The Contingency Model of Leadership

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TheContingency Model of Leadership

TheContingency Model of Leadership

Thecontingency theory postulates that there us best way an organizationthrough is leadership can lead or make decisions. The decisions madein one situation are not applicable in all situations. The theoryconsiders each corporate challenge as unique and requiringstreamlined decisions that are cognizant of the prevailingcircumstances. Internal and external constraints shape the types ofdecisions that executives make in the organization. Some of thefactors that constitute the constraints of decision-making based onthe contingency model include: the size of the organization, thebasic assumptions of managers about employees, the varying nature ofresources and operation activities, the ease with which theorganization adapts to change, and the types of technology in place. The model assumes that organization has to align its operations tothe entire system and subsystems. Thus, the success of leadershipdepends on the interplay of various factors that constitute differentsubordinate employees, tasks, and group dynamics. The psychologicalorientation of a leader influences the performance of theorganization. There are three main factors that shape thepsychological orientation and the possibility of success of theorganization: the power position of the leader, the group atmosphere,and structure of specific tasks within the system and varioussubsystems. In essence, the leadership style and situationalfavorableness of decisions critically determine the effectiveness ofleadership decisions. Therefore, the contingency model sets someconditions that an organization’s leadership must meet in differentmanagement situations: the quality of decisions must be high andacceptable, leaders and subordinates must collaborate in processinginformation, the environment must make it possible and reasonable forsubordinates to participate or accept decisions, and disagreementsfrom subordinates must have viable alternatives.

Howthe contingency model addresses organizational change

Thecontingency model has two contrasting theories and two contrastingmethods of change within itself that differentiate it to be the bestmodel for implementing organizational change(Lunenburg&amp Ornstein, 2011). The contrasting theories are the incrementaltheory of change and the transformative theory of change. Thecontrasting methods of change are the participation method and thecoercion method. The first theory is the incremental theory of changethat incorporates all the basic aspects of the contingency theory.Incremental change embedded in the contingency model assumes that theeffectiveness of a leader depends on how much they can theorganization to the next level using logical steps. Logical steps,in this case, refer to the long time frame and sharing informationwith employees in a manner that increases confidence among them whilereducing dependence on outsiders to instill the impetus and rightmomentum for change. The incremental theory postulates that evenwhen the organization has capacity that make sit ready forinstitutional change or predicted future environmental conditions,adjustments are needed in terms of the mission, the strategy, thestructure, and the internal processes. The contingent model suggeststhat an incremental approach towards organizational change because ittakes employees and other stakeholders along it rather than let it bea unilateral decision from the management.

Thesecond theory embedded in the contingent theory that addresses changeis transformation theory. Transformational change involves changingorganizational strategies to adjust to structural or the processrequirements that would make the organization more competitive. According to the transformation theory, any form of transformationalchange in an organization has effects such as environmental creep andorganizational creep(McKee,Kemp, &amp Spence, 2012). The transformative changes that typicallyhappen in the modern corporate environment include: acquisition,shutdowns, technological breakthroughs, and industry reorganization. The contingency model, therefore, suggests that throughtransformative change, an organization can institute lasting changebecause it is associated with changes in critical aspects ofproduction, employer-employee relations, and/or organizationalstructure. In many cases, transformational changes solve businessproblems in a unique way. For example, a change in technology in theproduction process brings institutional change may not be applicablein all production situations of a similar nature. As a way to applythe contingency approach, the management through consultations andtraining of employees, may adopt a specific technology that seeks toaddress a business challenge. However, the application of the adoptedtechnology as remains restricted to the identified problem ratherthan all.

Methodsof change engrained in the contingency model are also the basis uponwhich it addresses change. The participation method diplomaticallyresolves resistance in the workforce when a situational response isexecuted to solve a particular business problem. The coercive methodtakes advantage of the organization’s influence on the employee toimplement business changes that improves organizational performance. The contingency model suggests that the management can employ eitherthe participation or the coercive method depending on thepre-disposing issues at hand. It also suggests the use of both insuccessive order as long as the change has benefits that would offsetthe resultant decline in employee morale when a change program isintroduced.

