Fiedler’s Leadership Contingency Theory – Explained

Fiedler’s Leadership Contingency Theory
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Fiedler’s Leadership Contingency Theory – Explained

Fiedler’s Contingency Theory, also known as the Contingency Model of Leadership, offers a unique perspective on the dynamics between leaders and their environments. Developed by Fred Fiedler, this theory posits that there is no single best style of leadership. Instead, it asserts that a leader’s effectiveness depends on how well their leadership style aligns with the specific situation or context in which they operate. This theory provides a nuanced understanding of leadership, suggesting that successful leaders are those who can adapt their approach to match the demands of their environment.

Understanding Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

At its core, Fiedler’s Contingency Theory revolves around the concept of situational contingency. This theory suggests that effective leadership is contingent upon the match between a leader’s style and the characteristics of the situation they find themselves in. In other words, a leader’s success is determined by how well their innate leadership orientation fits the specific demands and challenges of their role.

K@ey Components of Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

Leadership Style:

Fiedler identified two primary leadership styles: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. Task-oriented leaders focus on goal accomplishment, efficiency, and structure. Relationship-oriented leaders, on the other hand, prioritize building strong relationships, fostering collaboration, and maintaining team harmony.

Situational Favorableness:

The theory introduces the concept of situational favorableness, which refers to the extent to which a situation is conducive to leadership effectiveness. This includes factors such as leader-member relations, task structure, and positional power.
Leader-member relations refer to the level of trust, respect, and support between the leader and their team members.
Task structure pertains to the degree of clarity, structure, and goal specificity inherent in the task or mission.
Positional power relates to the authority, influence, and control a leader has within their position.

Contingency Principle:

The core principle of Fiedler’s theory is that the effectiveness of a leader is contingent upon the fit between their leadership style and the situational favorableness. A good fit occurs when a leader’s style aligns with the demands of the situation, leading to higher group performance and satisfaction.

Applying Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

Fiedler’s theory has practical implications for leadership selection, development, and effectiveness:

Leadership Selection:

When selecting leaders, organizations can assess both their leadership style and the characteristics of the situation. A leader with a task-oriented style may be more effective in highly structured and goal-oriented contexts. Conversely, a relationship-oriented leader may excel in situations requiring strong team collaboration and harmony.

Leadership Development:

Understanding the contingency principle can guide leadership development initiatives. Leaders can enhance their effectiveness by learning to adapt their style to fit the situation. This may involve developing a more task-oriented or relationship-oriented approach as needed.

Situational Analysis:

Organizations can benefit from analyzing the situational favorableness of different roles and contexts. By understanding the demands of a particular situation, they can match leaders with the appropriate style, increasing the likelihood of success.

Flexibility and Adaptability:

Fiedler’s theory emphasizes the importance of flexibility and adaptability in leaders. Effective leaders recognize the demands of their environment and adjust their approach accordingly, demonstrating situational awareness and responsiveness.

Example: Applying Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

Consider a tech startup facing challenges with team dynamics and low morale. The current leader exhibits a strong task-oriented style, focusing primarily on goal accomplishment. However, the situation calls for improved team relationships and collaboration. By recognizing the mismatch between the leader’s style and the situational demands, the organization can take steps to improve the leader’s relationship-building skills or consider reassigning them to a more suitable role.

 Comparison with Other Leadership Theories

Fiedler’s Contingency Theory offers a unique perspective compared to other leadership theories:

Trait Theories:

Unlike trait theories, which emphasize innate leadership traits, Fiedler’s theory focuses on the interaction between the leader’s style and the situation. It acknowledges that certain traits may be advantageous in specific contexts.

Behavioral Theories:

Behavioral theories suggest that leadership is a set of learned behaviors. While Fiedler’s theory recognizes the importance of behavior, it also highlights the impact of the situation on leadership effectiveness.

Contingency Theories:

Fiedler’s theory is one of several contingency theories, which propose that leadership effectiveness depends on the fit between leaders and their environments. However, Fiedler’s model specifically focuses on the interplay between leadership style and situational favorableness.


Fiedler’s Contingency Theory provides a valuable framework for understanding the complex dynamics between leaders and their environments. By recognizing the interplay between leadership style and situational demands, organizations can make more informed decisions about leadership selection, development, and overall effectiveness. This theory underscores the importance of adaptability and situational awareness in successful leaders, ultimately enhancing their ability to lead their teams toward achieving organizational goals.


  • Initiated the situational contingency approach in the mid-1960s.
  • Fiedler’s approach emphasized that group effectiveness depends on an appropriate match between the leader’s style and situational demands.
  • Key variables in Fiedler’s contingency model.
    • Situational control.
      • The extent to which a leader can determine what his or her group is going to do as well as the outcomes of the group’s actions and decisions.
      • Is a function of:
        • Leader-member relations.
        • Task structure.
        • Position power.
      • Least preferred co-worker (LPC) score reflects a person’s leadership style.
        • High-LPC leaders have a relationship-motivated style.
        • Low-LPC leaders have a task-motivated style.
      • Implications of Fiedler’s contingency model.
        • Task-motivated leaders have more effective groups under conditions of low or high situational control.
        • Relationship-motivated leaders have more effective groups under conditions of moderate situational control.
      • Fiedler’s cognitive resource theory.
        • Cognitive resources are abilities or competencies.
        • A leader’s use of directive or nondirective behavior depends on:
          • The leader’s or subordinates group members’ ability or competency.
          • Group support of the leader.
        • Directedness is most helpful for performance when the leader is:
        • Otherwise non directedness is preferred.
      • Evaluation and application of Fiedler’s contingency theory
        • Controversy regarding what LPC actually measures
        • Leaders match training
          • Leaders are trained to diagnose the situation to match their LPC scores with situational control.
          • Also shows how situational control variable can be changed to obtain a match.