Contingency Leadership at the Institute for Free Speech

I work as a research intern at the Institute for Free Speech and work under my boss who is a leader. He recognizes that there is a distinct relationship between the behavioral traits of a person and situational factors where the leader works with the group. Fred Fiedler’s contingency theory of leadership is a very effective model that emphasizes the relationship between a leader’s traits and situational factors.[1]

The first analysis in Fiedler’s model is of leadership traits. Fiedler argues that leaders can either be generally task or relationship-oriented. He measures whether or not a leader falls into one of these categories by using a measure that asks people questions about their least preferred coworker. I was not able to test my boss using the least preferred coworker scale however what I know about him strongly indicates that he is a task-oriented leader. My boss is very task-oriented and focuses on clear objectives that primarily needs to be addressed by our organization and leads effectively through establishing tasks and setting goals for each person to follow.

In Fiedler’s model he also explains that the situational factor of a leader is based in the three factors of leader-member relations, task structure, and position power. My boss leads in a positive situational factor. First, the leader-member relations are very good. My boss is liked by all of his followers and we are very willing to listen to his ideas and follow his priorities. Second, the task structure is very clear. We have a very clear organizational mission and smaller priorities can be explained and achieved using very clear objectives. Our mission is to advocate for First Amendment protections and we achieve this through legislative changes, persuasive writing, and applied research on subjects relating to political speech and campaign finance. Thus, the task structure is very clear. Finally, my boss has a very strong position power. My boss is very clearly my boss and my organization sets a clear hierarchy to establish who has authority over who in the organization. My boss is one of the highest ranking members of my group and has very clear authority to issue instructions and apply power. Overall, I would classify the position power of my organization as strong. The pandemic has had many effects on the organization but has not changed the situational factor that much. Through Zoom, we are able to maintain positive leader-member relations and our task structure and position power have not been changed.

Fiedler argued that task oriented leaders are best suited to situational factors that are either strong or weak. As mentioned, my organization’s situational factor is strong so it is best suited to a task oriented leader. My leader is very task oriented so his leadership traits fit very well with the situational factor in which he leads. The positive intersection between the leadership traits and situational factor make my leader very effective. These examples demonstrate how leadership is based in contingencies and that an effective leader in one circumstance may be ineffective in another. Therefore, it is crucial to make sure that the leadership traits and situational factor align well.

[1] All references to Fred Fiedler’s model are based on this citation: