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Fiedler’s Contingency Model

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Fred E. Fiedler was one of the first leadership researchers to acknowledge that effective leadership is dependent on the characteristics of the leader and the situation. The contingency model helps to explain why a manager may be an effective leader in one situation and ineffective in another. The contingency model also shows which managers are likely to be most effective in what situations. It is said by Fiedler, that personal characteristics can influence leader effectiveness. Leader style is used to refer to a manager’s characteristic approach to leadership. There are two leader styles, to include: relationship-oriented and task-oriented leaders. Relationship oriented leaders are concerned with developing good relationships with their subordinates and being liked by them. Relationship oriented leaders focus on having high-quality interpersonal relationships with subordinates. A task oriented leader’s primary concern is to ensure that subordinates perform at a high level. A task oriented leader has a focus on how productive a subordinate’s job performance is in relation to their task accomplishment. According to Fiedler, there are three styles of leadership in a situational characteristic.

These styles include: leader/member relations, task structure, and position power. Leader/member is when subordinates trust and are loyal to their leaders. Task structure is when the subordinate has a clear understanding of the job assignment. Position power is the amount of legitimate reward and coercive power a leader has by virtue of his or her position in an organization. (George & Jones, 2011) Fred Fiedler started his work on the Contingency Model in 1951. The first presentation of the model was in 1963 and it was reviewed and revised in 1974 and 1978. The work of Fiedler has been dedicated to examining the individual’s characteristics (to include: trait, intelligence, and experience) and the situation. Therefore, the model incorporates two main scientific approaches: One, the trait approach to leadership, and the other, the person-situation interaction approach used in social psychological research. In the 1970s, researchers studying human behavior endorsed the notion that a person’s behavior is the result of an interaction between who the person is (e.g., ability, values, or traits) and the environment (e.g., the social setting, the task).

The leadership outcomes have included performance, satisfaction, turnover, absenteeism, and stress. The development of Fiedler’s leadership model reflects this general evolution in the social sciences. (Ayman, 2002) In the last 50 years, Fiedler has presented two main models: the contingency model of leadership effectiveness (1978) and the Cognitive Resource Theory. In both of these models, the relationship between the individual’s characteristics and the leader’s effectiveness is examined in relation to situational demands. Fiedler believed that the leader’s characteristics in relation to effectiveness are contingent on the situation, or the situational elements. Fiedler’s contingency models are different from other contingency models such as path-goal theory and the leader decision-making model. These models of leadership investigate leaders by assessing the leaders’ behavior, whereas Fiedler’s model examines the leaders by assessing the leaders’ characteristics (e.g., motivational orientation, intelligence, and experience). (Ayman, 2002) After the initial years of research, the model was presented in its final form in the 1970s.

The model’s main premise is that two factors interact to predict a leader’s effectiveness. One factor included the leader’s characteristics (mostly defined by the leader’s motivational orientation) and the other factor included the leader’s level of certainty or control over the situation. The situation includes the work team’s support for the leader, the clarity of the goal and strategy for the leader, and the authority present in the position of the leader. The model predicts that in certain situations, where the leaders have high control, the group’s performance will be better if the leader is task-motivated rather than relationship-motivated. In situations where the leader has moderate control, the groups’ performance will be superior if the leader is relationship focused rather than task-oriented. (Houghton & Yoho, 2005) There is also question whether “self-leadership is a contingency theory that best fits certain boundary conditions” or whether it is “a universally applicable theory that will work with all employees under all circumstances” Indeed, self-leadership theorists have often suggested that encouraging follower self-leadership may not be universally appropriate. Fiedler’s (1967) contingency model of leadership effectiveness has been one of the most influential theories in the field of leadership research.

The model proposes that leadership effectiveness, as reflected by group productivity is contingent upon the interaction of the leader’s orientation and the favorableness of the group task situation. (Chemers & Rice, 1973) The contingency model describes the relationship between leadership orientation and leadership effectiveness. Self-leadership has often been presented as a primary mechanism for facilitating empowerment. Self-leadership is defined as a systematic set of strategies through which individuals influence themselves toward higher levels of performance and effectiveness In recent years, self-leadership concepts have gained considerable popularity as evidenced by a number of practitioner oriented books, articles on the subject, and coverage in an increasing number of management and leadership textbooks. (Houghton & Yoho, 2005)

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