Contingency Leadership Theory

Table of Content


Leadership is one of the most critical factors in an organization. Leadership is not only essential in accomplishing business objectives but in building organizational structure and relationships. According to Tubbs and Schulz (2006), there is a direct correlation between business competencies and leadership. This implies that leaders are indicative of an organization’s ability to stay competitive in their field.

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In the article written by Michael A. Hogg (2001) for the Personality and Social Psychology Review titled A Social Identity Theory of Leadership, the idea of leadership in the context of the leader’s social experience. The perspective suggests that leadership results from group dynamics. Therefore, the leader’s manner of self-categorization, identification, prototyping and interactions with other members of the group depends on his socialization process. The article provides an interesting study on leadership not only in itself but also in parallel to other leadership theories that have been developed. Among the theories that can be used to study Hogg’s is Fred Fielder’s contingency theory which also focuses on the leaders’ perspective development based on his interactions with members of the organization he leads.

Impact of Leadership

Leadership can be powerful organizational motivator. If the leaders are able to guide the members of the organization towards the accomplishment of the major goal which is profits, efficiency and effectivity of the organization (Savolainen, 2000). Confidence in management allows for open communication channels facilitating the discussion and resolution of concerns or disputes. This also can enhance the organization’s stability: if members feel secure, properly represented and involved in their organization, the desire for collective action is not as significant (Portes, 2000).

To be able to understand the leadership style of an individual, it is important to understand not only the individual in the context of the organization but also as an individual. Hornsey and Jetten (2004) cite that people naturally develop their identity to differentiate with others on a personal and functional level. Thus, leaders develop characteristics to identify their role in the organization and at the same time to distinct the leader from it. According to the contingency theory, the priorities of the leader can be influenced by how he has developed the prioritization of his objectives and the working preferences he develops with other members of the organization. Thus, though these factors are developed essentially on an individual level, these factors influences management directives, responsibility assignment and the composition of teams or hierarchies of the organization (Reynolds, 2003).

Understanding Contingency Leadership Theory

One of theories or perspective known as the contingency theory was developed by Fred Fielder. The theory assumes that leaders have a set, series or array of goals that they have identified for accomplishment each with their own priority level. The prioritization of these factors is influenced by whether the leader is relationship or task-motivated (Stewart Associates, 2007). Another important element of the theory is Fielder’s development of the idea of a least preferred co-worker which can be plotted on scale depending on the degree of dislike the leader has for working with that individual (Reynolds, 2003). The interaction of these elements highlights the importance of factors such as leader-member relations, task structure and position power of the leader within the organization.


            There are two main leadership orientations according to Fielder: people-oriented and task-oriented. The two orientations are characterized by what the leader perceives as a concern, relationships of members of the organization or work objectives. This is not to imply that the leader considers either task or people of lesser value but rather that one focus is given precedence or a higher priority rating (Stewart Associates, 2007).

            People-oriented or relationship-oriented leaders prioritize acceptance within the group. This entails not only the acceptance of his role as a leader but as a member of the group as well. Thus, the leader focuses on building relationships with its members, developing channels of communication and platforms for collaboration. In this scenario, the leader considers rapport with the organization as a means of motivating them. At the same time, the leader wants to develop within the organization a personal relationship with the organization that will be apparent in the loyalty to the organization and its objectives. This implies that the relationship of the individual with the leader, the organizations and its members is indicative of their being part of the organization (Savolainen, 2000)

            Task-oriented leadership focuses on the accomplishment of the task. This entails the accomplishment of work objectives according to the work design or scheduled for the organization. Thus, the leaders focuses on building the means by which the tasks ca be accomplished accordingly. This scenario suggests that the leader will consider the completion of work objectives as indicative of the level of motivation or success of the organization. Consequently, it will also be used as the standard to measure the commitment of members of the organization (Reynolds, 2003). The implication is that is tasks are completed accordingly to objectives, the organization’s leadership is effective and members of the organization have no concerns regarding it.

Factors Affecting Leadership Style

            The contingency theory also explores the factors that influence the adaptation of leadership styles or orientations. As mentioned, Fielder considers three main factors: leader-member relations, task structure and position power (Stewart Associates, 2007). He theorized that these factors in the context of the leader influence the degree or the manner of prioritization is accorded to tasks versus people or relationships. Therefore, to be able to understand the motivations behind the orientation of the leader, it is critical to understand what these factors are and how they operate in the organization.

            Leader-member relations refer to the interpersonal relationships that exist between leaders and followers. These can be influenced by personality, language, culture, location and external socio-political factors. According to Neuliep (2006), there is realization that these factors have gained importance considering the diversity that exists in organizations today in terms of personnel and the extent of operations of organizations, in particular businesses, because of globalization.

            Task structures refer to the how work objectives are designed. This considers the hierarchy of command within the group, exchanges and relationships in the organization. The structures must be able to support the realization of job satisfaction, efficiency, effectivity, flexibility and be able to have access to channels for the resolution of problems. At the same time the structure must be able to consider the security, privacy or sensitivity of tasks in the context nature or operations of the organization.

            The last factor that was highlighted by Fielding was position power. This refers to the significance of the position held the leader to establish authority and compliance to his directives. On a hierarchical perspective, this refers to the separation of individuals based on rank. A function of the positioning of power also develops the social stratification or ranking that the organization and its members consider for social order.

