposing views of Fiedler's Contingecy Model
Researchers often find that Fiedler's contingency theory falls short on flexibility. They also noticed that LPC scores can fail to reflect the personality traits they are supposed to reflect.
Fiedler's contingency theory has drawn criticism because it implies that the only alternative for an unalterable mismatch leader orientation and an unfavorable situation is changing the leader.
The model's validity has also been disputed, despite many supportive tests (Bass 1990).
Other criticisms concern the methodology of measuring leadership style through the LPC inventory and the nature of the supporting evidence (Ashour 1973; Schriesheim and Kerr 1977a, 1977b; Vecchio 1977, 1983). Fiedler and his associates have provided decades of research to support and refine the contingency theory.
Cognitive Resource Theory (CRT) modifies Fiedler's basic contingency model by adding traits of the leader (Fiedler and Garcia 1987). CRT tries to identify the conditions under which leaders and group members will use their intellectual resources, skills and knowledge effectively. While it has been generally assumed that more intelligent and more experienced leaders will perform better than those with less intelligence and experience, this assumption is not supported by Fiedler's research.
Summary of Fiedler's Contingecy Model
To Fiedler, stress is a key determinant of leader effectiveness (Fiedler and Garcia 1987; Fiedler et al. 1994), and a distinction is made between stress related to the leader's superior, and stress related to subordinates or the situation itself. In stressful situations, leaders dwell on the stressful relations with others and cannot focus their intellectual abilities on the job. Thus, intelligence is more effective and used more often in stress-free situations. Fiedler has found that experience impairs performance in low-stress conditions but contributes to performance under high-stress conditions. As with other situational factors, for stressful situations Fiedler recommends altering or engineering the leadership situation to capitalize on the leader's strengths. Despite all the criticism, Fiedler's contingency theory is an important theory because it established a brand new perspective for the study of leadership. Many approaches after Fiedler's theory have adopted the contingency perspective.
Fred Fiedler's situational contingency theory holds that group effectiveness depends on an appropriate match between a leader's style (essentially a trait measure) and the demands of the situation. Fiedler considers situational control the extent to which a leader can determine what his or her group is going to do to be the primary contingency factor in determining the effectiveness of leader behavior.