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What makes for Good Leaders?

Fiedler’s Contingency Model and Situational Leadership

Good Leaders are aware of the qualities that employees bring to the workplace and capitalize on them. Leadership requires not only setting direction for an organization but also motivating employees to align their personal and professional goals with those of the organization. In other words, good leaders develop a style that is a perfect match to their situation.

What is your natural leadership style? Do you focus on completing tasks or on building relationships with your team? And have you considered that this natural style of leadership might be more suited to some situations than it is to others?

Fiedler's Contingency Model helps to highlight the most effective leadership style to use in different situations. The Fiedler Contingency Model was created in the mid-1960s by Fred Fiedler, a scientist who studied the personality and characteristics of leaders.

The model states that there is no one best style of leadership. Instead, a leader's effectiveness is based on the situation. This is the result of two factors – "leadership style" and "situational favorableness" (later called "situational control").

Identifying leadership style is the first step in using the model. Fiedler believed that leadership style is fixed can be measured using a scale he developed called Least-Preferred Co-Worker (LPC) Scale.

Unfriendly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Friendly

Unpleasant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pleasant

Rejecting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Accepting

Tense 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Relaxed

Cold 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Warm

Boring 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Interesting

Backbiting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Loyal

Uncooperative 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Cooperative

Hostile 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Supportive

Guarded 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Open

Insincere 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Sincere

Unkind 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Kind

Inconsiderate 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Considerate

Untrustworthy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Trustworthy

Gloomy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Cheerful

Workers evaluate a co-worker they least enjoyed working with along 15 dimensions. The model says that task-oriented leaders usually view their LPCs more negatively, resulting in a lower score. Fiedler called these low LPC-leaders. He said that low LPCs are very effective at completing tasks. They're quick to organize a group to get tasks and projects done. Relationship-building is a low priority. However, relationship-oriented leaders usually view their LPCs more positively, giving them a higher score. These are high-LPC leaders. High LPCs focus more on personal connections, and they're good at avoiding and managing conflict. They're better able to make complex decisions.

Next, "situational favorableness" is assessed. This depends on three distinct factors:

  • Leader-Member Relations – This is the level of trust and confidence that your team has in you. A leader who is more trusted and has more influence with the group is in a more favorable situation than a leader who is not trusted.

  • Task Structure – This refers to the type of task you're doing: clear and structured, or vague and unstructured. Unstructured tasks, or tasks where the team and leader have little knowledge of how to achieve them, are viewed unfavorably.

  • Leader's Position Power – This is the amount of power you have to direct the group, and provide reward or punishment. The more power you have, the more favorable your situation. Fiedler identifies power as being either strong or weak.

Questions are provided to guide responses as follows:

  • Are leader-member relations good or poor?

  • Is the task you're doing structured, or is it more unstructured, or do you have little experience of solving similar problems?

  • Do you have strong or weak power over your team?

Fiedler asks workers to imagine that they've just started working at a new company, replacing a much-loved leader who recently retired. You're leading a team who views you with distrust (so your Leader-Member Relations are poor). The task you're all doing together is well defined (structured), and your position of power is high because you're the boss, and you're able to offer reward or punishment to the group.

The most effective leader in this situation would be high LPC – that is, a leader who can focus on building relationships first.

Or, imagine that you're leading a team who likes and respects you (so your Leader-Member relations are good). The project you're working on together is highly creative (unstructured) and your position of power is high since, again, you're in a management position of strength. In this situation a task-focused leadership style would be most effective.

There have been criticisms of the model including a lack of flexibility in leaders. For instance, if a low-LPC leader is in charge of a group with good relations and doing unstructured tasks, and she has a weak position (the fourth situation), then, according to the model, the best solution is to replace her with a high-LPC leader – instead of asking her to use a different leadership style.

There is also an issue with the Least-Preferred Co-Worker Scale – if you fall near the middle of the scoring range, then it could be unclear which style of leader you are.

Effective leadership does not take place in a vacuum and one’s leadership style must be coordinated with integrity. Leading with integrity means addressing elements of the leadership process to ensure none ignore moral dimensions and post-conventional moral development is cultivated. This is evident from the worker preference scale that includes ethical values such as unfriendly/unpleasant (disrespectful); backbiting (lacking in loyalty); uncooperative (Lacking in diligence); uncaring; insincere; and untrustworthy.

The bottom line is workplace ethics are built on strong core values and workers look for these in their leaders as well as their coworkers.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 30, 2015. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

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