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Contingency Theories of Leadership Essay

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Updated: Apr 1st, 2019

The contingency theory, as applied in leadership, considers various factors that contribute to a leader’s effectiveness by interaction with his or her leadership behaviour. According to contingency theories, there is not any particular leadership style suited for all the situations (Betts 2011, p.123).

A leadership style effective in particular situations may be unsuccessful in others. The evaluation of particular variables in a given environment such as the quality of followers, establishes the most appropriate style in a particular situation.

This phenomenon explains the observation of an effective leader becoming considerably unproductive when transferred to a different working environment or the prevailing factors in the old environment changes. Fiedler’s, Hersey and Blanchard’s, and the path-goal theories provide the three major approaches of isolating situational variables in leadership.

Fiedler’s contingency theory identifies the subordinates’ personality and attitude, task structure and the leader’s position in terms of power as the variables that influence leadership effectiveness. This model asses the performance of a leader by evaluating the output of the work group under the leader’s supervision (Brock 2012, p.1).

Moreover, the theory assumes that the level of favourability of a situation to a leader is dependent on the degree to which the situation permits the leader’s influence on the group members’ behaviour. This aspect of the theory defines effective leadership as the ability to influence others in the aim of achieving organizational goals.

According to this model, there are two categories of leaders. These are the task-oriented and person-oriented leaders. The task-oriented leaders’ main concern is the accomplishment of tasks with desirable outputs (Jarvis 2006, p. 106). In this regard, they fail to attain their results because they are less concern with the group members and thus cannot appropriately deal with ineffective teamwork.

The person-oriented leaders considerably value their team members, and this hampers their accomplishment of tasks due to minimal contribution of some members to the task achievement. These two types of leaders are effective under different conditions. The task-oriented leader achieves better results in both the extreme cases of favourable or unfavourable circumstances. On the other hand, the person-oriented leader achieves better results under moderately favourable conditions.

According to Fiedler’s theory, effective leadership is factor of the personality and style of a leader and the working environment. These aspects considerably determine the success of leadership.

While Fiedler’s theory assumes that leadership styles are consistent and difficult to change, and thus leaders must be placed in an environment that fits their leadership style, the Hersey and Blanchard model and the Path-goal theory assume that any leader is capable of adapting to new environments and display the required effectiveness in any given situation. He or she can adjust the leadership style to work efficiently in diverse situations (Williams 2011, p. 407).

Furthermore, Fiedler’s model stipulates that if the situation is not optimal for a particular leader, the situation require change or the leader should undergo a replacement in order to improve leadership effectiveness. The situation can undergo change to fit the leader through such means as task restructuring or minimising the leader’s power over various control factors.

The Hersey and Blanchard situational leadership model focuses on three major leadership aspects. These are the task behaviour, relationship behaviour, and maturity. According to this model, leaders have to vary their emphasis on tasks and relationship behaviours in order to deal with different levels of maturity among team members. Concerning the task behaviour, the leader engages in a one-way communication by outlining each worker’s task.

In this aspect, the workers cannot give feedback to their leader. The relationship behaviour examines a two-way communication between the leader and the workers. In this aspect, there are channels for feedback and the leader can offer support and guidance to the subordinates and act as a facilitator. Maturity describes the readiness of an individual to take control of his or her behaviour considering that there are varying degrees of maturity among people about a specific task or objective in question.

Under situational leadership model, an effective leader should identify the different levels of readiness among followers concerning the performance of particular tasks and apply the most suitable style. This will enable the leader to respond with more flexibility and thus enhance followers’ maturity (Borkowski 2009, p.201). When the leader establishes a high level of a follower’s maturity, he or she can adopt the delegation style, which requires minimal interventions.

On the other hand, the identification of low levels of maturity in a follower requires the adoption of a style that emphasis on the particular task. Among other things, an effective leader will give instructions in scenarios where followers lack the capability or are unwilling to effectively accomplish the allocate tasks.

The leader should adopt styles that encourage followers to share ideas and thus gain more understanding and confidence regarding the task in question. This model enables leaders to acknowledge the need for continual followers’ skills improvement through training and other development measures (DeRue et al. 2010, p. 640).

The path-Goal Theory discusses the effects of four types of leadership styles on the subordinates attitudes and expectations. These are the supportive, directive, achievement-oriented, and participative styles.