Concept of Least Preferred Co-worker

            Another important element to the contingency theory is the Fielder’s development of the concept of a least preferred co-worker or LPC. Together with the development of the concept, he created a scale to indicate its significance to factors affecting leadership orientations. As seen in Figure 1, this suggests that LPC can influence the leader’s style in terms of choosing between management focus.

            However, this part of his theory has been considered problematic by other researchers such as Robert Blake and Jane Mouton. These authors consider that the idea of the high-relationship and the high task leader being able to achieved efficiency in all organizations is not universal (Stewart Associates, 2007). Instead, they suggest that the maturity of the organization that dictates the effectiveness of task-oriented or relationship-oriented leaderships. However, this does not diminish the significance of leadership styles in an organization.

Contingency Leadership Theory and “A Social Identity Theory of Leadership”

            Both Fielder’s and Hogg’s insights to leadership emphasize that it has a dynamic relationship with the organization. Fielder assumes leadership effectiveness is contingent upon the characteristics of the leader and the context of his organization. Hogg (2001) develops leadership by considering it as a social identity which is part of the developed identity of the individual. In both perspectives, leadership is recognized as a force that affects the individual members of the organization and at the same time affects it as a collective.


            Both Fielder and Hogg highlight the role of leadership in the accomplishment of goals and the development of the organization. For example, in the construction of intragroup prototypical gradients develop from the organization’s cognitive and behavioral characteristics which in turn influence the orientation of leadership orientations as will be indicated in management policies, prioritization of objectives and resolution of conflicts (Hogg, 2001, pp. 187-189). This also influences the response and compliance of the organization to the directives of the leader as will be indicated by either changes in relationships or accomplishment of tasks (p. 198).

            The cohesion of the organization in its support or response to the leader’s actions creates the status of the leader and reinforces the organizational and task structure. Reactions also influence the power held by the leader. Support of the leader can create more power for the leader even if no change in management structure. Therefore, the leadership becomes socially accepted regardless of its orientation because of the developed organizational and work design.


                Though the two ideas have significant similarities, they also have differences particularly in the nature of the leader and his appeal to the organization as well as its implication to the organization.  For example, the consensual social attraction that results form the compliance of the organization to the leadership creates status-based structural differentiations which can develop to deficiencies in the power and task structures of the organization. In Fielder’s theory, there is an assumption that these structures are not aversely affected (see Figure 1). Another point to considered is regarding the identification within the group which in for example relationship-orientated orientations implies the cohesion of the organization but which Hogg points out to be not necessarily identification with the organization but only to  the group the follower or the leader belongs to (pp. 194-196).

            At the same time, social identity theory suggests that in contrast to the contingency theory which emphasizes that the quality of leader is what creates the support or compliance of the followers, there is evidence that these characteristics are overpowered by the attributions made regarding the leader (pp. 185-188). An example that Hogg provides is the use of charisma instead of either relationship or task orientations developing leadership oven an organization. This defies both task-oriented and personal-oriented approaches because the process involves no accomplishment of any work or task designed and depersonalized social attraction respectively (Imai, 2006).


                Considering the significance of organizations can have in the society, there should be a realization that leaders have to not only to respond to the needs of their organization but also to understand the contextual effect of his leadership, the organization and society has on each other. This should be reflected in his management style and response to the challenges of managing an organization. The choices to be made may not be as simplistic as being task-oriented or relationship oriented, or dependent only on leader-member relations, task structure and position power or preferences with co-workers.

            As indicated in Hogg’s study of the social identities and leadership, the implication of the actions and decisions of a leader have a social value both as an influencing factor to the leader and as a result of the leader’s actions (Savolainen, 2000). Current literature is emphasizing that organizations must be studies in the context of social factors like language, culture and politics not only to recognize the changes in social structures but also in anticipation of intensification of transnational exchange considering the rate of globalization.

            In conclusion, both Fielder and Hogg provide important insights to the role of leaders to organizations and society. This serves to highlight the importance of effective leadership for the accomplishment of goals and the development of organizational relationships. Therefore both contingency theory and social identity theory should be used as tolls to develop to develop leadership competencies and skills to support organizational success.


Dalton, M. and Chrobot-Mason, D. (2007). A Theoretical Exploration of Manager and Employee Social Identity, Cultural Values and Identity Conflict Management. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, August 7(2): 169 – 183.

Hogg, Michael A. (2001). A Social Identity Theory of Leadership. Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, 184-200

Hornsey, M. J. and Jetten, J. (2004). The Individual Within the Group: Balancing the Need to Belong With the Need to Be Different. Personality and Social Psychology Review, August 8(3). pp 248 – 264.

Imai, Kunihiko (2006). Culture, Civilization, or Economy? Test of the Clash of Civilizations Thesis.  International Journal on World Peace Vol. 23 No. 3 September. pp 3-29

Neuliep, J. W. (2006). Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Portes, A. (2000). The Two Meaning of Social Capital. Sociological Forum, 15(1), 1- 11.

Reynolds, Dennis (2003) On-Site Foodservice Management: A Best Practices Approach. New York:  Wiley

Savolainen, T. (2000) Leadership Strategies for Gaining Business Excellence Through Total Quality Management. The Case of British Supermarkets. Journal of Total Quality Management. 11(2):226

Stewart Associates (2007). Leadership Models and Theories. Retrieved on July 26, 2007 from

Tubbs, S. L. and Schulz, E. (2006) Exploring a Taxonomy of Global Leadership Competencies and Meta-competencies. The Journal of American Academy of Business, March 8(2). Michigan: Eastern Michigan University


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