This article explains the Fiedler Contingency Model by Fred Fiedler in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful contingency theory of leadership.
In the 1960s, Fred Fiedler carried out research on the relationship (contingency) between the effectiveness of the leadership style and the situation.
This relationship became to be known as the Fiedler contingency model.
With the Fiedler Contingency Model, Fred Fiedler was the precursor of Hershey and Blanchard’s situational leadership model.
Fiedler Contingency Model factors
According to Fred Fiedler effectiveness and leadership depend on a number of factors including the situations and the personal characteristics of the leader. Fiedler distinguished the following three factors:
1. Make up of the group
It is not just the nature and the atmosphere within the group, but also the relationship between the leader and the group that determine the leadership style.
Fred Fiedler speaks of an interaction: when the leader fully trusts his employees; they will adopt a loyal and cooperative attitude.
Vice versa, a leader will trust his employees when they prove themselves in favour of the company.
This group dynamics may also have a negative impact as a result of which the leader is forced to be authoritarian and his employees have to work less independently.
If the nature of the group is characterized by conflicts and competitive urges, the leader will be forced to run a tight ship.
2. Nature of the task
The leadership style of the leader depends on the nature of the task.
Clear tasks that employees can perform routinely require less supervision than tasks that have to be adjusted and explained time and again.
3. Power of the leader
The formal power of the leader is determined by his hierarchical position on the one hand and by his knowledge and competences on the other. However, the personal authority he more or less radiates naturally will be decisive for his interaction with his employees and therefore also decisive for the situation.
By combining and merging these three situational factors, Fred Fiedler arrives at several efficient leadership styles in which (depending on the situation) both task orientation as people orientation can be effective:
|Relationship: leader – group||Nature of the work||Leader Position Power||Efficient leadership style|
Given that personality (task-orientation and people-orientation) is reasonably stable, the Fiedler contingency model suggests that the situation should be adapted to such an extent that it suits the leader.
The Fiedler Contingency Model refers to this as ‘job engineering‘.
Furthermore, training of groups is seen as a method to improve the nature of the relationship within the group.
Critique on the Fiedler contingency model
Throughout the years the Fiedler Contingency Model has also been criticized. For instance, the Fiedler Contingency Model would have little or no flexibility.
Fred Fiedler assumed that a natural leadership style of a leader is a fixed given and that this is related to his personality characteristics.
He thought that his natural leadership style would therefore be the most effective.
What he did not take into account is the fact that a leader does not always have to give in to his natural leadership style and that he can abandon this.
Consequently, he can manage on task-orientation or people-orientation.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is the Fiedler Contingency Model in today’s modern companies? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more addiotions? What are your success factors for good situational leadership?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Fiedler, F. (1987). New Approaches to Leadership, Cognitive Resources and Organizational Performance. John Wiley and Sons.
- Fiedler, F. (1971). Reviews studies of the contingency model of leadership effectiveness. Journal: Psychological Bulletin, vol. 76, no. 2, pp. 128-148.
- Fiedler, F. (1964). A contingency model of leadership effectiveness. Advances in experimental social psychology, 1, 149-190.
- Strube, M. J., & Garcia, J. E. (1981). A meta-analytic investigation of Fiedler’s contingency model of leadership effectiveness. Psychological Bulletin, 90(2), 307.
- Vecchio, R. P. (1977). An empirical examination of the validity of Fiedler’s model of leadership effectiveness. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 19(1), 180-206.
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