The Fiedler contingency model is a leadership theory of industrial and organizational psychology developed by Fred Fiedler (born 1922), one of the leading scientists who helped his field move from the research of traits and personal characteristics of leaders to leadership styles and behaviours.
Fiedler assumes that everybody's least preferred coworker in fact is on average about equally unpleasant.
According to Fiedler, there is no ideal leader.
Fiedler found that low-LPC leaders are more effective in extremely favourable or unfavourable situations, whereas high-LPC leaders perform best in situations with intermediate favourability.
Fiedler and his associates have provided decades of research to support and refine the contingency theory.
Cognitive Resource Theory (CRT) modifies Fiedler's basic contingency model by adding traits of the leader (Fiedler and Garcia 1987).
CRT tries to identify the conditions under which leaders and group members will use their intellectual resources, skills and knowledge effectively.
While it has been generally assumed that more intelligent and more experienced leaders will perform better than those with less intelligence and experience, this assumption is not supported by Fiedler's research.
Summary of Fiedler's Contingecy Model
To Fiedler, stress is a key determinant of leader effectiveness (Fiedler and Garcia 1987; Fiedler et al. 1994), and a distinction is made between stress related to the leader's superior, and stress related to subordinates or the situation itself.
In stressful situations, leaders dwell on the stressful relations with others and cannot focus their intellectual abilities on the job.
Thus, intelligence is more effective and used more often in stress-free situations.
Fiedler has found that experience impairs performance in low-stress conditions but contributes to performance under high-stress conditions.
As with other situational factors, for stressful situations Fiedler recommends altering or engineering the leadership situation to capitalize on the leader's strengths.
Despite all the criticism, Fiedler's contingency theory is an important theory because it established a brand new perspective for the study of leadership.
Many approaches after Fiedler's theory have adopted the contingency perspective.
Fred Fiedler's situational contingency theory holds that group effectiveness depends on an appropriate match between a leader's style (essentially a trait measure) and the demands of the situation.
Fiedler considers situational control the extent to which a leader can determine what his or her group is going to do to be the primary contingency factor in determining the effectiveness of leader behavior.
Fred Fiedler decided to become a psychologist before he had even entered his teens.
Post-World War I Vienna, where Fiedler grew up, was richly flavored by the ideas of Freud, Adler, Jung, and their followers, and the Fiedler household contained many intriguing psychology books for a boy his age.
Fourteen years, five thousand miles, and twenty-one jobs later (not counting military service in the U.S. Army), Fiedler completed his PhD in Psychology from the University of Chicago and embarked on a research agenda that would paradigmatically shift how people think about leadership.
For eighteen years, beginning with a 1954 study of the leadership of high school basketball teams-which led to the development of the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) score-Fiedler poked and prodded the data from his various studies on leadership effectiveness.
As Fiedler writes, "A clean and elegant experiment may be a thing of beauty and joy forever, but building a sound theory is more like trying to solve a picture puzzle in which half the pieces are missing… I am convinced that data are adversaries that have to be beaten into submission… I have been struck time and again by the realization that I did not really begin to understand some of our research results until many years and studies later.
Fiedler, F. (1992).
"Life in a Pretzel-Shaped Universe," in Management laureates : a collection of autobiographical essays.
Greenwich, CT: Jai Press, 303-333.
ILA President Cynthia Cherrey presenting the Award to Fred Fiedler
Fred Fiedler with ILA President Cynthia Cherrey
Fred Fiedler with Susan Murphy and Edwin Hollander
Susan Murphy describes Fred Fiedler's contributions to the field of leadership during his induction event at ILA 2010 Boston
2010 Leadership Legacy Induction of Fred FiedlerPhoto Gallery
Emerald | Leadership & Organization Development Journal editorial team
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