Leadership is often situational in its effectiveness and outcomes. When a leader’s traits match the requirements of a situation a positive result can occur. Fielder’s Model of Leadership helps put within proper context how leadership traits mix with a motivational type to determine the effectiveness of a leader within a particular contextual situation. Crises situations call for one approach while periods of rest require another to develop maximum optimal behavior.
Fielder’s model of leadership is one the oldest leadership models around. It follows a couple of beliefs:
The performance of a leader depends on two interrelated factors: 1) the degree to which the situation gives the leader control and influence-that is, the likelihood that the leader can successfully accomplish the job; and 2) the leader’s basic motivation-that is, whether self-esteem depends primarily on accomplishing the task or on having close supportive relationships with others (Axtell, 1991).
Fielder believed that individuals have a single leadership style that maintains consistently throughout their lives. This includes either relationship orientation or task orientation. Each style influences how leaders act and solve problems that make them successful. The style doesn’t necessarily take into account those people who can be either task or relationship orientated depending on the situation.
Under high stress situations some leaders focus on relationships which can cause improper decisions based upon a misalignment of leadership style (Fiedler and Garcia, 1987). During a crisis situation the focus on tasks is more effective than a relationship approach. Overcoming a crisis requires quickly executed tasks that accomplish specific goals to overcome the problem. Relationships and the social subtleties that make up those relationships temporarily go on the back-burner until the crisis is over.
Peace Time Leaders
In low stress situations the relationship orientated approach is more important in accomplishing organizational objectives. It is these relationships that create social cohesion and togetherness in managing an organization. According to Gannon (1982) relationship leaders are effective when 1.) Leader-member relationships are strong, 2.) the task is unstructured, and 3.) when positional power is weak. Such leadership flourishes in highly intellectual organizations where freedom of thought is needed to be productive.
As task oriented focus or people oriented focus are considered relatively stable traits that exist over a person’s lifetime, it is necessary to choose the right style of leader to handle difficult situations. "In Fiedler's model, leadership effectiveness is the result of interaction between the style of the leader and the characteristics of the environment in which the leader works" (Gray & Starke, 1988). In other words, the situation and the leadership traits must match for optimal performance. When the environment requires one style of leadership over the other it would not be wise to use the wrong leader.
It is important to remember that effective leadership is not gender specific. Research has lent credibility to the concept that the Contingency Model of leadership applies to both males and females equally (Rice, Bender, & Vitters, 1982). The right leader for a situation is more closely akin to the personality style of that leader versus any physical characteristics.
In today’s world, the concept of leadership has expanded to include new forms, models and people. Fielder’s Contingency Model still stands as one of the central lenses to understanding and predicting the effectiveness of future leadership styles in both the workplace and crisis situations. It is through understanding these models and traits that organizational decision makers can develop and place appropriate leaders to handle specific difficult situations.
Axtell, R. (1991). Gestures: the do’s and taboos of body language around the world. NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Fiedler, F. and Garcia, J. (1987) New Approaches to Leadership, Cognitive Resources and Organizational Performance, New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Gannon, M. (1982). Management: An Integrated Framework. Boston: Little, Brown.
Gray, Jerry L., and Frederick A. Starke. Organizational Behavior: Concepts and Applications. Columbus, Ohio: Merril.
Kinicki, A. & Kreitner, R. (2009). Organizational Behavior: Key concepts, skills & practices (fourth edition). McGraw-Hill Company.
Rice, R., Bender, L., Vitters, A. (1982). Testing the validity of contingency model for female and male leaders. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 3 (4).