Fiedler's Contingency Theory & a Leader's Situational Control

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  • 0:05 Fiedler's Theory
  • 0:45 Leadership Style
  • 2:28 Three Dimensions of…
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Fiedler's contingency theory states that there are three elements that dictate a leader's situational control. The three elements are task structure, leader/member relations, and positioning power.

Fiedler's Theory

Have you ever wondered why some managers really get to know their employees and others focus only on getting the job done? Fiedler's contingency theory will help to explain why managers can behave so differently. Fiedler's contingency theory contends that there is no one single leadership style that works for all employees. He recognized that there are situational-contingent factors that affect a leader's ability to lead. The effectiveness of workers depends on how good a match exists between the leadership style of the leader and the demands of the situation. There are two factors that result from this: leadership style and situation favorableness (or situational control).

Leadership Style

Leadership style is determined by rating a leader's least preferred co-worker on the least preferred co-worker (LPC) scale. A leader is asked to rate someone he or she least liked working with (presently or in the past) on a scale of 1-8 in the following areas:

  • Unfriendly/friendly
  • Uncooperative/cooperative
  • Hostile/supportive
  • Guarded/open

The leader tallies up the score. This test is not about how horrible the least preferred co-worker was to work with. It is about the leader's behavior towards the co-worker. The leader who scores high is most likely relationship oriented. These high LPC leaders like to build relationships with employees. They are more likely to avoid conflict. They also are better equipped to make complex decisions.

The lower-scoring LPC leader is task oriented. This leader is more interested in assigning duties and getting the work done. This leader does not care much about building relationships. A high LPC leader is capable of leading a team in a favorable situation, while a low LPC leader can lead a team in both favorable and unfavorable situations because the low LPC leader focuses on tasks rather than on relationships.

The essential element of this theory is that there are different leadership styles for different situations. The style of leadership is contingent upon the particular situation. So, if the situation is fast decision making, the high LPC leader fares well. If the situation is high production, the low LPC leader is better equipped to handle that because that leader does not care much about whether the employees like what he or she is doing. Once a leader determines his or her leadership style, the situational control needed for a particular situation must be determined.

Three Dimensions of Situational Favorableness

Situation favorableness occurs when the three dimensions - leader-member relations, task structure, and leader position power - are high.

Leader-member relationships refer to the degree of trust, respect, and confidence that exists between the leader and the workers. Task structure refers to the degree to which tasks are clearly explained and structured for workers. Leader position power refers to the degree to which the leader possesses inherent power in his or her position.

If employees and the leader have trust, respect, and have confidence in each other, there are clear and structured tasks, and the leader possesses formal authority in his position, the situation is considered favorable. Let's look at a few examples of how each dimension works.

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