Fred Fiedler developed his contingency theory of leadership for management purposes. However, we are going to examine this theory within the context of teaching and the classroom.
Fiedler believed that management success involved assessing the leader, the potential situation(s) the leader will face, and matching the best leader in terms of the situation. Assessing the leader involved identifying the traits of the leader’s least-preferred coworker (LPC). LPC is the nightmare colleague for the leader. For example, some leaders prefer friendly coworkers and some do not. Fiedler measured this and found two common types of leaders.
Leaders with high scores on the LPC were considered relationship-oriented. What this means is that the leader needs to develop interpersonal relationships with colleagues. Since relationships are important high LPC leaders see their colleagues positively and task accomplishment was not as important. In contrast, low LPC leaders were task-oriented and viewed their least preferred colleagues negatively. In addition, low LPC leaders were focused on achievement.
The component of contingency theory is the situation or setting. Situational favorableness is a measure of a leader’s perception of the control they have in the outcome(s) of group interaction and or influence of the processes of the group. There are three concepts related to this and they are leader-member relations which is the willingness of the workers to follow the leader, task structure which is the clarity of the task, and position power which is a measure of ability to influence members.
The goal of high-level leaders is to match lower-level leaders with the appropriate situation that matches their LPC. High LPC works best in situations with moderate favorability and struggle in the extremes. This may be because medium favorability allows high LPC leaders to focus on relationships as tasks are generally completed with a high degree of control necessary.
Low LPC leaders work best in the extremes of low and high favorability. In situations where work is not getting done low LPC leaders establish structure. Whereas in highly favorable settings low LPC leaders do not impose on the group because tasks are being completed.
In the Classroom
Teachers may not have an LPC but they may have a least preferred student (LPS). As such, teachers who are more relationship-focused may struggle with establishing order in the classroom. In contrast task, oriented teachers may struggle with supporting students socio-emotionally.
The goal of leadership is to match their teachers to the situation that is best for their needs. Easy-going teachers need a moderately favorable situation in which tasks are often completed and there is not a huge need to impose structure. Task-oriented teachers need settings in which order needs to be imposed or a situation in which order is already established.
Teachers also need to be aware of their leadership style. Relationship-oriented teachers need to be aware of this so that when they are in a setting that does not match their style they can adapt to meet that particular situation. This same idea applies to task-oriented teachers. Task-oriented teachers need to be aware of this preference and make adjustments if they find themselves in a classroom that is not focused on achievement.
It is easy to say that one style of leadership is better than another. However, it is the leadership style plus the setting in which the leaders work that determines what is best. Some situations call for structure and task management while others need a leader who is more in tune with the relationship needs of their students.