A Detailed Study of Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

Fiedler’s Contingency Theory


According to Fred Fiedler, there is no unique leadership style that is universally effective over all categories of employees. He also emphasizes that interpersonal relationship or leadership style and situation control are the two principal aspects that determine the effectiveness of a leader. This article talks about Fiedler’s Contingency Theory which states that the effectiveness of leadership is situational and varies from case to case and from one leader to another.

Contingency Theory – What it deals with?

Fred Fiedler in his Contingency Theory explores a leader’s behavior in a particular situation. In this theory, Fiedler tries to explain that effective leadership is dependent less on style of leading and more on the ability to control a situation. This situational control is dependent on three factors - nature of task, leader–team member relationship and leader’s ability to reward or reprimand.

Contingency Theory – Style of Leadership

To determine leadership style, Fiedler introduced a LPC (least preferred co-worker) scale and rated it 1-8. On this scale, the parameters are tested to know whether a leader is either task oriented or relationship oriented. This scale does not classify a leader as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but as a ‘task master’ or ‘relationship builder’. According to this theory, both types of leaders are necessary depending on situation. In certain situations, a ‘task master’ is needed, while in other particular situations, a ‘relationship builder’ is required.

# The LPC scale – The attributes measured are

Unfriendly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Friendly
Unpleasant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pleasant
Rejecting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Accepting
Tense 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Relaxed
Cold 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Warm
Boring 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Interesting
Backbiting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Loyal
Uncooperative 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Cooperative
Hostile 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Supportive
Guarded 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Open
Insincere 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Sincere
Unkind 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Kind
Inconsiderate 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Considerate
Untrustworthy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Trustworthy
Gloomy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Cheerful
Quarrelsome 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Harmonious

Each attribute begins with a negative trait and scales up to the corresponding positive trait. This scale is supposedly maintained by a leader and applied for every team member. Each member is evaluated with these four parameters. A high score signifies a leader who works more on relationship building, while a low score implies a task master.

Fiedlers Contingency Theory

# Significance of the LPC scale

Score on this scale is an indication of leadership style. A relationship builder avoids conflicts and is better equipped to tackle difficult situations. This type of leader performs well under favorable situations. At times when decisions are required to be made fast, a high LPC leader fares better. In contrast, a low LPC leader performs well in both conducive and unfavorable conditions. This is because a low LPC leader is task oriented and places less emphasis on relationships. When productivity becomes the objective, a low LPC leader is desirable.

Thus situation demands the type of leadership that is applicable. If it is important to take fast decisions, high LPC leadership is desirable. In case situation necessitates high productivity, low LPC leadership would be appropriate. For a ‘task master’, productivity is more important than relationship building. This is the essence of situational control in Fiedler’s Contingency Theory.

Contingency Theory Fiedler’s Considerations

Fiedler’s theory stresses on a leader’s personality. A leader’s psychological disposition is the key to his ability to guide and motivate his team. For a high LPC leader, each member is given ample freedom to perform his part. In assignments where end-result is not very well- defined, such as in a research laboratory, a ‘relationship building’ or high LPC leader is more desirable. In such cases, research results of each team member are equally important. Team members must feel comfortable to carry on with their experiments and research. A ‘feel good’ factor is very important in such situations.

Alternately, for a ‘task master’ or low LPC leader, a task is always well-defined. Achieving sales target or meeting deadlines are typical areas where low LPC leadership is desirable. Leaders with low LPC scores are effective irrespective of situational advantage or disadvantage. These leaders are always assertive and more successful in having a job completed on time. LPC scores according to Fiedler helps in identifying leadership style in a given situation. If a leader is capable of controlling situations, completing tasks in time and executing sufficient power and influence on a team, a favorable environment is created.

Article signup banner

Contingency Theory - Advantages

This Contingency Theory is a tool for managers for creating different task groups under leaders. For a large organization there are sectors that rely on human relationship for effective functioning, while there are other sectors where measurable tasks are required to be achieved. This segregation of different tasks and their end-results guide in appointing an appropriate leader for a project. According to Fiedler, there is not only one type of situation in a large organizational set-up. These different situations demand different categories of leaders.

This model helps a company to engage the right leader for the right kind of assignment. For instance, a ‘task master’ would function best when given an environment where assignments are well-defined and measurable. Alternatively, in a situation where it is necessary to allow freedom to team members, as in advertising, a ‘relation building’ leader would be advisable. This distinction in situation needs to be realized by managers thereby, enabling appointment of the most suitable leaders for different teams.

This model is situational and takes into consideration general situations. Though specifics are not defined, the results are flexible enough to fit into any group or situation connected to an organization. For example, if a group leader is of low LPC type, but with an intention of rewarding successful team members, he or she could also build a strong interpersonal relationship.

Contingency Theory - Drawbacks

The LPC scale in consideration is subjective and could vary from one situation to another. The scale fails to discriminate between situations and assumes same behavior from a member in similar situations. This might not always happen as team members’ thought processes are affected by several factors many of which are not related to work process. It has been found that Fiedler’s Contingency Theory holds good for small closely supervised groups. For large groups, where supervision becomes an issue, such definitive leader–team member associations are difficult to grow. LPC score as devised by Fiedler is only applicable for groups with limited members. Also in most large scale organizations tasks are not very well-defined making it difficult to draw a contingency plan.

To Wrap Up

Fiedler’s Contingency Theory has its share of merits and demerits. Before applying it, you must scrutinize the situations discreetly to know whether this theory will help you by clearing your ambiguity regarding the best leadership style depending on different situations.

Other tools you might find interesting