– Contingency Theory: Contingency theorysuggests that appropriate behavior in a given situation depends on a wide
variety of variables and that each situation is different. What might work in
one organization, set of issues, or employee group might not work in a different
organization with its own set of issues and employees.
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Theoretical Reflections – Contingency Theory
(Considerations for Technology Driven Reform)
Contingency theory suggests that appropriate behavior in a given situation
depends on a wide variety of variables and that each situation is different.
What might work in one organization, set of issues, or employee group might not
work in a different organization with its own set of issues and employees.
Effectiveness of schools, for example, is contingent upon the leadership style
of the principal and the favorableness of the situation (Hendricks, 1997). This
methodology acknowledges that no one best way exists to manage in a given
situation and those situational variables, from both the internal and external
environments impact on leadership practice.
Leadership styles cannot be fully explained by behavioral models. The
situation in which the group is operating also determines the style of
leadership that is adopted. Several models exist which attempt to understand the
relationship between style and situation; the four major theories comprising my
contingency category are Fiedler’s Contingency Model, Situational Theory,
Path-Goal Theory, and the Vroom-Yetton Leadership Model.
Fiedler’s Contingency Model
Fiedler’s model assumes that group performance depends on:
Leadership style, described in terms of task motivation and relationship
Situational contingencies, determined by three factors:
1. Leader-member relations – Degree to which a leader is accepted and
supported by the group members.
2. Task structure – Extent to which the task is structured and defined, with
clear goals and procedures.
3. Position power – The ability of a leader to control subordinates through
reward and punishment.
High levels of these three factors give the most favorable situation, low
levels, the least favorable. Relationship-motivated leaders are most effective
in moderately favorable situations. Task-motivated leaders are most effective at
either end of the scale. Fiedler suggests that it may be easier for leaders to
change their situation to achieve effectiveness, rather than change their
Fielder, F. (1967). A theory of leadership effectiveness. New York: McGraw.
This theory defines factors that determine how the leader’s personality and
styles of interacting with others affects the group performance and
organization. The appropriateness of the leadership style for maximizing group
performance is contingent upon the favorableness of the group-task situation.
Group performance is related to both the leadership style and the degree to
which the situation provides the leader with the opportunity to exert influence.
Fiedler (1967) defines the group, leader, and leader effectiveness:
The Group: A set of individuals who share a common fate and are
interdependent in the sense that an event that affects one member will affect
Leader: The individual in the group given the task of directing and
coordinating task-relevant group activities or who in the absence of a
designated leader, carries the primary responsibility for performing these
functions in the group.
Leader Effectiveness: “…Defined in terms of the group’s output, it’s
morale, and the satisfactions of its members.
Feidler also classifies groups according to the work relations among the
Interacting groups: Require close coordination of several team members on the
performance of the primary task. Many tasks also require the close and
simultaneous coordination of two of more people.
Co-acting groups: Members work together on a common task, but each member
does their job relatively independently of other team members.
Counteracting groups: Individuals work together for the purpose of
negotiating and reconciling conflicting opinions and purposes. Each member works
toward achieving his or her own ends at the expense of the other, to an extent.
Situational Theory (Paul Hersey & Kenneth Blanchard)
This theory suggests that leadership style should be matched to the maturity
of the subordinates. Maturity is assessed in relation to a specific task and has
Psychological maturity – Their self-confidence and ability and readiness to
Job maturity – Their relevant skills and technical knowledge.
As the subordinate maturity increases, leadership should be more
relationship-motivated than task-motivated. For four degrees of subordinate
maturity, from highly mature to highly immature, leadership can consist of:
Delegating to subordinates.
Participating with subordinates.
Selling ideas to subordinates.
Telling subordinates what to do
Lord, Robert G. and Maher Karen J. (1991) Leadership and Information
Processing: Linking Perceptions and Performance. Massachusetts: Unwin Hyman,
Situational Model of Hersey and Blanchard. – emphasize the importance for the
leader to consider the stage of organizational development of each of their
followers and to adapt their type of leadership to the followers developmental
level. Hersey and Blanchard talk about the leader and emphasize the influence of
their actions on the organization, through their followers. The leader can
compare to the influence of the executive in Lord and Maher’s theories. Both of
the theories emphasize the influence of style or actions of the leader on the
outcome of the follower or organization.
