Contingency Theories

As research in leadership continued to advance, a new theory began to emerge in the late 1960s that are among the most widely accepted theories today (Weinbach, 2008). Ralph Stoghill, who began as an advocate for Trait Theories, began to identify two categories of behavior - consideration (being supportive, friendly, warm, etc.) and structure (controlling, strong emphasis on objectives, etc.) - as essential to good leadership. Stoghill found that merely finding and maintaining a balance between these two behaviors doesn’t meet the requirements of every situation. Some situations require more consideration, while others require more structure. He concluded that the best mix of the two (good leadership) is dependent on the situation (Weinbach, 2008). This is what led to what we now know as Contingency Theories.

This image should help illustrate the basic concept of this theory:
(Directing = Structure; Supporting = Consideration)
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Contingency theories of leadership emphasize that desirable traits are contingent on the situation (Weinbach, 2008). In other words, good and bad leadership is dependent of the leadership qualities of an individual and how well they meet the needs of a given situation. For example, lets say six students have been assigned a group project which grade is based half on a paper and half on an oral presentation (think of these as the two different situations). For this project, each group has to elect a group leader to overlook and manage the progress. This particular group has narrowed their group leader decision down to two individuals. One of these students is an excellent writer and even has a few published essays, but they have a terrible stutter and avoid verbal communication. The other student is charismatic and performs in the local theater, but is disorganized and borderline dyslexic. Individually, both of these students would probably only be an successful at leading half the project. However, this group would most likely have more success by blending both of these individual’s strong traits and delegating responsibility amongst these two relative to the situation.