Contingency Theory and Leadership


Situational leadership is based on Contingency Theory, the premise that what works in one situation will not necessarily work in other situations. Leadership ability is a variable of the situation and cannot be transferred reliably to another situation. Hersey and Blanchard (1999) describe four leadership styles and four maturity levels. They match leadership styles with the maturity level that will benefit most from the particular leadership approach.

While the theory’s direct approach is attractive, there is little evidence to explain how it works and several studies call for continued research into its effectiveness.   A 1980 study in the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development looked at Situational Leadership Theory as a tool for assessing leadership style in principals but called for further study. (Walter, Caldwell, & Marshall. 1980)  Norris & Vecchio (1992) found validity in the findings of support for low and moderately mature workers but concluded the results need more study. Vecchio, Bullis, & Brazil (2006) raised many questions regarding Situational Leadership Theory’s usefulness as a tool in predicting leadership / follower interactions.  Situational Leadership Theory is sometimes presented to teachers as a tool to guide teaching strategies for a multi-ability class. The questions that remain about its effectiveness make it an unlikely candidate for widespread use in the educational system.



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