Fiedler’s Contingency Model

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 7: Leadership

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4


Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Fred Edward Fiedler (1978)

The essence of theory is that best practices depend on the contingencies of the situation.

Fiedler’s contingency model helps explain why a manager may be an effective leader in one situation and ineffective in another. It also suggests which kinds of managers are likely to be most effective in which situations. 

He postulates that three important situational dimensions are assumed to influence the leader’s effectiveness. They are :

  1. Leader member relations
  2. Task structure 
  3. Position power
  1. Leader member relations: This describes the relationship between leader and the members. It is easy of the leader to influence the followers if the leader-member relations are good. If people and leader like each other employee oriented leadership style is appropriate. If they do not like each other a friendly approach may not work. The leader adopts a task-oriented leadership style.
  2. Task structure: it defines whether the task is structured (routine) or unstructured (complex). Structured task is divided into well defined units, people know their responsibility and accountability. In this situation, it is easy for the leader to exercise control over fellow workers. In contrast, if the task is unstructured goals are not well defined, ways of achieving goals are also not defined, leaders and followers do not know what is to be performed by whom, it become difficult for the leader to influence his followers.
  3. Position power: this is the power of leader by virtue of his position. If the leader has more position power (legitimate power), it is easy for him to exercise control over subordinates.
Fig.: Fiedler’s Contingency Model

The Fiedler contingency model bases the leader’s effectiveness on what Fred Fiedler called situational contingency. This results from the interaction of leadership style and situational favorability (later called situational control). The theory defined two types of leader:

  1. Those who tend to accomplish the task by developing good relationships with the group (relationship-oriented), and
  2. Those who have as their prime concern carrying out the task itself (task-oriented).

According to Fiedler, there is no ideal leader. Both task-oriented and relationship-oriented leaders can be effective if their leadership orientation fits the situation. When there is a good leader-member relation, a highly structured task, and high leader position power, the situation is considered a “favorable situation”. Fiedler found that task-oriented leaders are more effective in extremely favorable or unfavorable situations, whereas relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations with intermediate favorability.

Fiedler said that task-orientated leaders are most effective when facing a situation that is either extremely favourable or extremely unfavourable. In other words:

  • When there is enormous trust, respect and confidence,
  • When the task is very clear, and
  • When followers accept the leader’s power without question,

and also when the opposite is true, i.e. –

  • When trust and respect do not exist,
  • When the challenge people face is vague and undefined, and
  • When the atmosphere is anarchic or even rebellious (for example, an emergency or crisis)

Fiedler concluded that relationship-orientated leaders are most effective in less extreme circumstances. That is, in situations that are neither favourable nor unfavourable, or situations that are only moderately favourable or moderately unfavourable.

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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