Inthe current corporate environment, communication and knowledge arethe main drivers of wealth creation and sources of value. They havereplaced physical labor and natural resources as the main sources ofwealth. Whenever change happens in an organization, there isopportunity or danger. The contingency theory mitigates the possibledangers of change by suggesting change processes that accommodaterather than alienate different systems in the organization. It alsosuggests that change, especially one that seeks to respond toindustry changes or market evolution ought to be swift. Time linesare important because they give space for reconfiguration of theorganization to the needed changes through effective communication. For example, the contingency model suggests organizations should beable to develop new designs on a yearly, monthly, weekly or dailybasis. For small businesses that depend on everyday smalltransactions, reconfiguration can occur on an hourly basis. Decisionsthat aim to reconfigure an organization should introduce flexibleproduction systems and use team-based incentives. Today changerequires innovative functions such as outsourcing so that theorganization incurs the cost of intellectual labor. Thetransformative response to such demands is therefore, to introduceintellectual assets-networks and databases- that increasingly provingto be more effective than physical assets. Such a change wouldrequire either a coercive or participative method of change becausethe business environment does not allow waste of time.

Leader’sbehaviors and characteristics in the Contingency model

Thecontingent model holds that there is no particular leadershiptrait(s) in terms of behavior that fits all organizationalsituations(Dubrin,2015). The practice of leadership is too complex to be representedby a single set of traits or behaviors. Thus, effective leadership iscontingent on the situation at hand. It also depends on theinteraction between the personal traits of a leader, their behavior,and the predisposing factors in the leadership situation. Thebehavioral features of a leader change with the situation. Onesituation may require a leader to be authoritarian, initiating,structure-oriented, and production-centered while another situationmay require that a leader has behavioral features such as democratic,considerate, and employee-centered.

Leadershipin the scope of the contingency model calls for occasional shiftsfrom different sets of behavioral features on the part of leaders. Nonetheless, the defining trait is the extent to which anorganizational leadership collectively and individually is flexibleenough to adjust to behavioral features that are concordant with aspecific business situation. The second defining factor is theextent to which a leader can influence change in which differentsituations. A leader with significant situational influence canforge an effective working relationship with employees, ensure thattasks are well-structured, and a strong position power in theorganization. A leader has capability to forge good relations withemployees elicits a degree of confidence, trust, and respectssub-ordinates. The general assumption is that if subordinates respectand trust the leader, it will be easier for the leader to influencethem into accomplishing critical tasks in the organization. Forexample, if junior employees have the willingness to follow theleader because they have referent power, they do so out of theirrespect for their personality, trustworthiness, and many otherbehavioral qualities the leaders have. On the other hand, a badrelationship between a leader and subordinates might compel them touse special powers, through reward powers, to get good performancefrom employees.

Consideringthe contingent model has both the transformative and incrementalaspects of change as interchangeable based on the situation, itpostulates certain features that a leader should possess to managechange. For instance, a manager of a multinational corporation musthave understood the contingent model because the internationalbusiness environment calls for utmost flexibility. For a leader tobe transformative they must have the following traits:

Directive:The leader must be able to articulate and communicate a vision:Theleader must have personal traits to present in vivid and emotionalterms the idealized vision they have about the future of theorganization. Great communication skills make their vision clear tosubordinates.

Participative:The leader must have the ability to break from the status quo andtake employees along with them.Nowthat the contingency model requires a leader to apply differentapproaches to different business situations, they must have a strongdesire to break from the traditional way of doing things. Throughtheir influence, they must be able to challenge subordinates to findnew solutions to situation at hand.

Achievement–oriented: A leader must have the skills to provide goals and aplan of how to achieve them. The leader must have the ability tocraft the steps through which the said change will be implemented.The subordinates will then understand how to follow the steps totransform the organization.

Supportive: The leader must be willing to take risks with the organization thanan average leader. The risks require a leader to support employees togo through the change process. They should, therefore, be able tobuild a power base through which they can execute support systems forimplementation of executive decisions. The power base emanates fromthe perceptions of subordinates towards the leader and the respectthey have for them out of their relational style. It is the powerbase that will make the process of implementation new policies smoothdue to minimized resistance.

Demonstratehigh ethical and moral standards:The leader should behaveconsistently and fairly within the expected ethical standards.

