Contingency Theory

What Is The Contingency Theory of Leadership?

Maybe leadership isn’t about who you are, what skills you have, or how you act. Maybe what defines effective leadership is about more than just you. This inquisitive contemplation brought forth the idea of Contingency theory, and moved the field of leadership theory forward by another drastic step.

Developed by Fielder, Contingency theory examines the leader in conjunction with the situation the leader is in. In essence, it argues that effective leadership is contingent upon a match between the leader’s style and the work situation. Leadership style is assessed using a measure called the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale. This scale divides leaders into task motivated (low LPC), socio-independent (middle LPC), and relationship motivated.

Three different variables provide a means for situational measurement: leader-member relations, task structure (defined or undefined tasks), and position power (how much power does the leader have). When considered together, these variables suggest a style of leadership that has the best chance of success. Generally, low LPCs are found effective in extreme combinations with high LPCs effective in moderate situations.

Contingency theory is easily measurable, and as a result has a considerable amount of research supporting it. As mentioned, it represents the first theory to consider more than just the attributes of leaders but also the situation leaders can find themselves in. While it is supported by substantial research, an adequate explanation of why it works has yet to be discovered. Contingency theory is merely predictive. It can predict which leaders will be effective in what situations but cannot be used to make leaders in unfavorable situations more effective.


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About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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