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Learn about the major situational conditions that determine the effectiveness of different leadership styles. Identify the conditions under which highly task-oriented and highly people-oriented leaders can be successful based on Fiedler’s contingency theory.
Describe a method by which leaders can decide how democratic or authoritarian their decision making should be. The earliest and one of the most influential contingency theories was developed by Frederick Fiedler.Fiedler, F.
The model summarizes the level of directive and supportive behaviors that leaders may exhibit. Situational Leadership Theory helps leaders match their style to follower readiness levels. Robert House’s path-goal theory of leadership is based on the expectancy theory of motivation.House, R. The theory also makes specific predictions about what type of leader behavior will be effective under which circumstances.House, R.
Path-goal theory of leadershipTheory stating that a leader’s main job is to motivate employees with the beliefs that (1) their effort will lead to high performance, (2) their high performance will be rewarded, and (3) the rewards they will receive are valuable to them. Participative leadersThose leaders who make sure that employees are involved in making important decisions.
Achievement-oriented leadersThose leaders who set goals for employees and encourage them to reach their goals. The path-goal theory of leadership has received partial but encouraging levels of support from researchers. Yale School of Management professor Victor Vroom and his colleagues Philip Yetton and Arthur Jago developed a decision-making tool to help leaders determine how much involvement they should seek when making decisions.Vroom, V.
Based on the answers to the questions we gave, the normative approach recommends consulting employees as a group. Vroom and Yetton’s leadership decision tree shows leaders which styles will be most effective in different situations.
Vroom and Yetton’s model is somewhat complicated, but research results support the validity of the model.
The contingency approaches to leadership describe the role the situation would play in choosing the most effective leadership style.
Do you believe that the least preferred coworker technique is a valid method of measuring someone’s leadership style?
Do you believe that leaders can vary their style to demonstrate directive, supportive, achievement-oriented and participative styles with respect to different employees?
What do you see as the limitations of the Vroom-Yetton leadership decision-making approach?
Which of the leadership theories covered in this section do you think are most useful, and least useful, to practicing managers?
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Leadership consists of opposing strengths, and most leaders have a natural tendency to overdevelop one at the expense of its counterpart. Perhaps the focus on overdoing hasn’t been as sharp because its problematic aspects are not immediately obvious — after all, leaders often must go to extremes to meet tough challenges.
The lack of balance in leadership, which is linked to the idea of overdoing and is well known to individual managers, has also not fully registered in the practice of management. How Boards Botch CEO SuccessionResearch finds three key reasons boards fail at CEO succession planning.
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Because the theory is highly complicated, it has not been fully and adequately tested.House, R. Imagine that you want to help your employees lower their stress so that you can minimize employee absenteeism. The decision has high significance because the approach chosen needs to be effective at reducing employee stress for the insurance premiums to be lowered. If the leader makes the decision alone, what is the likelihood that the employees would accept it? In other words, the leader may make the decision alone after gathering information from employees and is not advised to delegate the decision to the team or to make the decision alone with no input from the team members. On average, leaders using the style recommended by the model tend to make more effective decisions compared with leaders using a style not recommended by the model.Vroom, V. Fiedler’s contingency theory argued that task-oriented leaders would be most effective when the situation was the most and the least favorable, whereas relationship-oriented leaders would be effective when situational favorableness was moderate.
Or does each leader tend to have a personal style that he or she regularly uses toward all employees?


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Although it is generally acknowledged that effective leaders must possess a number of sometimes seemingly contradictory qualities and skill sets, the idea that a strength taken to an extreme can be a weakness does not seem to have registered fully in the practice of management.1 The notion that inadequate performance results from underdoing any of the requisite skills — delegating, giving direction, communicating, cooperating with peers and so forth — is well established and reflected in most formal systems designed to assess managers for selection or development. It is difficult to draw the line, however, between making the serious effort required to get things done and going too far.2 A problem commonly seen in recently promoted senior executives, for example, is their difficulty in adjusting their skill sets to the requirements of their higher-level jobs. When presented with two opposing approaches, people in general have a tendency to polarize, placing a high value on the approach in which they have greater faith and competence while overlooking or demeaning the value of the other.
The concept that overused strengths can become weaknesses is not entirely absent from the field of leadership assessment, though it is rarely reflected in the design of standard tools.
Research on derailment has shown that the strengths that propel managers up the corporate ladder can become liabilities. Prior studies of this basic distinction, by whatever name, have shown either a negligible or, most often, a sizable positive correlation between the assertive, task-oriented side and the participative, people-oriented side of leadership.
