Contingency Approach

Read this section and study each of the four models closely. Which of them have you seen in action?

Leadership and Situational Context: Fiedler

The Fiedler model shows that effective leadership depends on how a leader's traits and the surrounding context interact.


  • Assess the value and efficacy of Fred Fiedler's leadership model


  • Situational contingency attests that different circumstances require different leadership traits.
  • The Fielder model uses the Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) test to measure leadership traits.
  • A favorable situation for a leader has three components: good relations between the leader and follower, a highly structured task, and a powerful leadership position.


  • Favorable Situation

    Leadership contexts with good leader-member relations, high task structure, and high leader-position power.

  • Situational Contingency

    The theory that different leaders and leadership traits are required for different situations.


Fred Fiedler's model of leadership states that different types of leaders are required for different situations. This situational contingency understanding of leadership suggests, for instance, that a leader in a strict, task-oriented workplace would have different qualities than a leader in a more open, idea-driven workplace. Fiedler subsequently enhanced his original model to increase the number of leadership traits it analyzed. This later theory, known as Cognitive Resource Theory (CRT), identifies the conditions under which leaders and group members will use their intellectual resources, skills, and knowledge effectively.


Least Preferred Co-Worker (LPC) Test

The Fiedler situational contingency model measures leadership traits with a test that provides a leadership score corresponding to the workplace where the leader would be most suited. The Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) test asks test-takers to think of someone they least prefer working with and rate that person from one to eight on a scale of various traits. For example, the taker is asked to rate the co-worker from Unfriendly (1) to Friendly (8), or Guarded (1) to Open (8). The ratings are then averaged. Generally, a higher LPC score means the person being rated is more oriented to human relations, while a lower score means the person is more oriented to tasks.

The LPC test is not actually about the co-worker; it is a profile of the test taker. Test subjects who are more oriented to human relations generally rate their least preferred co-workers higher, and the opposite is true for task-oriented test takers. The LPC test reveals how respondents react to those with whom they do not like working and thereby reveals leadership contexts best suited to the test takers' personality.


Situational Context

The Fiedler model also analyzes the situation in which the leader functions. The situation analysis has three components:

  1. Leader-member relations – the amount of respect, trust, and confidence between leaders and their followers
  2. Task structure – the degree to which group tasks, roles, and processes are specified and formalized
  3. Leader position power – the amount of formal authority leaders have based on their role within the group

When good leader-member relations, a highly structured task, and high leader-position power are in place, the situation is considered a "favorable situation". Fiedler found that low-LPC leaders are more effective in extremely favorable or unfavorable situations, whereas high-LPC leaders perform best in situations with intermediate favorability. Leaders in high positions of power have the ability to distribute resources among their members, meaning they can reward and punish their followers. Leaders with low position power cannot control resources to the same extent as leaders with high position power, and so lack the same degree of situational control. For example, the CEO of a business has high position power, because she is able to increase and reduce the salary that her employees receive. On the other hand, an office worker in this same business has low position power, because although he may be the leader on a new business deal, he cannot control the situation by rewarding or disciplining colleagues with salary changes.


Criticism of the Fielder Model

Fiedler's contingency theory has drawn criticism because it implies that the only option for a mismatch of leader orientation and unfavorable situation is to change the leader. Some have disputed the model's validity by questioning how accurately it reflects a leader's personality traits. Also, the contingency model does not take into account the percentage of situations that might be somewhat favorable, completely unfavorable, or even extremely favorable. For this reason, critics of the model suggest that it does not provide a complete comparison between low-LPC leaders and high-LPC leaders.


Leadership and Followers: Hersey and Blanchard

Hersey and Blanchard's model defines effective leadership based on leadership style and maturity of follower(s).


  • Compare and contrast leadership style characteristics with the follower maturity concepts as defined by Hersey and Blanchard


  • The ideal leadership style varies based on what is required of a group and that group's level of development. The Hersey and Blanchard model measures this by categorizing leadership style and group (follower) maturity.
  • Leadership styles are a mix of task behavior and relationship behavior. There are four combinations of high and low task and relationship behaviors that imply different leadership roles.
  • Group maturity describes how confident group members are in the group's ability to complete its tasks.


  • Situational Leadership

    The theory that different leadership styles are required for different contexts.

  • Task Behavior

    The style of leadership that is concerned with instructing followers what actions to take.

  • Relationship Behavior

    The style of leadership that is concerned with guiding how people interact, instead of the mechanics of how they complete the task.


Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard introduced their theory of situational leadership in the 1969 book Management of Organizational Behavior. Situational leadership states that there is no single, ideal approach to leadership because different types of leadership are required in different contexts. The Hersey and Blanchard model explains effective leadership in terms of two variables: the leadership style and the maturity of the follower(s).


