What makes leadership effective in a group or organization? Scholars have been preoccupied with addressing this key question perhaps since the inception of leadership as a formal field of scientific inquiry. One classic approach that gained prominence during the 1970s and 1980s is contingency theories of leadership. Contingency theories hold that leadership effectiveness is related to the interplay of a leader's traits or behaviors and situational factors.
History and Background
The contingency approach to leadership was influenced by two earlier research programs endeavoring to pinpoint effective leadership behavior. During the 1950s, researchers at Ohio State University administered extensive questionnaires measuring a range of possible leader behaviors in various organizational contexts. Although multiple sets of leadership behaviors were originally identified based on these questionnaires, two types of behaviors proved to be especially typical of effective leaders: (1) consideration, leader behaviors that include building good rapport and interpersonal relationships and showing support and concern for subordinates and (2) initiating structure, leader behaviors that provided structure (e.g., role assignment, planning, scheduling) to ensure task completion and goal attainment.
About the same time, investigators from the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center conducted interviews and distributed questionnaires in organizations and collected measures of group productivity to assess effective leadership behaviors. The leadership behavior categories that emerged from the University of Michigan were similar to the consideration and initiating structure behaviors identified by the Ohio State studies. The University of Michigan investigators, however, termed these leadership behaviors relation-oriented behavior and task-oriented behavior. This line of research was later extended by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in 1964 to suggest that effective leaders score high on both of these behaviors (high– high leaders). Although research consistently supported the dichotomy between task and relations leadership behavior, little evidence suggested that these leadership behaviors were related to increased leadership effectiveness in group performance. Inconsistent findings characterized the bulk of research in this area, and soon the focus of attention on leadership behaviors as direct predictors of leadership effectiveness shifted. However, researchers did not abandon the task versus relations dichotomy altogether. Instead, an alternative approach was developed that emphasized the potentially critical role of the situational context in linking leadership behaviors or traits to effective outcomes. This alternate approach became known as the contingency theories of leadership.
The Contingency Approach
The Contingency Theory of Leadership Effectiveness
In the 1960s, Fred Fielder advanced the first theory using the contingency approach, the contingency theory of effectiveness. The main idea of this early theory is that leadership effectiveness (in terms of group performance) depends on the interaction of two factors: the leader's task or relations motivations and aspects of the situation. The leader's task or relations motivation is measured through the Least Preferred Coworker 1
scale (LPC). This scale asks leaders to recall a coworker (previously or currently) they work with least well and to characterize this individual with ratings on a series of 8-point bipolar adjectives (e.g., distant– cold). High LPC scores reflect more positive descriptions of the least preferred coworker, whereas low LPC scores evidence more negative perceptions. Fielder argued that an individual with a high LPC score is motivated to maintain harmonious interpersonal relationships, whereas an individual with a low LPC score is motivated to focus on task accomplishment.
The interpretation of exactly what high...