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Syllabus A. Leadership A1. Qualities of Leadership

A1a. Contingency Theory

The idea that what is needed changes from situation to situation

Another way of putting this is that particular contexts would demand particular forms of leadership.

This placed a premium on people who were able to develop an ability to work in different ways, and could change their style to suit the situation.

What began to develop was a contingency approach. The central idea was that effective leadership was dependent on a mix of factors.

Three things are important here:

  1. The relationship between the leaders and followers: If leaders are liked and respected they are more likely to have the support of others.

  2. The structure of the task: If the task is clearly spelled out as to goals, methods and standards of performance then it is more likely that leaders will be able to exert influence.

  3. Position power: If an organisation or group confers powers on the leader for the purpose of getting the job done, then this may well increase the influence of the leader

Models like this can help us to think about what we are doing in different situations.

For example, we may be more directive where a quick response is needed, and where people are used to being told what to do, rather than having to work at it themselves.

Problems with Contingency Theories

  • A North American bias

    • Some cultures are more individualistic, or value family as against bureaucratic models, or have very different expectations about how people address and talk with each other. 

      All this impacts on the choice of style and approach

  • Gender Differences

    • As we saw earlier, there may be different patterns of leadership linked with men and women.

      Some have argued that women may have leadership styles that are more nurturing, caring and sensitive. They look more to relationships. Men are said to look to task. 

      However, there is a lot of debate about this. We can find plenty of examples of nurturing men and task-oriented women.

      Any contrasts between the style of men and women may be down to the situation.

      In management, for example, women are more likely to be in positions of authority in people-oriented sectors – so this aspect of style is likely to be emphasised

  • Not enough on structure of relationship

    • The focus is mainly on the relationship between managers and immediate subordinates, and says little about issues of structure, politics or symbols