Lord and Maher in Leadership and Information Processing: Linking Perceptions
and Performance (1991) emphasize that executive level actions can affect an
organization’s performance. Their methodology incorporates leadership and
information processing, perceptual and social processes, leadership and
organizational performance, and stability, change, and information processing.
Their approach to understanding leadership is to develop a comprehensive theory
addressing both leadership perceptions and organizational performance. They
believe that “theory in any scientific area is an ongoing social process
and emphasize the possibilities of change,” “to understand leadership
perceptions it is essential to understand how people process information.”
Lord and Maher discuss direct and indirect effects of leadership on
performance, leadership succession, a model of organizational performance, and
executive leadership and organizational performance. In discussing direct and
indirect effects of leadership Lord and Maher explain the differences between
these two means of leadership. Direct means refer to “those leadership
activities which explicitly influence the behavior of subordinates or the
strategies of organizations.” (p169) This is the basis for most existing
leadership and management theory. Indirect means involve “establishing
certain conditions, such as socialization processes or culture, which then
affect subordinate and organizational performance.” (p. 171) Indirect means
form a powerful mode of affecting subordinate and organizational performance.
Lord and Maher then describe the effects of direct and indirect means of
leadership in lower and executive levels of an organization. In short, their
conclusion is that high-level executives may have difficulty being perceived as
Oliver, D. L. (1955). A Solomon Island Society, Kinship and Leadership Among
the Siuai of Bougainville. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Douglas Oliver (1955) in his study of a Solomon Island society tells stories
that the Siuai leader is comfortable dealing with all the aspects of Siuai life.
This is an example of situational methodology, which is one that states that the
situation is the main component of what determines what a leader will do.
DePree, M. (1989) Leadership Is An Art. New York: Dell
The Situational Model of Vroom and Yetton – centers on the interaction
between situational variables and the characteristics of the leader and/or the
follower. Max DePree (1989) identifies “roving leaders”, who use their
special talents and respond swiftly and effectively. The example that he uses is
a doctor dealing with an emergency situation. He says, “Roving leaders are
those indispensable people in our lives who are there when we need them” (DePree,
1989, p. 48). These people take charge in varying degrees when a situation needs
immediate attention, structure and action.
Hollander, E. P. (1964) Leaders, Groups, and Influence. New York: Oxford
Another aspect of this approach found in this book is that persons function
as leaders in a particular time and place, and both these can vary. A second
approach found in this book regaring leadership is called the situational
approach. The situational approach looks at the specific situations and the
tasks associated with it to determine whether or not unique leadership
characteristics could be seen as being essential. Hollander looks at this
appproach as “It is in the nature of situational requirements that they
call forth certain expectations for leadership, and these may be fulfilled by
various individuals in the situation.” (p. 5) This book also differenciates
between the trait approach and the situational approach by stating, “…the
situational approach conceives of leadership in terms of function performed,
rather than in terms of persisting traits of the leader.” (p. 5)
Path-Goal Theory (Robert House)
Robert House suggests that the leader in a number of ways can affect the
performance, satisfaction, and motivation of a group:
Offering rewards for the achievement of performance goals.
Clarifying paths towards these goals.
Removing performance obstacles.
A person may do these by adopting a certain leadership style, according to
Directive leadership – Specific advice is given to the group and ground rules
Supportive leadership – Good relations exist with the group and sensitivity
to subordinates’ needs is shown.
Participative leadership – Decision making is based on group consultation and
information is shared with the group.
Achievement-oriented leadership – Challenging goals are set and high
performance is encouraged while showing confidence in the groups’ ability.
Supportive behavior increases group satisfaction, particularly in stressful
situations, while directive behavior is suited to ambiguous situations. It is
also suggested that leaders who have influence upon their superiors can increase
group satisfaction and performance.
