S. Amir Kohan

Contingency or Situational Leadership School of Thought

Contingency or Situational School The well-known theories for contingency and
situational leadership are the ones that accept differing leadership styles and adapt to the
situations or people involved.

Widely referred to as the Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership theory: there
is no single “best” style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most
successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to maturity (“the capacity
to set high but attainable goals, willingness and ability to take responsibility for the task,
and relevant education and/or experience of an individual or a group for the task”) of the
individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. Effective leadership varies,
not only with the person or group that is being influenced but also depends with the task, job,
or function that needs to be accomplished. The Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership
theory rests on two fundamental concepts: leadership style and the individual or group’s
maturity level.


Leadership has four tasks based on an employee’s maturity.
Delegating The leader is still involved in decisions; however, the process and
responsibility have been passed to the individual or group. The leader stays
involved to monitor progress.
Participating This is where shared decision-making with the work group about
how a task is accomplished takes place; the leader is providing less task direction
while maintaining high relationship behavior with the group.
Selling While the leader is still providing the direction, the leader is now using
two-way communication and providing the socioemotional support that will
allow the individual or group being influenced to buy into the process.
Telling Characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines
the roles of the individual or group and provides the what, how, why, when, and
where to do the task.

The most popular situational contingency theory was developed by Fred Fiedler.

The Fiedler contingency theory holds that group effectiveness depends on an appropriate
match between a leader’s style (essentially a trait measure) and the demands of the
situation. Fiedler considers situational control the extent to which a leader can determine
what their group is going to do to be the primary contingency factor in determining the
effectiveness of leader behavior.

Fiedler’s contingency model is a dynamic model where the personal characteristics
and motivation of the leader are said to interact with the current situation that the group
faces. Thus, the contingency model marks a shift away from the tendency to attribute
leadership effectiveness to personality alone.

Fiedler asserts that there are three factors determining the favorableness of the environment
for the leader.

      • Leader-member relations The degrees of trust, confidence, and respect that
        employees have in their leader
      • Task structure The extent to which the tasks the employees are engaged in are
        defined (clear or ambiguous, structured or unstructured)
      • Position power The degree of power and influence the leader has over their

Changing one of the three factors is a more effective route rather than trying to change
the leadership’s trait.

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