Contingency Theory

Understanding the Emergence of Leaders Based on the Contingency Theory

The realization that there is no one correct type of leader led to contingency theories which assert that the best leadership style depends on the situation. These theories try to predict which style is best in which circumstance.

The contingency leadership theory emerged in the 1960s on the principle that no one leadership style is applicable to all situations and that the best form of leadership is one that finds the perfect balance between behaviors, need, and context.

According to contingency theories, there is no single way of leading, and every leadership style should be based on certain situations, which signifies that there are certain people who perform at the maximum level in certain places, but at minimal performance when taken out of their element.

It is generally accepted within the contingency theories that leaders are more likely to express their leadership when they feel their followers will be responsive and that situational factors will determine the leadership approach taken.

Three of the most popular contingency theories are Hersey and Blanchard’s situational theoryOpens in new window, Fiedler’s leadership model, and the substitutes-for-leadership model.

  1. The situational theory of leadership is an extension of the behavioral theories. Hersey and Blanchard’s approach focused on the characteristics of followers in determining appropriate leadership behavior. It posited that a leader can adopt one of four leadership styles (telling style, selling style, participating style, and delegating style) based on a combination of relationship and task behaviors, and that the appropriate style depends on the readiness level of followers.
  2. Fiedler’s leadership model starts with assessing the extent to which the leader’s style is task oriented or relationship oriented. Fiedler considered a person’s leadership style to be relatively fixed, stable, and difficult to change. As such, this theory posited there must be a match of the leader’s style with the situation most favorable for his or her effectiveness.
  3. The substitute-for-leadership model argues that situational variables can be powerful and can actually substitute for or neutralize the need for leadership. This approach therefore outlined those organizational settings in which a leadership style is unimportant or unnecessary.

Therefore, contingency theories emphasize different variables in a specific setting that determine the style of leadership best suited for the said situation.

According to contingency theories, for example, whether or not a leader is an effective leader is the result of the interplay among what the leader is like, what he or she does, and the situation in which leadership takes place.

Given the wide variety of situations in which leadership occurs, what makes an effective leader in one situation (i.e., certain traits or behaviors) is not necessarily what that leader needs to be equally effective in a different situation.

The traits or behaviors that may contribute to a leader being an effective leader in one situation might actually result in the same leader being an ineffective leader in another situation.

Good leaders not only possess the right qualities but they are also able to evaluate the needs of their followers and the situation at hand.

In summary, contingency theories suggest that effective leadership is a combination of many key variables and is always contingent on the situation or context.