Vroom-Yetton Leadership Model
This model suggests the selection a leadership style for making a decision.
There are five decision-making styles:
Autocratic 1 – Problem is solved using information already available.
Autocratic 2 – Additional information is obtained from group before leader
Consultative 1 – Leader discusses problem with subordinates individually,
before making a decision.
Consultative 2 – Problem is discussed with the group before deciding.
Group 2 – Group decides upon problem, with leader simply acting as chair.
The style is chosen by the consideration of seven questions, which form a
decision tree. This is described in Leadership and Decision Making, by V.H.Vroom
and P.W.Yetton, pp.41-42, published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.
The Transactional Model
Hollander, E. P. (1964) Leaders, Groups, and Influence. New York: Oxford
The transactional approach by Edwin Hollander (1964) states that “the
interaction between a particular leader and a particular follower will change
over time based on such things as the changing confidence level of the leader
and of the follower, and other environmental changes that may be subtle and are
often difficult to document.” A “behind the scenes” leader, whose
behavior prevents a crisis from happening in the first place, might go
unnoticed, unappreciated and unstudied. This kind of leader develops the
strength of others and furthers the effectiveness of the organization.
Hollander, Edwin P. (1978); Leadership Dynamics – a practical guide to
effective relationships. New York: The Free Press (Macmillan Publishing Co.,Inc)
Hollander uses this book to illustrate his points on leadership and to
emphasize his views presented in as the Transactional Approach of leadership.
His primary focus is to show leadership as being something which is dependent on
many different forces, few of which any designated leader may have control over.
Though he emphasizes characteristics which are useful to leaders, he also
explores how the same characteristics can hinder the leaders effectiveness –
which leadership is, for Hollander, measured by. Along with characteristics the
leader may or may not hold, Hollander explores characteristics of the followers
and the situation.
To be credible as a leader is essential, as is the ability to balance the
importance placed on task initiation and group relationships. Hollander gives
examples through out the book sighting how essential a complete understanding of
the situation, and oneUs co-workers/ subordinates, in order to accomplish a goal
(another much needed element in effective leadership). Though he stresses the
importance of the realization of all these aspects by the leader, Hollander also
further develops the role the follower plays in affecting the leader and the
situation. Not only does the leader need to be in touch with the followers, the
followers need to be in touch with the leader and each group affects the other
both in positive and negative ways. Some of the things on which the leaders
success depends are the expectations, the personalities. the competence and the
motivation of the followers as well as the structure, setting, and resources the
situation provides. These things are beyond the leaders initial control yet are
Along with the interaction between those three properties (leader, follower,
and situational characteristics), things to keep in mind is how the leader
original obtained the position, how the position has been kept by the leader and
what factors have had what effect on the situation. Hollander stress the
importance of having legitimacy of position not through hierarchy but by
competency. He also stress the importance of being able to recognize change
happening within the situation. Whether planed or not, change will take place to
some extent and a good leader should be able to recognize the change, how it
will/ could effect the situation, and what therefore should be done.
Hollanders theory comes under the heading of Interactional theories (those
which recognize the importance of the situation and the follower), however he
claims a large difference is in his realization of the effect the follower has
on the leader and vice versa whereas most other Interactionl (or the RoriginalS
theory) concentrates on the leaders role in working with the follower and how
that work reflects on their leadership, though the follower does not take an
RactiveS part in affecting the leader and situation – something Hollander does
HollanderUs approach also reflects that of the Contingency model (that
leaders and situations should be matched because certain situations call for
certain leadership styles and leaders cannot change their style easily so they
need to RfitU in correct positions based on assessment of the situation and the
leader) though he differs from Fiedler and Chemers in that he suggests more
ability of the leader to form or change the situation. He also defines and
explains certain tactics of leadership which he finds to be important (such as
being somewhat flexible in rules/ definitions in order to allow followers the
chance to explore the situation and develop as people) which can be fulfilled to
a greater or lesser degree by all people whereas Fiedler and Chemers expect a
realization of ones personal strong points and the application of them.