Chapter 6

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University of Guelph
Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour
HROB 2010
Casey Cosgrove

Chapter 6: Contingency Theory Description • Contingency theory is a leader-match theory which means it tries to match leaders to appropriate situations • It is called contingency because it suggests that a leaders effectiveness depends on how well the leader's style fits the context • Effective leadership is contingent on matching a leader's style to the right setting • Fiedler developed contingency theory by studying the styles of many different leaders who worked in different contexts, primarily military organizations ◦ He assessed leaders styles, the situations in which they worked, and whether they were effective Leadership Style • Within the framework of contingency theory, leadership style are described as: ◦ Task motivated ◦ Relationship motivated • Task Motivated leaders are concerned with reaching a goal • Relationship Motivated leaders are concerned with developing close interpersonal relationship • To measure leader styles, Fielder developed the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale ◦ Leaders who score high on this scale are described as relationship motivated, and those who score low on the scale are identified as task motivated Situational Variables • Contingency theory suggests that situations can be characterized in terms of three factors: ◦ Leader-Member Relations ◦ Task Structure ◦ Position Power • Leader-Member Relations consist of the group atmosphere and the degree of confidence, loyalty and attraction that followers feel for their leader ◦ If the group atmosphere is positive and subordinates trust, like and get along with their leader, the leader-member relations are defined as good ◦ If the group atmosphere is unfriendly and friction exists within the group, leader- member relations are defined as poor • Task Structure is the degree to which the requirements of a task are clear and spelled out ◦ Tasks that are completely structured tend to give more control to the leader, whereas vague and unclear tasks lessen the leaders control and influence ◦ A task is considered structured when: ▪ (a) the requirements of the task are clearly stated and known by the people required to perform them ▪ (b) the path to accomplishing the task has few alternatives ▪ (c) completion of the task can be clearly demonstrated ▪ (d) only a limited number of correct solutions to the task exist • Position Power is the amount of authority a leader has to reward or to punish followers ◦ It includes the legitimate power individuals acquire as a result of the position they hold in an organization ◦ Position power is strong if a person has the authority to hire and fire or give raises in rank or pay ◦ It is weak if a person does not have the authority to do these things • Situations that are rated most favorable are those having good leader-follower relations, defined tasks, and strong leader-position power • Situations that are rated least favorable have poor leader-follower relations, unstructured tasks and weak leader-position power • Situations that are rated moderately favorable fall between these two extremes • People who are task motivated (low LPC score) will be effective in both very favorable and very unfavorable situations – that is, in situations that are going along very smoothly or situations that are out of control • People who are relationship motivated (high LPC score) are effective in moderately favorable situations – that is, in situations in which there is some degree of certainty but things are neither completely under their control nor completely out of their control • Fiedler's intepretation of the theory adds a degree of clarity to the issue of: ◦ Why leaders with high LPC scores are effective in moderately favorable situations or why leaders with low LPC scores are effective in both very favorable and very unfavorable situations ◦ He provides reasoning for why leaders are working in the “wrong” situation are ineffective: ▪ (a) A leader whos LPC style does not match a particular situation experiences stress and anxiety ▪ (b) Under stress, the leader reverts to less mature ways of coping that were learned in early development; ▪ (c) The leader's less mature coping style results in poor decision making which results in negative work outcomes How Does Contingency Theory Work? • By measuring a leader's LPC score and the three situational variables, one can predict whether the leader is going to be effective in a particular setting • For example: A situation that has a good leader-member relations, a structure task, and strong position power would fall in Category 1 of preferred leadership style • A situation that has poor leader-member relations, structured task, and weak position power would fall in Category 6 • The figure indicates that low LPCs are effective in Category 1,2,3, and 8, whereas high LPCs are effective in Categories 4,5,6 and 7 • Middle LPCs are effective in Categories 1,2, and 3 Strengths • First, it is supported by a great deal of empirical research ◦ offers an approach to leadership that has a long tradition ◦ Many researchers have tested it and found it to be a valid and reliable approach
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