Task Behavior and Relationship Behavior

For Hersey and Blanchard, leadership style is determined by the mix of task behavior and relationship behavior that the leader shows. Task behavior concerns the actions required of followers and how they should be conducted. Relationship behavior concerns how people interact together to achieve a goal. The various combinations of high and low task and relationship behaviors suggest four leadership roles:

  1. S1 – Telling: The leader's role is to direct the actions of the followers. The leader instructs the followers on how, what, where, and when to do a certain task. This is primarily task behavior.
  2. S2 – Selling: The leader is still primarily concerned with directing action but now accepts communication from followers. This communication allows the followers to feel connected to the task and buy into the mission. S2 leading is still primarily task behavior, but now it includes some relationship behavior.
  3. S3 – Participating: This role is similar to S2, except now the leader welcomes shared decision-making. Participating in leadership shifts the balance toward relationship behavior and away from task behavior.
  4. S4 – Delegating: The leader simply ensures that progress is being made. Decisions involve a lot of input from the followers, and the process and responsibility now lie with followers. S4 is primarily relationship behavior.


The other fundamental concept in the Hersey and Blanchard model is the maturity of the group. Group maturity describes how confident group members are in the group's ability to complete their tasks. This concept, too, is broken into four categories. In Hersey and Blanchard's model, group maturity is divided into four distinct categories based on how able and willing the group is to complete the job.

  1. M1: The group does not have the skills to do the job, and is unwilling or unable to take responsibility. This is a very low maturity level.
  2. M2: The group is willing to work on the job but not yet able to accept responsibility. Imagine a group of volunteers working on a house for Habitat for Humanity: the volunteers are willing to perform the work, but probably not capable of building a house on their own.
  3. M3: The group has experience but is not confident enough or willing to take responsibility. The main difference between M2 and M3 is that the M3 group has the skills to work effectively on the job.
  4. M4: The group is willing and able to work on the job. Group members have all of the skills, confidence, and enthusiasm necessary to take ownership of the task. This is a very high level of maturity.

Because maturity level varies based on the group and the task (for example, professional football players are an M4 group on the football field, but an M1 group if asked to play baseball), the leadership style must adapt based on the situation.

Effective leadership varies not only with the person or group that is being influenced but also depending on the task, job, or function that needs to be accomplished. The Hersey and Blanchard model encourages leaders to be flexible and find the right style for the task and the group maturity level. The most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the maturity of the group they are attempting to lead or influence and to that group's purpose.


Leadership and Task/Follower Characteristics: House

The Path-Goal theory argues that a leader's role is to help followers achieve both personal and organizational goals.


  • Identify the leadership and task/follower characteristics identified by Robert House in the Path-Goal theory (1971)


  • In the Path-Goal model as defined by House, the role of the leader is to help followers define personal goals, understand organizational goals, and find a path to reach both.
  • House defined four leadership styles: directive, achievement-oriented, participative, and supportive.
  • Outstanding Leadership Theory is an extension of the Path-Goal model that adds leadership behaviors required to channel follower motivations and goals toward the leader's vision.


  • Path-Goal theory

    A leadership model outlining the role of the leader as helping followers define personal and organizational goals and find a path to reach those goals.

  • Outstanding Leadership Theory

    A model that defines ten traits that exceptional leaders possess; an expansion of the Path-Goal model.


In 1971, Robert House introduced his version of a contingent theory of leadership known as the Path-Goal theory. According to House's theory, leaders' behavior is contingent upon the satisfaction, motivation, and performance of their subordinates. House argued that the goal of the leader is to help followers identify their personal goals as well as understand the organization's goals and find the path that will best help them achieve both. Because individual motivations and goals differ, leaders must modify their approach to fit the situation.


Leadership Styles

House defined four different leadership styles and noted that good leaders switch fluidly between them as the situation demands. He believed that leadership styles do not define types of leaders as much as they do types of behaviors. House's leadership styles include:

  1. Directive, path-goal clarifying leader: The leader clearly defines what is expected of followers and tells them how to perform their tasks. The theory argues that this behavior has the most positive effect when the subordinates' role and task demands are ambiguous and intrinsically satisfying.
  2. Achievement-oriented leader: The leader sets challenging goals for followers, expects them to perform at their highest level and shows confidence in their ability to meet this expectation. Occupations in which the achievement motive was most predominant were technical jobs, salespersons, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
  3. Participative leader: The leader seeks to collaborate with followers and involve them in the decision-making process. This behavior is dominant when subordinates are highly personally involved in their work.
  4. Supportive leader: The main role of the leader is to be responsive to the emotional and psychological needs of followers. This behavior is especially needed in situations in which tasks or relationships are psychologically or physically distressing.

The Path-Goal model emphasizes the importance of the leader's ability to interpret a follower's needs accurately and to respond flexibly to the requirements of a situation.


