Situational or Contingency Theories of Leadership

Hello Respected Researchers and HR managers, In this section we will discuss about “Situational or Contingency Theories of Leadership“. It is very much important for a Researcher as well as HR Concern person/ manager to know the Situational or Contingency Theories of Leadership. If researcher or HR Manager could follow the Points accordingly,it would easier to reach the goal. Let’s have a look…


Situational or Contingency Theories of Leadership:

  • Leaders might display appropriate traits and behaviours, yet remain ineffective leaders. It has been suggested that this might be due to the wide variety of situations or circumstances under which leaders must perform. A CEO of a large investment bank might not be an effective leader in a non-profit organisation. Similarly, leaders must demonstrate appropriate behaviour when managing subordinates as well as reporting to superiors (a board of directors for example). Leaders face pressures from various levels within the organisation to adjust leadership style. As a result, the environment in which leaders must perform influences their behaviour and effectiveness. In this section, we will consider two situational or contingency theories of leadership:

(1). Fielder’s Contingency Model, and

(2). Hersey and Blanchard’s Situation

(1). Fiedler’s Leadership Contingency Theory:

In the 1960s, Fred Fiedler established a theory that argued that group effectiveness is dependent on an appropriate match between the leader’s style (a trait measure) and the demand of the situation. Success depends upon a proper match between a leader’s style and the degree to which the situation gives control to a leader. Fiedler used an instrument known as the least-preferred co-worker (LPC) questionnaire, in an effort to determine whether employees were more interested in personal relations with co-workers (relationship-oriented) or productivity (task-oriented).

Respondents were asked to describe the person with whom they were able to work least well. This was determined to be their least preferred co-worker. They were given a scale, and were asked to check a number that represented their feelings about their co-workers, based on a number of adjectives (see example below).

Friendly ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ Unfriendly

1      2     3     4     5      6     7    8

Pleasant ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ Unpleasant

1      2     3     4     5      6     7    8

⇒ Fiedler suggested that leaders demonstrating a high LPC (those leaders that described their least preferred co-worker positively) had a relationship-motivated style. Fiedler identified three situational characteristics that help to determined how favourable a situation is for leading:

  • Leader-member relations represent the extent to which members in the organisation trust, and are loyal to their leaders. Logically, strong leader-member relationship leaders are favoured.
  • Task structure is the degree to which the job assignments are clearly communicated so that members know specifically what needs to be accomplished. Situations that are favourable for leading exist when task structure is high. Again, one might draw this conclusion, because where task structure is low, employees are unclear and unsure about what they should be doing and how work should be conducted.

⇒ In addition to the level of trust and loyalty employees feel towards their leaders as well as the clarity of the task structure, a situation can be made favourable when the leader has acquired position power. Position power is the amount of influence a leader has by virtue of his or her position, and leadership situations a tend to be more favourable when position power is strong.

(2). Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Theory:

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard introduced the Situational Leadership Theory (SLT), and this model has been incorporated into hundreds of leadership training programs in organisations. This model also argues that there is no one best way to lead. This model compares the leader-follower relationship to a parent and child relationship. Similar to a parent-child relationship where children are given more control as they mature, it is argued in this model that leaders should also do this with employees. Specifically, the theory suggests that it is the responsibility of the leader to select a behaviour that will match a follower’s ability and motivation.

Specifically, Hersey and Blanchard identified four leadership styles:

  1. Telling style: is most appropriate for low follower readiness, where employees are unable and unwilling to take responsibility themselves.
  2. Selling style: is most appropriate for employees who are unable but willing to take responsibility. These followers have low to moderate readiness. Here, leaders combine a directive approach with an explanation as well as reinforcement to foster commitment.
  3. Participating style: is most appropriate for moderate to high follower readiness. These employees are able but unwilling followers. As a result, leaders solicit their opinions and allow them to participate in decision-making.
  4. Delegating style: is most appropriate for high readiness. These employees require very little in terms of support and direction or clarification for work. As a result, these employees tend to have a high degree of autonomy.

Transactional versus Transformational Leadership:

Transactional leadership is based on leader-follower exchanges; subordinates perform their jobs and the leader rewards and recognizes their efforts. The primary objective is to ensure that subordinate behaviour is consistent with overall organizational goals. There are four dimensions of transactional leadership:

  1. Contingent rewards: leaders provide a variety of rewards in exchange for mutually agreed upon goal accomplishment.
  2. Active management by exception: leaders take corrective action for any deviation from rules and standards.
  3. Passive management by exception: leaders intervene only in circumstances where standards are not met.
  4. Laissez-faire: leaders sometimes abdicate responsibilities and avoid decisions.

Transformational leaders have four dimensions:

  • Charisma: the leader provides a clear vision and articulate mission, instils pride, and gains respect and trust.
  • Communication: communicates high expectations using symbols to direct efforts and expresses important purposes in simple ways.
  • Intellectual stimulation: promotes intelligence, rationality and careful problem solving.
  • Individualised consideration: the leader coaches and advises each employee based on his or her individual needs.

Some literature has identified charismatic leadership as being distinct from transformational leadership. However, it has been argued that the two can be used interchangeably. Conger and Kanungo argue that charismatic leaders ‘critically examine the status quo with a view to developing and articulating future strategic goals or vision for the organisation, and then leading organisational members to achieve these goals through empowering strategies.’

They identify five key characteristics of charismatic leaders:

  1. Vision and articulation: the leader has a vision that is expressed as an articulate goal. This goal suggests a future that is better than the status quo. The leaders is able to clarify the vision in a way that resonates with others.
  2. Personal risk: charismatic leaders are willing to take on high personal risks and incur high costs and engage in self-sacrifice to achieve the vision.
  3. Environmental sensitivity: charismatic leaders make realistic assessments of the environment and its constraints; are also able to identify needed resources to effect change.
  4. Sensitivity to follower needs: they are perceptive of others’ abilities and are responsive to their needs and feelings.
  5. Unconventional behaviour: they engage in behaviours that are perceived to be novel and counter to norms.


There may be some more documents on Situational or Contingency Theories of Leadership, this article is written by taking the help from Internet and other resources like Books, journals etc.


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