• niccimorris

MBA Musings: What makes a good leader? "It depends."

"One thing depends on other things, and for a leader to be effective, there must be an appropriate fit between the leader's behavior and style and the followers and the situation."

The above quote from "Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development, 6e" sums up quite well what is meant by a contingency theory leadership model. The contingency theory of leadership proposes that a leader's effectiveness is contingent upon with how her leadership style matches a particular situation (Oakleaf).

There are a number of factors that are considered. The course text refers to these as "contingency leadership variables" (Lussier & Achua, 2016). These variables include the following:

  • Capability and motivation of the followers

  • Personality traits, behavior and experience of the leaders

  • Task, structure and environment of the situations

A real-world example of this that I can share from my personal experience is that I have had a leader who micromanaged me beyond belief. I suspect it was because that leader was very green and new to such responsibilities. My theory is that the person did not trust themselves and therefore did not trust me. Yet I was quite experienced and had held leadership positions, which I felt made me a better follower. However, the situation went from bad to worse and it became quite toxic. On the other hand, I have had a leader who was adept and skilled at leading teams. That person gave me lots of room and opportunity to do my work. There was no micromanagement. That autonomy inspired me to work harder and longer and drove me to achieve even greater things. I felt I had the psychological safety to do my work. In the other situation, I was so stressed and strained that I was very limited in my willingness to or ability, for that matter, to think creatively and try new things, knowing that my hand would be slapped and I would be treated horribly.

To add to the complexity and nuance of contingency leadership, there are a number of sub-theories that fall under the this umbrella. Fiedler’s Contingency Theory, the Leadership Continuum Theory and Model, the Path-Goal Theory and the Normative Leadership Theory are all examples of this. While they seem similar in nature at first pass, a deeper look into them reveals the differences between the theories.

Fiedler Contingency

This model was created in the mid-1960s by Fred Fiedler (Mind Tools). He was a scientist who studied leaders and their personalities and characteristics. According to Fiedler, a leader's effectiveness is based on the situation and the analysis of of two factors – "leadership style" and "situational favorableness". Fiedler believed people possess natural leadership styles and that they are fixed. While I do not think people are completely inflexible, I do think that true leaders are born and that they learn to be effective leaders along the way.

Leadership Continuum Theory

Developed in the 1950s by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt, this theory states that leadership behavior can be explained as a continuum from boss-centered to subordinate-centered leadership (Lussier & Achua, 2016). In this model, the focus is on who ultimately makes decisions. After considering factors related to the leader, the followers, the situation and the amount of time, one of seven styles is chosen as the best option.

Path-Goal Theory

First published in the early seventies, this theory was designed to explain how the behavior of leaders influences the satisfaction and performance of followers. Robert House, the man behind this concept, suggested that a leader should use the appropriate leadership style regardless of preferred traits and behavior to motivate employees to enhance performance. Goal-setting is a key element of this theory. Followers, House suggested, could be motivated to reach both individual and organizational goals. He argued that this could be done by making sure employees had a clear path to rewards.

Normative Leadership Theory In 1973, Victor Vroom and Phillip Yetton published this model around leadership as it relates to decisions. It provides a set of questions that are sequential, outlining "norms" that should be followed in order to achieve the right balance and style of leadership given the set of circumstances.

Here is a fun video that helps to shed a little light on the contingency theory (, 2013):


Lussier, R. N., & Achua, C. F. (2016). Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Developmenz(6th ed.). Australia: Cengage Learning.

Mind Tools. (n.d.). Fiedler's Contingency ModelMatching Leadership Style to a Situation. Retrieved May 24, 2019, from

Oakleaf, L. (n.d.). Organization and Administration in Recreation, Sport and Leisure Management. Retrieved May 24, 2019, from (2013, December 31). Retrieved May 26, 2019, from