We fully recognize that so-called “contingency theorists” have considered the idea of versatility since the 1960s. The three nonversatile patterns — lopsided toward forceful, lopsided toward enabling, and disengaged — correspond to the three basic leadership styles identified in Kurt Lewin’s seminal research from the 1930s — authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire; see K. For a recent description of the changes in perspective and values required when advancing upward in the management hierarchy, see R. Instead, a better question might be: under which conditions are different leadership styles more effective? Instead, placing the right people in the right situation or changing the situation is important to increase a leader’s effectiveness.
If the leader has a good relationship with most people, has high position power, and the task is structured, the situation is very favorable. Participative leadership may be more effective when employees have high levels of ability and when the decisions to be made are personally relevant to them. There are a number of approaches you could take to reduce employee stress, such as offering gym memberships, providing employee assistance programs, establishing a nap room, and so forth.
In our example, the answer is high, because employees may simply ignore the resources if they do not like them.
In this instance, employee and organizational goals may be aligned because you both want to ensure that employees are healthier.
The group in question has little information about which alternatives are costlier or more user friendly. Let’s imagine that this is a new team that just got together and they have little demonstrated expertise to work together effectively. But leaders who work to guard against such lopsidedness can increase their versatility and their impact.
However, the idea that performance problems can just as easily spring from taking a given behavior to an extreme has received far less attention. What had, in their previous positions, been a seemingly inoffensive, even useful, tendency to get heavily involved in operational detail can become a big liability in their new roles, resulting in the misallocation of time and attention away from strategic considerations or getting in the way of direct reports’ ability to do their jobs. When considered, it tends to be treated as an afterthought rather than integral to the design of the measure. Bass, “Bass and Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications,” 3rd ed. Shipper, “Mastery and Frequency of Managerial Behaviors Relative to Sub-Unit Effectiveness,” Human Relations 44, no.
These theorists argued that the most effective leadership behavior depended on circumstantial factors. Blatt, “The Destructiveness of Perfectionism: Implications for the Treatment of Depression,” American Psychologist 50, no. After the disappointing results of trait and behavioral approaches, several scholars developed leadership theories that specifically incorporated the role of the environment.
The theory predicts that in “favorable” and “unfavorable” situations, a low LPC leader—one who has feelings of dislike for coworkers who are difficult to work with—would be successful. When the leader has low-quality relations with employees, has low position power, and the task is relatively unstructured, the situation is very unfavorable.
Employees who are at the earliest stages of developing are seen as being highly committed but with low competence for the tasks.
Supportive leadership is predicted to be effective when employees are under a lot of stress or when they are performing boring and repetitive jobs.
For employees who have a high internal locus of control, or the belief that they can control their own destinies, participative leadership gives employees a way of indirectly controlling organizational decisions, which will be appreciated. This style is likely to be effective when employees have both high levels of ability and high levels of achievement motivation.
You do not have information regarding what your employees need or what kinds of stress reduction resources they would prefer. Based on the leader’s experience with this group, they would likely ignore the decision if the leader makes it alone.
House’s path-goal theory states that the leader’s job is to ensure that employees view their effort as leading to performance and increase the belief that performance would be rewarded. Now stay tuned for the next (and last) installment of the How to Write a Cover Letter series since I may include a free cover letter template (or two). Still, even in executive positions there are situations that require the individual to get deeply involved.
They may be too task-oriented and not sufficiently people-oriented, too tough and not responsive enough to people’s needs, too big-picture-oriented with not enough emphasis on planning and follow-through. For instance, some instruments provide prescriptions for leadership development by comparing ratings of “how often” the manager does a particular thing to an “ideal amount” that is estimated using a statistical formula. Kaiser, “The Turbulence Within: How Sensitivities Throw Off Performance in Executives,” in “Leading in Turbulent Times,” eds.
Theory X managers, who believe that people are motivated to do just enough to get by and are basically lazy, tend to be too forceful and do not enable enough.


Researchers started following a contingency approach to leadership—rather than trying to identify traits or behaviors that would be effective under all conditions, the attention moved toward specifying the situations under which different styles would be effective. When situational favorableness is medium, a high LPC leader—one who is able to personally like coworkers who are difficult to work with—is more likely to succeed.
According to this model, employee readiness (defined as a combination of their competence and commitment levels) is the key factor determining the proper leadership style.
They lead employees by clarifying role expectations, setting schedules, and making sure that employees know what to do on a given workday. When employees know exactly how to perform their jobs but their jobs are unpleasant, supportive leadership may also be effective. As you answer each question as high (H) or low (L), follow the corresponding path down the funnel. For this purpose, leaders would use directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented leadership styles, depending on what employees needed to feel motivated.
