According to Fiedler's contingency theory, leaders fall into one of two different categories. These categories include task-oriented and people-oriented leaders. Fiedler also proposed that three different elements influence leadership effectiveness. These elements include the degree to which a leader's tasks are defined, the degree of positional power the leader has and the relationship the leader has with his followers. By taking these factors into consideration, Fiedler created his contingency theory that offers several advantages.
Before Fiedler's contingency theory, psychologists studying leadership focused their attention on specific traits of leaders. They believed there was a universal model that all leaders should strive for. Fiedler's contingency theory was groundbreaking because it was the first theory proposing there wasn't one right way of leading others, but many ways. Fiedler discovered that different management styles worked best for different types of businesses based on factors such as the type of work, organizational structure, stress levels and how readily change was accepted. Through Fiedler's contingency theory, businesses are able to better assess and tailor their management to specific organizational needs.
Under Fiedler's contingency theory, a leader's effectiveness is directly dependent on her relationship with her employees. To be successful, a leader must fit into the overall culture of the organization. The leader must also have the respect of her employees and be perceived as able to handle the responsibilities of a leadership role. As a result, leaders mold themselves to the organization and don't try to force the organizational culture to bend to them.
Different types of tasks require different structural levels. Fiedler's contingency theory takes this into consideration by allowing for flexibility in task structure. For example, manufacturing and production environments tend to require a great deal of structuring as workers need to be told what to do to complete a task. On the other hand, creative occupations such as those with artists or software developers, require less structuring and more freedom to explore creativity.
While some people believe leaders are born, Fiedler's contingency theory proposes that anyone can become a leader in the right situation. Leaders must try to find their niche to excel. For example, businesses with poorly structured environments will fare better promoting leaders who have good interpersonal relationships. Similarly, leaders with poor interpersonal skills will fare better being matched with businesses that have highly structured environments.