Theoretical Reflections


Theoretical Reflections Essay, Research Paper

Theoretical Reflections – Contingency Theory

Research Notes

(Considerations for Technology Driven Reform)

Contingency theory suggests that appropriate behavior in a given situation

depends on a wide variety of variables and that each situation is different.

What might work in one organization, set of issues, or employee group might not

work in a different organization with its own set of issues and employees.

Effectiveness of schools, for example, is contingent upon the leadership style

of the principal and the favorableness of the situation (Hendricks, 1997). This

methodology acknowledges that no one best way exists to manage in a given

situation and those situational variables, from both the internal and external

environments impact on leadership practice.

Leadership styles cannot be fully explained by behavioral models. The

situation in which the group is operating also determines the style of

leadership that is adopted. Several models exist which attempt to understand the

relationship between style and situation; the four major theories comprising my

contingency category are Fiedler’s Contingency Model, Situational Theory,

Path-Goal Theory, and the Vroom-Yetton Leadership Model.

Fiedler’s Contingency Model

Fiedler’s model assumes that group performance depends on:

Leadership style, described in terms of task motivation and relationship


Situational contingencies, determined by three factors:

1. Leader-member relations – Degree to which a leader is accepted and

supported by the group members.

2. Task structure – Extent to which the task is structured and defined, with

clear goals and procedures.

3. Position power – The ability of a leader to control subordinates through

reward and punishment.

High levels of these three factors give the most favorable situation, low

levels, the least favorable. Relationship-motivated leaders are most effective

in moderately favorable situations. Task-motivated leaders are most effective at

either end of the scale. Fiedler suggests that it may be easier for leaders to

change their situation to achieve effectiveness, rather than change their

leadership style.

Fielder, F. (1967). A theory of leadership effectiveness. New York: McGraw.

This theory defines factors that determine how the leader’s personality and

styles of interacting with others affects the group performance and

organization. The appropriateness of the leadership style for maximizing group

performance is contingent upon the favorableness of the group-task situation.

Group performance is related to both the leadership style and the degree to

which the situation provides the leader with the opportunity to exert influence.

Fiedler (1967) defines the group, leader, and leader effectiveness:

The Group: A set of individuals who share a common fate and are

interdependent in the sense that an event that affects one member will affect

them all.

Leader: The individual in the group given the task of directing and

coordinating task-relevant group activities or who in the absence of a

designated leader, carries the primary responsibility for performing these

functions in the group.

Leader Effectiveness: "…Defined in terms of the group’s output, it’s

morale, and the satisfactions of its members.

Feidler also classifies groups according to the work relations among the


Interacting groups: Require close coordination of several team members on the

performance of the primary task. Many tasks also require the close and

simultaneous coordination of two of more people.

Co-acting groups: Members work together on a common task, but each member

does their job relatively independently of other team members.

Counteracting groups: Individuals work together for the purpose of

negotiating and reconciling conflicting opinions and purposes. Each member works

toward achieving his or her own ends at the expense of the other, to an extent.

Situational Theory (Paul Hersey & Kenneth Blanchard)

This theory suggests that leadership style should be matched to the maturity

of the subordinates. Maturity is assessed in relation to a specific task and has

two parts:

Psychological maturity – Their self-confidence and ability and readiness to

accept responsibility.

Job maturity – Their relevant skills and technical knowledge.

As the subordinate maturity increases, leadership should be more

relationship-motivated than task-motivated. For four degrees of subordinate

maturity, from highly mature to highly immature, leadership can consist of:

Delegating to subordinates.

Participating with subordinates.

Selling ideas to subordinates.

Telling subordinates what to do

Lord, Robert G. and Maher Karen J. (1991) Leadership and Information

Processing: Linking Perceptions and Performance. Massachusetts: Unwin Hyman,


Situational Model of Hersey and Blanchard. – emphasize the importance for the

leader to consider the stage of organizational development of each of their

followers and to adapt their type of leadership to the followers developmental

level. Hersey and Blanchard talk about the leader and emphasize the influence of

their actions on the organization, through their followers. The leader can

compare to the influence of the executive in Lord and Maher’s theories. Both of

the theories emphasize the influence of style or actions of the leader on the

outcome of the follower or organization.

