An overview: Fiedler’s Contingency Approach to Leadership

Leadership is an attribute of immense importance in order to make a task done. In order to effectively lead it is also fruitful to gain understanding of the theories presented by various social thinkers. Fielder’s Contingency Theory is one of the most widely used theories till date. According to the theory determination of the leadership style in order to achieve most productive and efficient work group is related with the rating of leader for his/her least preferred coworker.

As mentioned by Dessler (2004), “Fielder measured leadership style with his Least Preferred Co-worker LPC scale. Leaders who describe their least preferred coworker favorably are ‘high LPC’ and are considered more people-oriented. ‘Low-LPCs’ describe least preferred coworkers unfavorably; they’re less people-oriented and more task-oriented” (p. 267).

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The main theme of the theory is that various situational factors act as the major force in the formation of a leader with personality attributes and interaction between the leader and the group members. “People become leader not only because of the attributes of their personalities but also because of various situational factors and the interactions between leaders and group members”. (Koontz, Weihrich, 1994)

According to Fiedler there are three directions which play an important role in finding out the most suitable leadership style. First is Position power which can be described as the extent of power of the designation a leader can enjoy despite his personal qualities and expertise. This can also be defined as the organizational authority which a manager can use to make his team members follow his orders. According to Fiedler’s point of view it is easier for a leader to obtain good follower ship if he occupies a clear and considerable position power. On the other hand if the position power of the leader will be vague and weak he will find it difficult to make others follow him.

The second attribute is the Task Structure. In Fiedler’s point of view it is also important that each and every individual in team has clear concepts about the task structure. The duties of the individuals in the team should be specified. According to Fiedler the performance of the members are directly related with the degree of clarity of task structure, the higher the clarity higher the performance level.

Conversely if the task is vague and unstructured and responsibilities are not assigned, it will be difficult to easily control and manage the performance of group members. Third attribute is known as the Leader-Member relations. According to Fiedler, this is the most important attribute. Leader-Member Relationship can be regarded as the extent to which the members of the team admire, rely and willing to follow the leader.

In order to undertake his study Fiedler divided the leadership styles in two major categories. According him the leaders who gains satisfaction from the completion of tasks are “task oriented leaders.” On the other hand those leaders who primarily give priority to good interpersonal relations are interpersonal relations oriented leaders.

Further he defined the favorableness of situation as the degree of the suitability of situation for a leader to make the group of people follow him in his desired direction. In lieu of measuring leadership style and de he presented a measuring technique which is still used popularly in most of the organizations. The testing tool introduced by Fiedler mainly constituted of two sources:“Scores on the least preferred coworker (LPC) scale: these are ratings made by people in a group as to those with whom they would least like to work.” (Koontz, Weihrich, 1994)

“Scores on the assumed similarity between opposites (ASO) scale: Ratings based on the degree to which leaders see group members as being like themselves, on the assumption that people will like best, and work best with, those who are seen as most like themselves”. (Koontz, Weihrich, 1994)

According to the ratings in the studies conducted by Fiedler, he reached the conclusion that those leaders who rated their co-workers in favorable direction were those who drive satisfaction from having successful interpersonal relationship. Conversely those who rated their co- workers as least preferred coworkers low were the drivers of satisfaction from task performance.

According to Fiedler “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.” (Wikipedia, 2007)

“According to Fiedler, a task-orientated style of leadership is more effective than a considerate (relationship-orientated) style under extreme situations, that is, when the situations, is either very favorable (certain) or very unfavorable (uncertain)” (Gannon, 1982).

  • In Favorable conditions the position power is strong, task structure is clear, Leader-member relations are good and both human relations oriented and task oriented leaders are favorable.
  • In Unfavorable conditions Leader’s position power is weak, task structure is unclear, Leader-member relations are moderately poor, the situation is unfavorable for the leader and Task oriented leader will be most effective.

The Contingency theory provide the suggestions that the most effective and higher productive result of tasks can only be achieved by changing the situation to fit the leader. The notion is defined as “job engineering.” This can be undertaken by increasing or decreasing the task structure and changing the position power. Improved training and development process can also achieve the goal.  In 1976 Fiedler et al. presented a self paced leadership training program which could be helpful in achieving the desired situation and the level of control. (Wikipedia, 2007)

Some researchers find the theory less flexible as it suggests changing the leader or that task rather than finding a flexible solution. Most often the LPC scores are not the exact measurement of the personality traits needed to be measured. On the other hand although the theory has been effectively tested still there are enormous concerns regarding the validity of the theory. In several studies the researchers (Ashour 1973; Schriesheim and Kerr 1977a, 1977b; Vecchio 1977, 1983) have raised concerns regarding the use of LPC inventory and lack of provision of the supporting evidence. (Wikipedia, 2007)

According to some of the researchers the theory cannot be effectively applied in the present scenario. According to the theory the leader can only fundamentally be relations-oriented or task oriented despite the fact that different situations require different types of leadership. As stated by Jeffery A. Mello (2003):

The model implied that as one or more of the three contingency variables of leader/member relations, task structure, or leader position power changed, the possible corresponding mandate that task- or relations-oriented leadership be substituted for the other meant that the leader would have to be replaced. (n.p.).

The volatile environment of today’s business requires a dynamic leader who is able to accept change and respond differently according to the situation with the team constituting individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. Leaders should not limit themselves to a specific leadership style rather they should adopt different leadership theories and styles most suitable for their work environment.


  1. Ashour, A.S. (1973) ‘The Contingency Model of Leadership Effectiveness: An Evaluation’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 9(3): 339–55.
  2. Fiedler, F.E. and Garcia, J.E. (1987) New Approaches to Leadership, Cognitive Resources and Organizational Performance, New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  3. Gannon, Martin J. Management: An Integrated Framework. Boston: Little, Brown, 1982.
  4. Gary Dessler, (2004). Management, Leading People and Organizations in the 21st Century, International Edition
  5. Koontz, H., & Weihrich, H., (1994). Management: A Global Perspective, Tenth Edition, Mc-Graw Hill series in management.
  6. Schriesheim, C.A. and Kerr, S. (1977a) ‘Theories and Measures of Leadership’, in J.G. Hunt, and L.L. Larson (eds), Leadership: The Cutting Edge, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  7. Vecchio, R.P. (1977) ‘An Empirical Examination of the Validity of Fiedler’s Model of Leadership Effectiveness’, Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 19: 180–206.
  8. Wikipedia, (2007). Fiedler contingency model, available at

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An overview: Fiedler’s Contingency Approach to Leadership. (2016, Dec 09). Retrieved from