What Is Contingency Theory of Leadership? Models Explained

A leader can motivate the team and take the organization to great heights. There are many leadership styles, and they all have their unique virtues. The leader must decide which leadership style suits a particular situation. This concept is a contingency theory of leadership.

Situations significantly affect whether a particular leadership style is suitable for that specific situation. 

A leader might be effective in one case but might fail in another position. Deciding which leadership style is ideal for enhancing employee morale in a particular situation and adapting to the same helps fetch great results. 

Thus, the contingency theory of leadership is based on the contingent nature of the leader’s effectiveness in one situation and ineffectiveness in the other. It means that the leader must analyze the situation and decide which leadership style will best apply to achieve the best results.

Leaders must adapt to the given situation and enhance their skills so that there is maximum and productive utilization of the resources. 

Contingency Theory: No Good or Bad Leaders

As per the contingency theory of leadership, no leader is good or bad. It is the situation that will demand a few vital leadership traits. The team can succeed if the leader adapts to the problem and applies the right leadership style. 

The leader should be able to analyze which set of leadership traits will lead to success. If one thing doesn’t work, the leader must quickly change the track and apply the other methods. Thus, the focus here is not on a good or bad leader. But the focus here is the leadership styles.

The leader must be self-aware, adaptable, and objective, and only then can he apply the right leadership style for a particular situation. The leader in the organizational set-up might be highly skilled and talented.

 But sometimes, there might be challenging situations that will bother the leader. So, even the confident leader must consider that success or failure would result from his talent, leadership qualities, and the nature of circumstances.

If the leader is ineffective in applying any leadership style, he can delegate the leadership responsibility to a co-worker. When the leader knows where he lacks, he must select an alternate option.

Factors Affecting Contingency Theory of Leadership

Several factors affect the contingency theory of leadership.

These include the nature of employees, the maturity level of the employees, the work schedule, the goals given to them, company policies, the motivation levels of the employees, the employees’ work styles, and so on.

These factors will play a relevant role in understanding the theory.

Example To Explain The Application Of Leadership Style 

There is a good leader in the organization who keeps the employees motivated. He gives monthly targets by mail and reviews them when the month ends.

Now, there is a new joiner in the organization. He is not entirely comfortable with this method. He doesn’t take emails so seriously. 

Here the leader is supposed to get adapted to the situation. He should figure out what leadership style will work here so that the new joiner gets comfortable and starts performing for the team. 

The leader might have one-on-one interaction in the beginning, to know if he is comfortable with live interaction.

If yes, then the leader will provide the project details or the list of targets with a live meeting.

So, with the above example, it is clear that depending upon the nature and work style of the employee, the leader must have a plan B if plan A doesn’t work.

Applying an effective leadership style to a situation can work for everyone in the workplace.

Many other leadership styles include participative, autocratic, direct achievement-oriented, consultative, and collaborative techniques.

Depending upon the situation, the leader should decide which leadership style will work under the current circumstances.

Staying self-aware about your own leadership style and matching the same with the required situations will provide insight into the solution.

Contingency Theory Models for Leadership

Contingency Theory Of Leadership_ Models

There are many models based on the contingency theory of leadership. But here, we discuss a few important ones.

It is vital to note that these perspectives can work as a guidebook for leaders. It needs to diagnose the leadership styles and problems.

An understanding of various models will help in enhancing the scope of thinking. 

Ideally, leaders must analyze the team, team members, goals, objectives, and many other things before using a particular leadership style.

If the leaders need coaching or skill development, they must go ahead with the same.

1. Fiedler’s contingency model

Fiedler Contingency Model

Austrian psychologist Fred Fedler developed the first contingency leadership model in the 1960s.

He was deeply involved in research on how the leaders behaved, what kind of personalities they have, and what characteristics they possess. 

He said the leader must compare his natural leadership style with the other situational factors. This comparison will help determine whether he is an effective leader.

In this model, there are typical situations, and then the LPC score will be determined. LPC means least preferred co-worker. 

If the score is above 70, then the leader is relationship-oriented. If the score is below 50, then the leader is task-oriented.

The model has its benefits and limitations. It, however, became one of the popular models for understanding the application of leadership styles.

In this model, three typical factors will determine LPC, including the leader-member relations, the task structure, and the leader’s power position.

2. The situational leadership model or Hersey-Blanchard model

The situational leadership model provides an insight that the implementation of leadership style should be based on situations and the employees involved.