Lord and Maher in Leadership and Information Processing: Linking Perceptions

and Performance (1991) emphasize that executive level actions can affect an

organization’s performance. Their methodology incorporates leadership and

information processing, perceptual and social processes, leadership and

organizational performance, and stability, change, and information processing.

Their approach to understanding leadership is to develop a comprehensive theory

addressing both leadership perceptions and organizational performance. They

believe that "theory in any scientific area is an ongoing social process

and emphasize the possibilities of change," "to understand leadership

perceptions it is essential to understand how people process information."


Lord and Maher discuss direct and indirect effects of leadership on

performance, leadership succession, a model of organizational performance, and

executive leadership and organizational performance. In discussing direct and

indirect effects of leadership Lord and Maher explain the differences between

these two means of leadership. Direct means refer to "those leadership

activities which explicitly influence the behavior of subordinates or the

strategies of organizations." (p169) This is the basis for most existing

leadership and management theory. Indirect means involve "establishing

certain conditions, such as socialization processes or culture, which then

affect subordinate and organizational performance." (p. 171) Indirect means

form a powerful mode of affecting subordinate and organizational performance.

Lord and Maher then describe the effects of direct and indirect means of

leadership in lower and executive levels of an organization. In short, their

conclusion is that high-level executives may have difficulty being perceived as


Oliver, D. L. (1955). A Solomon Island Society, Kinship and Leadership Among

the Siuai of Bougainville. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Douglas Oliver (1955) in his study of a Solomon Island society tells stories

that the Siuai leader is comfortable dealing with all the aspects of Siuai life.

This is an example of situational methodology, which is one that states that the

situation is the main component of what determines what a leader will do.

DePree, M. (1989) Leadership Is An Art. New York: Dell

The Situational Model of Vroom and Yetton – centers on the interaction

between situational variables and the characteristics of the leader and/or the

follower. Max DePree (1989) identifies "roving leaders", who use their

special talents and respond swiftly and effectively. The example that he uses is

a doctor dealing with an emergency situation. He says, "Roving leaders are

those indispensable people in our lives who are there when we need them" (DePree,

1989, p. 48). These people take charge in varying degrees when a situation needs

immediate attention, structure and action.

Hollander, E. P. (1964) Leaders, Groups, and Influence. New York: Oxford

University Press.

Another aspect of this approach found in this book is that persons function

as leaders in a particular time and place, and both these can vary. A second

approach found in this book regaring leadership is called the situational

approach. The situational approach looks at the specific situations and the

tasks associated with it to determine whether or not unique leadership

characteristics could be seen as being essential. Hollander looks at this

appproach as "It is in the nature of situational requirements that they

call forth certain expectations for leadership, and these may be fulfilled by

various individuals in the situation." (p. 5) This book also differenciates

between the trait approach and the situational approach by stating, "…the

situational approach conceives of leadership in terms of function performed,

rather than in terms of persisting traits of the leader." (p. 5)

Path-Goal Theory (Robert House)

Robert House suggests that the leader in a number of ways can affect the

performance, satisfaction, and motivation of a group:

Offering rewards for the achievement of performance goals.

Clarifying paths towards these goals.

Removing performance obstacles.

A person may do these by adopting a certain leadership style, according to

the situation:

Directive leadership – Specific advice is given to the group and ground rules

are established.

Supportive leadership – Good relations exist with the group and sensitivity

to subordinates’ needs is shown.

Participative leadership – Decision making is based on group consultation and

information is shared with the group.

Achievement-oriented leadership – Challenging goals are set and high

performance is encouraged while showing confidence in the groups’ ability.

Supportive behavior increases group satisfaction, particularly in stressful

situations, while directive behavior is suited to ambiguous situations. It is

also suggested that leaders who have influence upon their superiors can increase

group satisfaction and performance.

