Fred Fiedler developed what is known as the Contingency Model of Leadership. He is famous for being the first management theorist to say that leadership effectiveness depends on the situation. The most astounding thing is that nobody else seems to have thought of that before Fred, which says a lot about academics and management theorists. Every manager would have known it.

Fiedler’s major book is coincidentally titled A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness (1967). The theory is mentioned in every management textbook and “if you can really understand it and apply it you are a better person than I am, and I’m a management professor“, says Professor Stuart-Kotze. Fiedler’s contingency model is academic acrobatics and has no practical application in the real world of management. However, to attempt to summarise the main points:

Fiedler’s (1967) contingency theory holds that situational factors interact with leader traits and behavior to influence leadership effectiveness. According to Fiedler, is no ideal leadership behaviour. Both task-oriented and relationship-oriented leaders can be effective if their orientation (favorability) fits the situation. Favorability is determined by

  • Leader-Member Relations – the respect and trust that followers have for the leader
  • Task Structure – the extent to which subordinates’ responsibilities can be structured and performance measured
  • Leader Position Power – the control the leader has over subordinates’ rewards

Fiedler does not hold that leaders can adapt their styles to different situations. Since personality is relatively stable, Fiedler’s contingency model suggests that improving effectiveness requires changing the situation to fit the leader. This is called “job engineering.”