By analysing various situational factors, an effective leader opts for the style that provides strong Path-goal indications and incentives. The leader should avoid a style that induces redundancy and aggravations within the environmental structure sources or is not congruent with the employee characteristic (Kotlyar & Karakowsky 2006, p.400).

The directive style ensures that followers adhere to the stipulated rules and regulations regarding tasks. Although this style facilitates better results concerning ambiguous tasks, it is ineffective in well-structured and clearly defined tasks as it introduces redundancy. The supportive style entails a friendly and supportive leader to the employees (Gutpa 2009, p.1).

It creates a supportive environment in structured tasks, but is inappropriate when there are already other sources of encouragement such as the organization. The participative styles are appropriate for ambiguous tasks as they allow employee selection of tasks and influence of decisions. The achievement-oriented behaviours are suitable for ambiguously structured tasks.

The Path-goal theory postulates that the subordinates’ behaviour and environmental characteristics determine the leadership style used, and the performance pertaining to various assigned tasks. The Path-goal theory differs from the Fiedler’s model in that it considers the individual leadership styles to vary as situations within an organization change (Chance & Chance, 2002, p. 114).

In addition, the Path-goal theory definition of the effectiveness of a leader, which entails the followers’ satisfaction and motivation, differs from Fielders’ definition in this regard. According to this theory, effective leaders increase their subordinates’’ motivation and satisfaction by supporting them in their pursuance of important goals.

They should demonstrate to them the value of various outcomes under their control and clarify the paths to these outcomes. An effective leader will embark on the eradication of barriers that may arise during the pursuance of crucial goals.

All the three theories focus on the extent to which the leader emphasizes on tasks and structuring issues while considering the relationship-relevant supportive and participative behaviours. However, the leadership variable in the Fielder’s model is a motivational orientation rather than a set of behaviours despite the assumptions that the orientations relate to the behaviours (Schermerhorn 2011, p. 267).

From a leadership perspective, Fiedler’s model and the Path-goal theory offer some insight into variable that affect the effectiveness of a leader. The two theories are considerably aligned concerning the conditions under which task-oriented or directive style of leadership are desirable. Both models concur on the use of the task-oriented style of leadership in cases where there are no clear guidelines regarding tasks.

Although the Fiedler’s model failed to address the processes, by which the leader’s motivational orientation affects group processes and outcomes, the Path-goal theory has identifies the specific variables that need address in defining the followers’ motivation (Chemers 1997, p. 45).

The Path-goal and the Heresy and Blanchard models shared a lot as they attempt to describe the appropriate leadership behaviour using similar parameters such as various leadership styles applicable in different situations. Both models consider how well the subordinate understand the relevant actions in the accomplishment of their tasks.

Fiedler’s model disregards the followers’ aspect of the ability and willingness to take responsibility concerning a particular task as an important aspect of effective leadership. The Path-goal model has made numerous assumptions in this aspect. However, the situational leadership theory considers various behaviours of a follower that might affect the expected outcome and outlined the most appropriate leader’s response in order to facilitate the realization of organizational goals.


Betts, S. C. (2011). Contingency Theory: Science Or Technology?. Journal of Business & Economic Research, 1(8), 123-130.

Borkowski, N. (2009). Organizational behavior in health care (2nd ed.). Jones and Bartlett Publishers: Sudbury, Mass.

Brock, D. M. (2012). Toward a contingency theory of planning. Journal of Management & Organization, 1, 1.

Chance, P. L., & Chance, E. W. (2002). Introduction to educational leadership & organizational behavior: theory into practice. Eye On Education: Larchmont, N.Y.

Chemers, M. M. (1997). An Integrative Theory of Leadership. Routledge: London.

DeRue, D. S., Barnes, C. M., & Morgeson, F. P. (2010). Understanding the Motivational Contingencies of Team Leadership. Small Group Research, 41(5), 621-651.

Gutpa, A. (2009). Path-Goal Leadership. Leadership and Development , 1, 1.

Jarvis, M. (2006). Sport Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, Volume 10. Psychology Pres: Hove.

Kotlyar, I., & Karakowsky, L. (2006). Leading Conflict? Linkages Between Leader Behaviors and Group Conflict. Small Group Research, 37(4), 377-403.

Schermerhorn, J. R. (2011). Exploring management (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, N.J.

Williams, C. (2011). Effective Management: A Multimedia Approach. Cengage Learning: Detroit.

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