Vroom-Yetton Leadership Model

This model suggests the selection a leadership style for making a decision.

There are five decision-making styles:

Autocratic 1 – Problem is solved using information already available.

Autocratic 2 – Additional information is obtained from group before leader

makes decision.

Consultative 1 – Leader discusses problem with subordinates individually,

before making a decision.

Consultative 2 – Problem is discussed with the group before deciding.

Group 2 – Group decides upon problem, with leader simply acting as chair.

The style is chosen by the consideration of seven questions, which form a

decision tree. This is described in Leadership and Decision Making, by V.H.Vroom

and P.W.Yetton, pp.41-42, published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.

The Transactional Model

Hollander, E. P. (1964) Leaders, Groups, and Influence. New York: Oxford

University Press.

The transactional approach by Edwin Hollander (1964) states that "the

interaction between a particular leader and a particular follower will change

over time based on such things as the changing confidence level of the leader

and of the follower, and other environmental changes that may be subtle and are

often difficult to document." A "behind the scenes" leader, whose

behavior prevents a crisis from happening in the first place, might go

unnoticed, unappreciated and unstudied. This kind of leader develops the

strength of others and furthers the effectiveness of the organization.

Hollander, Edwin P. (1978); Leadership Dynamics – a practical guide to

effective relationships. New York: The Free Press (Macmillan Publishing Co.,Inc)

Hollander uses this book to illustrate his points on leadership and to

emphasize his views presented in as the Transactional Approach of leadership.

His primary focus is to show leadership as being something which is dependent on

many different forces, few of which any designated leader may have control over.

Though he emphasizes characteristics which are useful to leaders, he also

explores how the same characteristics can hinder the leaders effectiveness -

which leadership is, for Hollander, measured by. Along with characteristics the

leader may or may not hold, Hollander explores characteristics of the followers

and the situation.

To be credible as a leader is essential, as is the ability to balance the

importance placed on task initiation and group relationships. Hollander gives

examples through out the book sighting how essential a complete understanding of

the situation, and oneUs co-workers/ subordinates, in order to accomplish a goal

(another much needed element in effective leadership). Though he stresses the

importance of the realization of all these aspects by the leader, Hollander also

further develops the role the follower plays in affecting the leader and the

situation. Not only does the leader need to be in touch with the followers, the

followers need to be in touch with the leader and each group affects the other

both in positive and negative ways. Some of the things on which the leaders

success depends are the expectations, the personalities. the competence and the

motivation of the followers as well as the structure, setting, and resources the

situation provides. These things are beyond the leaders initial control yet are

important considerations.

Along with the interaction between those three properties (leader, follower,

and situational characteristics), things to keep in mind is how the leader

original obtained the position, how the position has been kept by the leader and

what factors have had what effect on the situation. Hollander stress the

importance of having legitimacy of position not through hierarchy but by

competency. He also stress the importance of being able to recognize change

happening within the situation. Whether planed or not, change will take place to

some extent and a good leader should be able to recognize the change, how it

will/ could effect the situation, and what therefore should be done.

Hollanders theory comes under the heading of Interactional theories (those

which recognize the importance of the situation and the follower), however he

claims a large difference is in his realization of the effect the follower has

on the leader and vice versa whereas most other Interactionl (or the RoriginalS

theory) concentrates on the leaders role in working with the follower and how

that work reflects on their leadership, though the follower does not take an

RactiveS part in affecting the leader and situation – something Hollander does


HollanderUs approach also reflects that of the Contingency model (that

leaders and situations should be matched because certain situations call for

certain leadership styles and leaders cannot change their style easily so they

need to RfitU in correct positions based on assessment of the situation and the

leader) though he differs from Fiedler and Chemers in that he suggests more

ability of the leader to form or change the situation. He also defines and

explains certain tactics of leadership which he finds to be important (such as

being somewhat flexible in rules/ definitions in order to allow followers the

chance to explore the situation and develop as people) which can be fulfilled to

a greater or lesser degree by all people whereas Fiedler and Chemers expect a

realization of ones personal strong points and the application of them.

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