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What Is the Fiedler Contingency Model?

By B. Turner
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Fiedler contingency model is a theory used to evaluate leadership qualities in an individual within a business setting. This leadership theory was introduced by Fred Fiedler at the start of the 20th century, and was one of the first to look at leadership skills in relation to the environment. Earlier theories postulated that some individuals were born leaders, while others simply are unable to lead others effectively. Businesses relied on these models to seek out candidates with so-called leadership skills, and ignoring candidates who didn't fit a specific profile. The Fiedler contingency model is different in that it concludes that anyone can lead an organization under the right type of conditions.

Much of the Fiedler contingency model is based on how potential leaders respond to a survey about their least preferred coworker. Individuals who rate the LPC relatively high on a scale from 1 to 10 are considered to be relationship-oriented, while those who ultimately rate the LPC low are considered to have task-oriented personalities. For someone who is relationship oriented, employee performance has relatively little impact on the relationship between the manager and employee. A task-oriented person, on the other hand, simply can't enjoy a strong relationship with an employee who fails to meet performance goals.

Under the Fiedler contingency model, both task- and relationship-oriented individuals can be effective leaders, but their effectiveness is contingent on three specific factors. The first of these involves how well the leader bonds with his team, and whether they maintain frequent interactions. The second relates to how structured a specific task or project may be. The final factor that helps to determine what kind of leader will be effective under this model is the power and role of the manager.

According to the Fiedler contingency model, the state of these three factors helps to define how favorable a specific work situation will be. The most favorable work environments are those with strong bonds between management and employees, combined with a highly structured task and a leader with a high degree of power or control. Unfavorable situations involve weak employee-management bonds, poorly defined tasks and leaders with little power.

Fiedler concludes that relationship-oriented individuals serve as the most effective leaders in situations with moderate favorability. In a situation that is either extremely favorable, or not favorable at all, a task-oriented individual will be the best leader for the job. Modern firms often use the Fiedler contingency model to help them change a situation to fit a leader, rather than seeking out new leaders to fit the situation. This model can also be used to delegate various members of management to the tasks or projects to which they are best-suited.

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