Outstanding Leadership Theory (OLT)

In 1994, House published Organizational Behavior: The State of the Science with Philip Podsakoff. House and Podsakoff attempted to summarize the behaviors and approaches of "outstanding leaders" that they obtained from some more modern theories and research findings. Using the Path-Goal model as a framework, their Outstanding Leadership Theory (OLT) expanded the list of leadership behaviors required to channel follower's motivations and goals more effectively toward the leader's vision:

  • Vision: Leaders are able to communicate a vision that meshes with the values of their followers.
  • Passion and self-sacrifice: Leaders believe fully in their vision and are willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve it.
  • Confidence, determination, and persistence: Leaders are confident their vision is correct and take whatever action is necessary to reach it.
  • Image-building: Leaders are cognizant of how they are perceived by their followers. They strive to ensure followers view them in a positive light.
  • Role-modeling: Leaders seek to model qualities such as credibility and trustworthiness that their followers would seek to emulate.
  • External representation: Leaders are spokespersons for their organizations (for example, Steve Jobs).
  • Expectations of and confidence in followers: Leaders trust that their followers can succeed and expect them to do so.
  • Selective motive-arousal: Leaders are able to hone in on specific motives in followers and use them to push their followers to reach a goal.
  • Frame alignment: Leaders align certain interests, values, actions, etc. between leadership and followers to inspire positive action.
  • Inspirational communication: Leaders are able to inspire followers to act using verbal and non-verbal communication.


Leadership and Decision Making: The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Model

The Vroom-Yetton-Jago model is a leadership theory of how to make group decisions.


  • Apply the Vroom-Jago decision-tree model to guide leaders in a decision-making situation


  • Different tasks and situations require leaders to make different types of decisions.
  • There are five different approaches to making group decisions according to the degree and type of follower participation.
  • The Vroom-Yetton-Jago model employs a decision tree for determining the right mode of decision making under different conditions.


  • Contingency Approach

    A school of thought on leadership that proposes that there is no single ideal leader or leadership style. Also known as situational leadership.

  • decision tree

    A visualization of a complex decision-making situation in which the possible choices and their likely outcomes are organized in the form of a graph.

  • autocratic

    Conducted alone and with sole responsibility.

The Vroom-Yetton-Jago model is a contingency approach to group decision making that is designed specifically to help leaders select the best approach to making decisions. The model identifies different ways a decision can be made by considering the degree of follower participation. It proposes a method for leaders to select the right approach to making a decision in a given set of circumstances.


Decision Types

The Vroom-Yetton-Jago model defines five different decision approaches that a leader can use. In order of participation from least to most, these are:

  1. AI – Autocratic Type 1: Decisions are made completely by the leader. Leaders make the decision on their own with whatever information is available.
  2. AII – Autocratic Type 2: The decision is still made by the leader alone, but the leader collects information from the followers. Followers play no other role in the decision-making process.
  3. CI – Consultative Type 1: The leader seeks input from select followers individually based on their relevant knowledge. Followers do not meet each other, and the leader's decision may or may not reflect followers' influence.
  4. CII – Consultative Type 2: Similar to CI, except the leader shares the problem with relevant followers as a group and seeks their ideas and suggestions. The followers are involved in the decision, but the leader still makes the decision.
  5. GII – Group-based Type 2: The entire group works through the problem with the leader. A decision is made by the followers in collaboration with the leader. In a GII decision, leaders are not at liberty to make a decision on their own.


Decision Trees

The Vroom-Yetton-Jago model also provides guidance for leaders trying to determine which approach to decision making to use (AI through GII). The model uses a decision-tree technique to diagnose aspects of the situation methodically. This technique involves answering a series of yes or no questions and following the yes path to the recommended type of decision-making approach.

Think about a decision to take a vacation. One decision (go on vacation) leads to further decisions (whether to go to Europe, visit family, or go camping), all of which lead to another tier of decisions. The Vroom-Yetton-Jago model utilizes decision trees to determine the best leadership style for a given situation.

  1. Is there a quality requirement? Is the nature of the solution critical? Are there technical or rational grounds for selecting among possible solutions?
  2. Do I have sufficient information to make a high-quality decision?
  3. Is the problem structured? Are the alternative courses of action and methods for their evaluation known?
  4. Is acceptance of the decision by subordinates critical to its implementation?
  5. If I were to make the decision by myself, is it reasonably certain that it would be accepted by my subordinates?
  6. Do my subordinates share the organizational goals to be met by solving this problem?
  7. Is conflict among subordinates likely in obtaining the preferred solution?

By answering the questions honestly, the decision tree provides the leader with the preferred decision style for the given situation.

Source: Boundless
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Last modified: Monday, November 9, 2020, 1:29 PM