Leadership has different meanings to various authors. Leadership could be defined as influence, that is, the art of process of influencing people so that they will strive willingly and enthusiastically toward the achievement of group goals (Bass, 1981). Although their approach to leadership theory is primarily one of analyzing leadership style, Fred E. Fiedler and his associates at the University of Illinois have suggested a contingency theory of leadership (Fiedler, 1967).
The theory holds that people become leaders not only because of the attributes of their personalities but also because of various situational factors and the interactions between leaders and group members. On the basis of his studies, Fiedler described three critical dimensions of the leadership situation that help determine what style of leadership will be most effective (Miner, 1982):
Position power is the degree to which the power of a position, as distinguished from other sources of power, such as personality or expertise, enables a leader to get group members to comply with directions; in the case of managers, this is the power arising from organizational authority. As Fiedler points out, a leader with clear and considerable position power can obtain good followership more easily than one without such power (Bowers, 1975).
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With the dimension of Task structure, Fiedler had in mind the extent to which tasks can be clearly spelled out and people held responsible for them. If tasks are clear (rather than vague and unstructured), the quality of performance can be more easily controlled and group members can be held more definitely responsible for performance. Fiedler regarded the dimension of Leader-member relations as the most important from a leader’s point of view, since position power and task structure may be largely under the control of an enterprise. It has to do with the extent to which group members like, trust, and are willing to follow a leader (Yuki, 1981).
To approach his study, Fiedler set forth two major styles of leadership. One of these is primarily task-oriented; that is, the leader gains satisfaction from seeing tasks performed. The other is oriented primarily toward achieving good interpersonal relations and attaining a position of personal prominence. Favorableness of situation was defined by Fiedler as the degree to which a given situation enables a leader to exert influence over a group.
To measure leadership styles and determine whether a leader is chiefly task-oriented, Fiedler used an unusual testing technique (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991). He based his findings on two sources: (1) scores on the least preferred coworker (LPC) scale – these are ratings made by people in a group as to those with whom they would least like to work; and (2) scores on the assumed similarity between opposites (ASO) scale--ratings based on the degree to which leaders see group members as being like themselves, on the assumption that people will like best, and work best with, those who are seen as most like themselves.
Today the LPC scale is most commonly used in research. In developing this scale, Fiedler asked respondents to identify the traits of a person with whom they could work least well (Fiedler, 1967).
Leadership performance depends as much on the organization as it depends on the leader's own attributes. Except perhaps for the unusual case, it is simply not meaningful to speak of an effective leader or an ineffective leader; we can only speak of a leader who tends to be effective in one situation and ineffective in another. If we wish to increase organizational and group effectiveness we must learn not only how to train leaders more effectively but also how to build an organizational environment in which the leader can perform well (Indvik, 1986).
In a highly structured situation, such as in the military during a war, where the leader has strong position power and good relations with members, there is a favorable situation in which task orientation is most appropriate. The other extreme, an unfavorable situation with moderately poor relations, an unstructured task, and weak position power, also suggests task orientation by the leader, who may reduce anxiety or ambiguity that could be created by the loosely structured situation. Between the two extremes, the suggested approach emphasizes cooperation and good relations with people.
To conclude, leadership is the art or process of influencing people so that they contribute willingly and enthusiastically toward group goals. Leadership requires followership. The approach to leadership, built on the assumption that leaders are the product of given situations, focuses on the study of situations.
Fiedler’s contingency approach takes into account the position power of the leader, the structure of the task, and the relations between the leader and group members. This would make the followers to like, trust and follow the leader. The conclusion is that there is no one best leadership style and that managers can be successful if placed in appropriate situations.
Bass, Barnard M. 1981. Stodgill’s Handbook of Leadership: A survey of theory and research, Rev. ed, New York: The Free Press.
Bowers, David G. 1975. “Hierarchy, Function and the Generalizability of Leadership Practices,” in James G. Hunt and Lars L. Larson (eds.), Leadership Frontiers (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1975), pp. 167-180.
Fiedler, Fred E. 1967. A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967).
Indvik, Julie. 1986. “Path Goal Theory of Leadership: A Meta-Analysis,” in John A. Pearce II and Richard B. Robinson, Jr. (eds.), Academy of Management Best Papers-Proceedings, Forty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Chicago (Aug. 13-16, 1986), pp. 189-192.
Kirkpatrick, Shelley A. & Locke, Edwin A. 1991. “Leadership: Do Traits Matter?” Academy of Management Executive (May 1991), pp. 48-60.
Miner, John B. 1982. Theories of Organizational Structure and Process, Hinsdale, Ill.: The Dryden Press, Chap.2.
Yuki, Gary A. 1981. Leadership in Organization, (Englewood Cliffs, N.]: Prentice-Hall, chap. 4.
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