Yet another popular theory of leadership is the contingency theory of leadership which offers a unique perspective to leadership. The contingency theory of leadership was developed by Fred Edward Fiedler, a renowned Australian psychologist in 1964. The theory became highly popular when Fred Edward Fiedler published an iconic article that was titled “A contingency model of leadership effectiveness”

The theory explains that the efficiency of a leader is contingent or conditional in the aspect of whether their leadership style is successful in a particular situation or not. To elaborate, the theory describes that a leader may prove to be highly effective under some circumstances while that may not be the case in a different situation. In two entirely different situations, a leader can be both highly effective and miserably ineffective.

The further explanation of the theory is elucidated in the key characteristics of it listed below.

Key features of Contingency Leadership Theory

Fiedler’s model of contingency theory of leadership

  • The theory puts forth the assertion that to be a productive leader, an individual must be able to critically examine situations. Further, after the assessment, the individual needs to evaluate if his or her leadership style is suitable for managing the situation or not. In simple words, the theory revolves around the central idea of situational favorableness of leadership styles.

  • The theory also proposes that effective leaders ought to have a great sense of self-awareness and adaptability to manage different situations with different approaches which is also true in the case of authentic leadership. The theory also requires leaders to have great clarity of their objectives. Leaders must not be rigid and should rather be able to adjust effectively to varying situations. For that, leaders need to be innovative, flexible, and highly committed.

The theory is closely linked to the Fiedler Model which explains the most crucial factors that determine situational favorableness of leadership styles. These factors include the following

1. leader-follower relationships: Situational favorableness is determined by the relationship attributes shared between leaders and followers. These include trust, integrity, mutual respect, and confidence. Leadership styles become highly favorable when there are strong interpersonal relationships between leaders and subordinates.

2. The structure of tasks: Moreover, if tasks within a team are effectively structured or not also affects the aptness of a leadership style in a specific situation. The greater the efficiency of structuring of tasks the more favorable it will be for leaders to deal with any challenge.

3. The extent of leaders’ influence:The last determinant of the situational aptness of leadership styles is the magnitude of influence that leaders have over their people. When leaders have great power over their followers, leadership styles are more favorable to deal with all kinds of situations.

Relevance of the theory in the contemporary corporate world

If we talk about the modern-day workplace, self-awareness has become a highly crucial success factor in the context of business leadership. Leaders today need to be highly adaptable and self-aware so that they know if their leadership styles are suited to all kinds of business challenges. Business challenges in the contemporary world are quite complicated and hence, there can be high variance in leadership success across different circumstances.

The application of theory in the modern workplace makes a strong ground for leaders to master the art of self-awareness. They should know their strengths and weaknesses quite well. As long as they have a clear idea of the merits and limitations of their leadership styles, they can analyze situational favorableness in a worthwhile manner.

The theory in alignment with the Fiedler Model also lays great emphasis on how business leaders need to build strong people skills to foster positive relationships with their employees. The stronger the relationship between team members the more favorable the leadership style will be to confront all kinds of challenges. Moreover, as per the theory, effective leaders are those who structure team responsibilities in an efficient manner and explain individual tasks and roles with great clarity.

Real-World example of exceptional situational favorableness

Jeff Bezos leadership style analysis

Jeff Bezos leadership style analysis

It would not be incorrect to say that the most successful leaders are those who can shine brightly in all kinds of situations. When people have strong leadership qualities, they are likely to excel in all circumstances and bring glory to their businesses and people. One such leader who analyzes each situation with attention to detail and manifests great adaptability is Jeff Bezos.

The man needs no introduction from his grand success speaks for itself. Most of us already know how Amazon started as a small business meant to sell books online and Jeff Bezos ran the company from a small garage in the first few years after its incorporation in 1994. Today, the market capitalization of Amazon stands at a staggering 1.676 trillion dollars making it the fifth most valuable company globally.

For sure, this success has not transpired overnight and it has taken some exceptional leadership characteristics from Jeff Bezos to lead Amazon from a small garage to what it has become today. There is a broad spectrum of leadership lessons to learn from Jeff Bezos. What stands out the most are high situational awareness, adaptability, and openness to doing whatever it takes to not let situations dedicate terms. He clearly knows what is the best move in a specific situation and he aims to cultivate that clarity among all his employees.

To add, Jeff Bezos has a very strong vision for understanding how customer preferences constantly change and how they lead to the development of varied situations. He believes in prioritizing customers’ interests over other things and that is what makes Amazon one of the most beloved global brands. He constantly assesses how customer demands are becoming more specific and versatile and he looks to adapt to the same. Further, under his fine leadership, Amazon as a company looks impressively adaptable and flexible to evolving consumer needs and that is one of the major reasons why the company has such a loyal customer base.

Among his employees, he has always encouraged the idea that the company needs to understand what customers love the most and work backward on giving people exactly what they need. Amazon’s Kindle is one of the most successful products that the company has developed being inspired by customers’ desires.

To add, Jeff Bezos is determined on establishing a company culture where people have great self-awareness and adaptability. As a part of it, thousands of managers at Amazon are provided with call-center training every year and he himself too attends that training. He leads from the front when it comes to inspiring adaptability and flexibility among employees. Further, he keeps telling his teams that it is essential to keep learning and to evolve in a way that adds constant value to the organization.

In fact, today, space tourism has become a hot topic among people and the idea of that does fascinate people a lot. Jeff Bezos assessed the situation excellently, adapted quickly, and launched Blue Origin in 2019 to make space travel accessible to all. This is just one of the many examples of how with great self-awareness and adaptability to people’s desires, Jeff Bezos has acclaimed unparalleled business success. You simply don’t become the second person on the list of the world’s richest people without the knack for winning in all situations.


What leadership styles are commonly associated with the Contingency Theory?

Two primary leadership styles associated with the Contingency Theory are task-oriented leadership and relationship-oriented leadership. Task-oriented leaders focus on accomplishing objectives and are effective in highly structured tasks, while relationship-oriented leaders emphasize building positive relationships and are effective in unstructured tasks.

Can a leader change their style based on different situations?

Yes, one of the central principles of the Contingency Theory is that leaders can adapt their leadership style to suit different situations. A flexible leader who can adjust their approach according to the task and relationship factors is more likely to be effective.