From software development houses to financial institutions to construction sites, the key to a successful outcome frequently lies with how the company's leaders communicate their vision to their employees. The contingency model, developed by Fred Fiedler in the 1960s, and the situational model, created by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1970s, describe how different approaches to leadership can help owners and managers reach their goals. Although the two models have some noticeable differences, they also share some startling similarities.
During the mid-1960s, Fred Fiedler was a scientist who researched the personality aspects and character traits of leaders in business, finance and politics. The Fiedler Contingency Model says that no single style of leadership can be the most effective in all instances. The situation in which the leader finds a team, not strength of personality, determines that leader's effectiveness. By determining the individual's leadership orientation and situational control, the contingency model can measure the leader's effectiveness in a given scenario.
The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory posits that, rather than practicing only one style of leadership, productive leaders should modify their leadership modes based on the experience level of their team members and the particular aspects of their projects. Leaders who subscribe to this theory should emphasize either the task at hand or their working relationships with their team members, depending upon the needs of the project. For instance, groups with low maturity and experience levels require leaders who direct the job tasks, while teams with more experience need leaders who delegate authority.
One of the primary principles shared by both models involves their evaluation of the team's core competencies. Both models state that leaders must adapt their leadership approaches, depending on the capabilities of their team members. In the contingency model, leaders must evaluate their relationships with the team members, their authority levels and the clarity and structure of their tasks. In the situational model, leaders must measure the maturity and skill levels of their team members and fit their leadership methods to meet the team's needs.
Another aspect that both models share is how they ask leaders to evaluate their own skills. The contingency model uses the "least preferred co-worker" scale. The leader is asked to evaluate his least-liked co-worker on qualities such as trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity and cooperation. The answers determine if the leader is a more relationship-oriented leader or task-oriented. The situational model asks leaders to examine whether to use detail-oriented methods or a more supportive approach when dealing with a new team.