Themost important attribution a leader should have is the responsibilityfor work performance in the workplace. The leader must have theinnate ability to make two important distinctions: the internal andexternal attribution. Internal attribution means that the leader canexplain the behavior of a subordinate based on their individualcharacteristics such as personality, the level of motivation, andlevel of physical and intellectual ability. For example, they canuse the past behavior of an employee to explain why they often comelate for work. External attribution means that a leader explains thebehavior of subordinate based on factors beyond their control such asillness, natural disasters, or faulty equipment. It is externalattribution that determines whether a leader has the ability toexercise intellectual empathy. For example, when a leader concludesthat an employee came late for work because they were affected bystorm, they will have used external attribution. The attributionsare essential in enabling the leader to set the work conditions thatmake a particular change process possible. For instance, externalattribution informs a leader on the type of modifications in the workenvironment so as to accommodate employees that are vulnerable toexternal factors beyond their control.

Follower’sbehaviors and characteristics

Thebehavior and characteristics of followers determine the response ofthe leader. Subordinates vary on their level of readiness for changein the organization. The variations are caused by their individualbehavior that borders on high, moderate, low, and very low skills,ability, confidence, experience, and the willingness to work indifferent work situations(Meindl&ampShamir, 2007). The level of follower readiness varies from lowreadiness to very high level of readiness.

Lowreadiness: Low readiness followers exhibit less-confidence, have loweducational and skills, are generally demotivated, and have anegative work attitude. They are likely to resist change. The leadershould use the telling strategy where followers are informed what todo, where to it from, when to do it, and how to do it.

Moderatereadiness: Moderate followers are also those who lack sufficienteducation and skills for the job, but they have high confidence,interest, ability, and the willingness to learn to how to executedifferent tasks in the workplace. The idea response for followerswith this type of the behavior is the selling style of leadershipwhere the leader gives directives and clarifies different roles foremployees.

Highlevel of readiness: The features of followers in the high level ofreadiness category include sufficient educational attainment, thedemonstrate confidence, they have skills, are experienced, but alittle insecure due to being unsure of various complex tasks. Theleader responds through the participative leadership style where theyguide and empower followers to be more competent in their roles.

Veryhigh level of readiness: Employees in this category are highlyskilled, confident, experienced, and accept responsibility forperformance. Most of them are professionals. A leader responds tosuch employees by involving them in goal setting and delegatingduties to them.

Examplesof Contingency theory in action

Thebest example that illustrates how the contingency theory works is theBP oil spill crisis that began on April 9th2009(Kilpatrick,Chris Miner, &amp Lipscomb, 2010). The BP management used differentstyles as the situation changed. As the crisis bit hard the Companyapplied public relations strategies to assure the public that it hadthe capacity and intention to mitigate the effects of the biggest oilspill in recent history. Advocacy was the first public relationsstrategy at play. The public was upset by the oil spill because itwas reported to be destructive to the environment and even threatenedboth ocean lives. Through advocacy, BP highlighted several solutionsthey were executing to resolve the crisis. The solutions did notappease the public as it became more impatient. The Company had toswitch to an accommodative strategy that would help contain publicanxiety. As time passed, it became apparent that responding to thedemands of victims and the affected areas was the only way BP couldappear to be taking corrective measures. The public also supportedcorrective measures rather than compensation. It was until BPchanged its crisis containment strategy to accommodation that crisiswas eventually averted. It took a change of strategy to resolve thesituation.

Thesecond example of the contingency model in action is the strategyused by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. The operations department constitutes newbies from college, but theyare usually enthusiastic for work. Sandberg employs a combination ofleadership approaches such as persuasion, consensus building, anddecisive leadership to get the best out of new, inexperiencedemployees. To justify unilateral decisions, Sandberg uses data torationalize decisions that do not have the input of employees.


Dubrin,A. (2015). Leadership:Research findings, practice, and skills.Cengage Learning.

Kilpatrick,J. A., Chris Miner, M. A. I., &amp Lipscomb, C. A. (2010).TheGulf Oil Spill.

Lunenburg,F., &amp Ornstein, A. (2011). Educationaladministration: Concepts and practices.Cengage Learning.

McKee,A., Kemp, T., &amp Spence, G. (2012). Management:a focus on leaders.Pearson Higher Education AU.

Meindl,J. R., &amp Shamir, B. (2007). Follower-centeredperspectives on leadership: A tribute to the memory of James R.Meindl.Charlotte, NC: IAP.

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