What is Contingency Theory?

What is Contingency Theory?


Contingency theory is known to be a leadership theory that states that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. It proposed certain factors that influence the effectiveness of a leader. Such as the situation, the characteristics of the followers and the leader’s style and behaviour. As per this theory, different situation needs different leadership styles. For instance in a stable and properly organized environment. A more directive leadership style might be effective while in a dynamic and uncertain environment, a perspective and flexible leadership would work better. 

Read More: Leadership Style And Its Psychological Impact On Employee’s Well-Being

Let’s know the importance of Adaptive leadership:

Adaptive leadership has become a necessity in this fast-paced and complex world. Adaptive leaders are better at adjusting their strategies and techniques based on the evolving requirements of their teams or organizations. They are open to changes, welcome new ideas and know the necessity of being relevant and effective in dynamic environments. 

Adaptive leaders are great at problem-solving. They possess the ability to evaluate complex situations, recognise potential obstacles and produce creative solutions. They encourage innovative thinking in their organization and foster an environment that celebrates new changes and experimentation. Adaptive leaders are always eager to learn, actively seeking new, knowledge staying updated on industry trends and investing in their own personal and professional development. 

Read More: A Review of the Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell

Tracing the origins of Contingency Theory:

Contingency theory comes from the field of psychology, specifically the study of behaviourism and the concept of reinforcement. Earlier in the 20th century behaviourism came up as a dominant approach in psychology, emphasizing observable behaviour and its relationship to the environment. BF Skinner believed that reinforcement can shape behaviour as he felt that the behaviour is influenced by the consequences that come after.

The concept of contingency concerning behaviourism is trying to acknowledge the relationship between a behaviour and its consequences. Researchers started applying the concept of contingency to the study of leadership in the 1960s and 1970s. Some believe that the effectiveness of leadership behaviour is dependent on some specific circumstances and the characteristics of the followers. One of the oldest and most influential theories was given by Fred Fiedler. He proposed that the effectiveness of a leader depends on the match between their leadership style and the favourability of the situation. Fiedler believed that leaders have a dominant style which is either task-oriented or relation-oriented and the effectiveness of their style depends on situational favourability. With time the theory expanded beyond Fiedler’s initial model, with other researchers exploring situational variables that may influence leadership effectiveness.

Key concept in contingency theory:

Contingency Variable:

In research, a contingency variable means a factor or a condition that might influence the relation between two other variables. It is also called a moderator variable because it mode rates or influences the strength or direction of the relation between the independent and dependent variables. Let’s say we’re looking at how exercise affects mood. We might find that the amount of support someone gets from others affects this. In other words, social support changes how exercise affects mood. People with more support might feel even better after exercising, compared to those with less support. Contingency variables are important because they help us understand the conditions under which some relationships or effects occur. Examples are task structure, leader-member relations, and positional power. 

Leadership effectiveness in different situations:

  1. Transformational leaders inspire and motivate their followers to produce exceptional results this leadership style is specifically appropriate in situations where there is a need for innovation. For instance, Steve Jobs the co-founder of Apple the epitome of a transformational leadership style, led his team to think differently and revolutionised the tech industries.
  2. Transactional leadership emphasises defining clear goals and providing rewards or punishments based on performance. This style seems effective in situations where tasks are well-defined and need strict adherence to procedures. An example of this can be Jack Wealth the forever CEO of General Electric. he created a performance-based culture in the organisation and rewarded employees who did well or exceeded their targets.
  3. Situational leaders adapt their style based on the readiness level of their followers which refers to the ability and willingness of followers to do a task for example Southwest Airlines worked this way by empowering and interesting its employees to make decisions to encourage excellent customer service. 
  4. Servant leadership give importance to the needs of their followers and prioritises personal growth and development this has been effective in situations where collaboration and teamwork are required example here is Nelson Mandela who showcased servant leadership during his presidency in South Africa he worked hard to unite a divided nation and put the needs of people ahead. 
  5. Autocratic Leadership Unknown to make decisions without input from the team and have strict control over their followers. This is effective in situations where quick decisions and a clear Shane of command are needed such as the military. For example, General George Spatton is famous for his decisive leadership style during World War 2. 

Read More: The Importance of Consistency in Personal Growth

To conclude on this theory we would say that effective leadership depends on the situation as well as characteristics of followers and the task to be done. In today’s complex and dynamic world adaptive leadership is requirement. Such leaders who follow the style or flexible and able to adjust their approach based on the requirements and demands of the situations they are open to Novelty changes empower and equip their team to navigate through uncertainty and complexity.

References +
  • Contingency theory. Contingency Theory – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.).https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/contingency-theory
  • Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, November 19). Contingency theory. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contingency_theory
  • Shonk, K. (2024, April 26). The contingency theory of leadership: A focus on fit. PON. https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/leadership-skills-daily/the-contingency-theory-of-leadership-a-focus-on-fit/

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