Contingency Approaches to leadership

Researchers using the trait and behavioral approaches showed that effective leadership depended on many variables, such as organizational culture and the nature of tasks. No one trait was common to all effective leaders. No one style was effective in all situations.

Researchers therefore began trying to identify those factors in each situation that influenced the effectiveness of a particular leadership style. Taken together, the theories resulting from this research constitute the contingency approach to leadership. These theories focus on the following factors:

1. Task requirements
2. Peers’ expectations and behavior
3. Employees’ characteristics expectations and behavior
4. Organizational culture and policies

We will review four of the more recent and well known contingency models of leadership.

Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership Model:

One of the major contingency approaches to leadership is Paul Hersey and Kenneth H Blanchard’s situational leadership model, which holds that the most effective leadership style varies with the ‘readiness’ of employees. Hersey and Blanchard define readiness as desire for achievement, willingness to accept responsibility and task related ability skill and experience. The goals and knowledge of followers are important variables in determining effective leadership style.

Hersey and Blanchard believe that the relationship between a manager and follower moves through four phases as employees develop, and managers need to vary their leadership style. In the initial phase of readiness high amounts of task behavior by the manager is most appropriate. Employees must be instructed in their tasks and familiarized with the organization’s rules and procedures. A nondirective manager would cause anxiety and confusion in new followers. A participatory high relationship behavior approach would also be inappropriate at this stage because the follower requires structure.

As followers begin to learn their tasks, task-behavior remains essential because they are not yet able to function without the structure. However, the leader’s trust in and support of employees increases as the leader becomes familiar with them and wishes to encourage further efforts on their part. Thus, the leader needs to increase relationship behavior.

In the third phase, employees have more ability and achievement motivation begins to surface and they actively begin to seek greater responsibility. The leader will no longer need to be as directive (indeed close direction might be resented). However, the leader will still have to be supportive and considerate in order to strengthen the followers resolve for greater responsibility.

As followers gradually become more confident, self directing and experienced, the leader can reduce the amount of support and encouragement. In this fourth phase, followers no longer need or expect direction from manager. They are increasingly on their own.

The situational leadership model has generated interest because it recommends a leadership type that is dynamic and flexible rather than static. The motivation, ability, experience of followers must constantly be assessed to determine which style combination is most appropriate under flexible and changing conditions. If the style is appropriate, it will not only motivate employees but will also help them develop professionally. Thus, the leader who wants to develop followers, increase their confidence and help them learn their work will have to shift style constantly.

Yet a practical question remains: To what extent are managers actually able to chose among leadership styles in different situations. This issue is important because it affects management selection, placement and promotion. If managers are flexible in leadership style, or if they can be trained to vary their style, presumably they will be effective in a variety of leadership situations. If, on the other hand, managers are relatively inflexible in leadership style, they will operate effectively only in those situations that best match their style or that can be adjusted to match their style. Such inflexibility would hamper the careers of individual managers and complicate the organization’s task of filling its management positions effectively. This leads us to the next contingency model.