This model gives equal importance to the maturity levels of the employees. Thus depending on maturity and good traits, an employee can be a good maturity level.

Likewise, there are employees with a moderate or poor level of maturity.

Depending on the maturity levels, the leader must apply the leadership style.

This act might include delegating responsibilities to those with a good level of maturity, asking them to participate in action-oriented strategies, etc.

So, here we talk about two styles, one is delegating style, and the other is participating style of leadership.

When the leader finds that the employee has a moderate level of maturity and expertise, he will try the selling style, which means motivating the employee, incentivizing them, or enhancing their morale to be self-starters.

Then there’s one more style called telling style, wherein the leader or the supervisor has to stay with the team, which is poorly motivated.

If the maturity level of the employee could be better, then the leader must get in touch with him directly and tell him what he is supposed to do. The leader must help and motivate him if he needs help.

3. Path goal model

An effective leader must help the employees set goals and objectives. He must check weekly or monthly performance and provide feedback to the employee on what things he should improve.

If needed, the employee should be given the relevant leadership coaching too. The role of the leadership contingency theory here is to provide coaching or help based on the goals. 

The leader must make a path or roadmap for the employee based on the goals set for him. Then the next decision will be to help or coach him depending on his goals.

The leader may also analyze the work environment and take the relevant approach based on that. 

There are various approaches that the leader can adopt, and these include the direct clarification style, supportive leadership style, participative leadership style, and achievement-oriented leadership style.

4. Decision-making model

The other name for the decision-making model is Vroom Yetton contingency model. This model studies leader-member relations; the leadership style should be applied based on that. 

The leader-member relations may sometimes depend on the nature of the leader. The leader’s natural style might be autocratic, where he consults only a few people before deciding.

Some leaders have consultative nature. Some might use collaborative techniques to make the members feel they are being heard and valued.

Leader-member relations are much dependent on these things.

Contingency Theory of Leadership at Work

Now that you have enough information about various styles of leadership and the related factors, it is crucial to understand the application of the contingency theory of leadership. Here’s how you can apply the same at the organizational level.

Evaluate yourself in challenging times.

You must pay attention to how you behave when there are challenging situations. When you encounter problems at work, how do you adapt to the same, or how do you motivate the team at that time? These things will determine the mindset. It will help you to know what’s your natural style and your philosophy.

Match your natural leadership style with the one required at the workplace.

Even though you may have to exhibit different leadership styles in different situations, there’s something that you may need every day to handle and manage the team. You must check if what is required is like your natural leadership style. If not, then you must seek coaching for the same.

If you want a specific outcome, then you, as a leader, and your team both need special skills. Figure out how to develop those skills and imbibe them in the group.

Think of coaching as a way to sharpen leadership skills.

Learning is an ever-growing process. If you, as a leader, need coaching, you must not shy away from this fact. When the challenges become complex, the leader may need sharpened skills, which will be possible with prompt coaching.

Have a futuristic mindset.

The leader must have a growth mindset and a long-term viewpoint. He should be able to forecast future challenges and should work towards growth and development.

So, a good leader has excellent leadership styles but should be ready to adapt. It cannot be one-fit for all. It would help if you customized that as per your need.

Key Takeaways

  • The contingency theory of leadership suggests that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership and that leaders must adapt their style to suit the situation.
  • The theory proposes that different leadership styles are more effective in different situations and that a leader’s effectiveness depends on how well their style fits the situation.
  • The theory identifies two main factors that determine the most effective leadership style for a given situation: the leader’s behavior and the situation’s characteristics.
  • The theory suggests that effective leaders are those who can diagnose the situation and adjust their leadership style accordingly.
  • There are several contingency models of leadership, each with its own set of assumptions and implications for leadership practice.
  • The contingency theory of leadership can help leaders achieve better results by enabling them to adapt their style to suit the situation and the needs of their team.


A good leader is required to enhance the performance and productivity of the team. Employees need motivation at times. An effective and efficient leader knows how to handle the team and achieve the best outcomes. 

Depending on the situation and the employees, the leader must implement a specific leadership style to achieve the best result. With challenges, there should be updates in the leadership implementation activity too. 

A leader may also need coaching to sharpen their skills. The contingency theory of leadership focuses more on the leader’s adaptability to rise out of the situation. 

Knowledge of the specific leadership models can provide insight into which leadership style might suit the situation. A leader must develop a leadership style to help the team and organization achieve success and reach great heights. 

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