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Leadership is the process through which organizations achieve their goals (Northouse, 2007). Leadership is important in initiating activity among employees. It is also important in coordinating action among the employees to ensure successful completion of the organization’s task. The study of leadership enables to become skilled leaders.  The study of leadership has eight major theories.  (Wagner, 2008) Classifies these theories into:

  • “Great Man”
  • Trait
  • Situational
  • Behavioral
  • Participative
  • Management
  • Relationship
  • Contingency

Contingency Theory

Contingency theories are theories that advocate for a leadership style which depends on present circumstances. There are five contingency theories of leadership:

The first contingency theory is the LPC (Least Preferred Coworker) Theory. According to this theory, leaders should be rated on an LPC scale. This is done by asking a leader to rate his or her least preferred worker. Those leaders who score highly on the LPC scale are considered to be supportive of personal relationships. Those leaders who score lowly are considered to be task oriented. This theory proposes that the LPC scale determines a leader’s personality. The theory further proposes that organizations should not attempt to change the personality of a leader. Instead, leaders should be put in favorable positions. Favorable positions are those positions which match their leadership style (task oriented or supportive of personal relationships) (Fielder, 1958). The LPC theory’s main feature and strength is placing leaders in suitable positions depending on their personality. However, the theory fails to define specific characteristics of an effective leader. It therefore fails in the task of improving leadership.

The path-goal theory links the behavior of a leader directly to the performance of the employee. According to this theory, leaders lead in two ways; rewarding and directing. The advantage of this theory is that employees are efficiently motivated and are therefore sufficiently productive. The main weakness of the path-goal theory is overdependent on expectancy. It links employee motivation directly to productivity, but it does consider the variables that may arise like being faced with emotional employees.

The Leadership Substitutes Theory advocates for the reduction of leaders. According to this theory, this can be done in two ways; substituting and neutralizing. Situations can be substituted in such a way that the leader is no longer necessary. For example, the organization can come up with systems to be followed by employees. Leadership can be neutralized by implementing rules and regulations limiting the power of the leader. This theory provides employee motivation through self management. However, in practice, it is difficult to get rid of leaders in an organization.

The Multiple-Linkage model is like a problem fixing model. In the work environment, there are situations. These situations are determined by the work itself. For example, some jobs may be more flexible than others. These situations directly affect the productivity of the employees. Hence, if they have a negative effect, leaders can intervene by changing the situations to suit the employees. Although this model enhances effectiveness, it does not specify how a leader should change situations.

The cognitive resource theory proposes that effective leaders depend on intelligence and experience. It explains that experienced leaders are better placed than non-experience leaders. This is because they are more likely to react favorably even in stressful situations. However, this theory does not cut across situations where employees have knowledge and do not require leader direction.

The contingency theory does not choose any one leadership style in favor of another. It advocates for a flexible kind of leadership tailored to meet immediate requirements. This kind of leadership is currently being practiced in many organizations. (Yukl, 2009).

One such organization is Renault, Nissan. In 1999, the organization was on the verge of bankruptcy. Carlos Ghosn took over as chief executive officer and revived the company. In an interview with Todd Benjamin (CNN’s financial editor), he pressed for the importance of leaders to connect with employees. He also emphasized that it was essential for somebody in a leadership position to understand the situation and adapt to it. (Ghosn, 2005).

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