For senior managers, then, effectiveness hinges on the ability to appropriately gear their leadership qualities and skills to the circumstances at hand. Using other instruments, respondents rate how often the manager engages in a number of specific behaviors, indicating whether the manager should do more, less or the same amount of each of several sets of behaviors — not each specific behavior. White, “Patterns of Aggressive Behavior in Experimentally Created Social Climates,” Journal of Social Psychology 10 (1939): 271–301. Believing that people are basically motivated to work hard and will do so if given the right conditions, Theory Y managers are inclined to be too enabling and not forceful enough.
Fiedler’s contingency theory of leadership: An application of the meta-analysis procedures of Schmidt and Hunter. As the employee becomes more competent, the leader should engage in more coaching behaviors. Expectancy theory of motivation suggests that employees are motivated when they believe—or expect—that (1) their effort will lead to high performance, (2) their high performance will be rewarded, and (3) the rewards they will receive are valuable to them. The theory predicts that the directive style will work well when employees are experiencing role ambiguity on the job. Vroom and Yetton’s normative decision model is a guide leaders can use to decide how participative they should be given decision environment characteristics. White, “Mastery, Frequency and Interaction of Managerial Behaviors Relative to Subunit Effectiveness,” Human Relations 52, no. For a quantitative review of more than 200 primary studies that examined the correlations between these two dimensions of leader behavior, refer to R.F.
These patterns also correspond to the three counterproductive interpersonal orientations that Karen Horney, the psychoanalytic theorist, formulated. Supportive behaviors are recommended once the employee is at moderate to high levels of competence. According to the path-goal theory of leadership, the leader’s main job is to make sure that all three of these conditions exist. If people are unclear about how to go about doing their jobs, giving them specific directions will motivate them.
McCauley, “The Dynamics of Management Derailment” (Greensboro, North Carolina: Center for Creative Leadership, 1988). What she called “moving against others” corresponds roughly to forceful, “moving toward others” to enabling and “moving away from others” to disengaged; see K.
And finally, delegating is the recommended approach for leaders dealing with employees who are both highly committed and highly competent. Thus, leaders will create satisfied and high-performing employees by making sure that employee effort leads to performance, and their performance is rewarded.
However, if employees already have role clarity, and if they are performing boring, routine, and highly structured jobs, giving them direction does not help.
The leader removes roadblocks along the way and creates an environment that subordinates find motivational.
Ilies, “The Ohio State Studies: Consideration and Initiating Structure Revisited” (presentation at the 17th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Orlando, Florida, April 11–13, 2003). Directive leadership is also thought to be less effective when employees have high levels of ability.
Both reviews concluded that a strong and positive relationship exists between the two, and both acknowledge that this is inconsistent with how the two dimensions are conceptualized. According to the theory, a leader’s style is measured by a scale called Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale. When managing professional employees with high levels of expertise and job-specific knowledge, telling them what to do may create a low empowerment environment, which impairs motivation. People who are filling out this survey are asked to think of a person who is their least preferred coworker. Each of these styles can be effective, depending on the characteristics of employees (such as their ability level, preferences, locus of control, achievement motivation) and characteristics of the work environment (such as the level of role ambiguity, the degree of stress present in the environment, the degree to which the tasks are unpleasant). Then, they rate this person in terms of how friendly, nice, and cooperative this person is.
Assessing the validity of Fiedler’s contingency model of leadership effectiveness: A closer look at Strube and Garcia. In other words, if you can say that the person you hated working with was still a nice person, you would have a high LPC score. This means that you have a people-oriented personality and you can separate your liking of a person from your ability to work with that person.
Specifically, there is more support for the theory’s predictions about when low LPC leadership should be used, but the part about when high LPC leadership would be more effective received less support. However, if you think that the person you hated working with was also someone you did not like on a personal level, you would have a low LPC score.
Even though the theory was not supported in its entirety, it is a useful framework to think about when task- versus people-oriented leadership may be more effective. The theory’s biggest contribution may be that it highlights the importance of a leader’s ability to change styles, depending on the circumstances. Moreover, the theory is important because of its explicit recognition of the importance of the context of leadership. Unlike Fiedler’s contingency theory, in which the leader’s style is assumed to be fixed and only the environment can be changed, House’s path-goal theory underlines the importance of varying one’s style, depending on the situation. Therefore, while it can be a useful way to think about matching behaviors to situations, overreliance on this model, at the exclusion of other models, is premature. The model starts by having leaders answer several key questions and working their way through a funnel based on their responses.



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