Leadership style and the work situation: The Fielder Model

One of the most thoroughly researched contingency models was developed by Fred E Fielder. Fiedler’s basic assumption is that it is quite difficult for managers to alter the management styles that made them successful. In fact, Fiedler believes, most managers are not very flexible, and trying to change a manager’s style to fit unpredictable or fluctuating situations is in efficient or useless. Since styles are relatively inflexible, and since no one style is appropriate for every situation, effective group performance can only be achieved by matching the manager to the situation or by changing the situation to fit the manager. For example, a comparatively authoritarian manager can be selected to fill a post that requires a directive leader, or a job can be changed to give an authoritarian manager more formal authority over employees.

The leadership styles that Fiedler contrasts are similar to the employee centered and tasks oriented styles. What differentiates this model from the others is the measuring instrument used. The leadership style is measured on a scale that indicated “the degree to which a man described favorably or unfavorably his least preferred co-worker (LPC)” – the employee with whom the person could work least well. This measure locates an individual on the leadership style continuum. According to findings, “a person who describes his least preferred co-worker in a relatively favorable manner tends to be permissive, human relations oriented and considerate of the feelings of his men. But a person who describes his least preferred co-workers in an unfavorable manner who has what we have come to call a low LPC rating tends to be managing, task controlling and less concerned with the human relations aspects of the job.

High-LPC managers want to have personal relations with their co-workers and will regard close ties with employees as important to their overall effectiveness. Low-LPC managers, on the other hand, want to get the job done. The reaction of employees to their leadership style is of far lower priority than the need to maintain production. Low LPC managers who feel that a harsh style is necessary to maintain production will not hesitate to use it.

Fielder has identified three “leadership situations” or variables that help determine which leadership style will be effective: leader member relations, the task structure and the leader’s position power. (Fielder’s studies did not include such other situational variables as employee motivation and the values and experiences of leaders and group members.

The quality of leader member relations is the most important influence on the manager’s power and effectiveness. If the manager gets well with the rest of the group, if group members respect the manager for reasons of personality character, or ability, then the manager might not have to rely on formal rank or authority. On the other hand, a manager who is disliked or distrusted may be less able to lead informally and could have to rely on directives to accomplish group tasks.

Task structure is the second most important variable in the leadership situation. A highly structured task is one for which step-by-step procedures or instructions are available. Group members therefore have a very clear idea of what they are expected to do. But when tasks are unstructured, as in committee meetings and many research and developments tasks, group member roles are more ambiguous.

The leader’s position power is the final situational variable identified by Fiedler. Some positions, such as the presidency of a firm, carry a great deal of power and authority. The chairperson of a fund raising drive, on the other hand, has little power over volunteer workers. Thus, high position power simplifies the leader’s task of influencing others, while low position power makes the leader’s task more difficult.