Chapter | Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice | 2010

A Contingency Theory of Leadership

by Jay W. Lorsch


The idea of a contingency theory of leadership is not novel. In the 1960s several scholars conducted research and proposed such an approach arguing that the style of leadership that would be most effective depended upon the situation (Fiedler, Tannenbaum and Schmidt, and Vroom and Yetton). This work was an integral part of the wave of organizational behavior research that led to what we labeled a "Contingency Theory" of organizations at the time. Like much of the early contingency work, these efforts on leadership suffered from some limitations. First, while there was an agreement that the appropriate leadership style did depend on situational contingencies, there was not complete agreement about what such factors were. For example, all three of the authors cited indicated that the appropriate leadership style did depend upon the nature of the task, specifically how certain or uncertain it was. However Vroom and Yetton defined the task as decision making, while the others were not so specific about the type of task.

Keywords: Leadership Style; Situation or Environment; Behavior; Theory;


Lorsch, Jay W. "A Contingency Theory of Leadership." Chap. 15 in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana. Harvard Business Press, 2010.