“Developing a Leadership Style” by Allan Murray: Contingency Theory

Concept Definition

Contingency theory is based on the idea that there is no universal pattern for organizing and leading the company or team. According to it, the manager cannot adhere only to one leadership style or persuasion method as this will eventually result in poor performance of the organization. The advocates of contingency theory posit that managers tactics must evolve depending on several variables or contingencies, which are as follows 1) the relations between the leader and the subordinates; 2) task structure (clarity of instructions, deadline, strategies for achieving the task, etc) 3) position power or the amount authority the leader possesses to award or punish his/her followers (Northouse, 113). Thus, each managerial style, autocratic, democratic, or liberal can be equally effective under certain circumstances. Although some principles of this theory may appear to be somewhat self-evident, this approach has greatly contributed to the study of leadership.

Article Discussion

In this article Alan Murray discusses such a problem as the selection of leadership style. His ideas are quite consistent with contingency theory as he says that managerial strategies are dynamic, and they should be adjusted to the demands of a particular situation, current and future goals of the organization as well as the needs of its employees (Murray, unpaged). To some degree, the author reiterates the main postulates of contingency theory. The writer also explains how one should choose this or that leadership style. He maintains that in some cases, it can be autocratic especially if the situation borders on emergency; occasionally, the style can be affiliative, if the leader wants to promote teamwork in the company (Murray, unpaged). In his discussion, the author mentions only two of the contingencies, namely, leader-employee relations and task structure, though nothing has been said about power position. Still, his overarching argument is that that no leadership style is equally effective in all situations. This article demonstrates that the core ideas of contingency theory should be utilized by modern managers.

Leadership is less about your needs and more about the needs of the people and the organization you are leading. Leadership styles are not something to be tried on like so many suits, to see which fits. Rather, they should be adapted to the particular demands of the situation, the particular requirements of the people involved, and the particular challenges facing the organization.

In the book “Primal Leadership,” Daniel Goleman, who popularized the notion of “Emotional Intelligence,” describes six different styles of leadership. The most effective leaders can move among these styles, adopting the one that meets the needs of the moment. They can all become part of the leader’s repertoire.

Visionary. This style is most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction. Its goal is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. “Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks,” write Mr. Goleman and his coauthors.

Coaching. This one-on-one style focuses on developing individuals, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping to connect their goals to the goals of the organization. Coaching works best, Mr. Goleman writes, “with employees who show initiative and want more professional development.” But it can backfire if it’s perceived as “micromanaging” an employee and undermines his or her self-confidence.

Affiliative. This style emphasizes the importance of teamwork and creates harmony in a group by connecting people. Mr. Goleman argues this approach is particularly valuable “when trying to heighten team harmony, increase morale, improve communication or repair broken trust in an organization.” But he warns against using it alone since its emphasis on group praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected. “Employees may perceive,” he writes, “that mediocrity is tolerated.”

Democratic. This style draws on people’s knowledge and skills and creates a group commitment to the resulting goals. It works best when the direction the organization should take is unclear, and the leader needs to tap the collective wisdom of the group. Mr. Goleman warns that this consensus-building approach can be disastrous in times of crisis when urgent events demand quick decisions.

Pacesetting. In this style, the leader sets high standards for performance. He or she is “obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone.” But Mr. Goleman warns this style should be used sparingly because it can undercut morale and make people feel as if they are failing. “Our data shows that, more often than not, pacesetting poisons the climate,” he writes.

Commanding. This is a classic model of “military” style leadership – probably the most often used, but the least often effective. Because it rarely involves praise and frequently employs criticism, it undercuts morale and job satisfaction. Mr. Goleman argues it is only effective in a crisis when an urgent turnaround is needed. Even the modern military has come to recognize its limited usefulness.

Critical Evaluation

On the whole, the ideas, expressed by Allan Murray support the hypothesis that the manager must always maneuver among various leadership styles. Nonetheless, some important components are missing; in particular, the writer does not say anything about organizational factors and position power. The thing is that the managerial approach is often determined by the amount of authority, delegated to this person. In addition, contingency theory helps to develop a framework that facilitates the decision-making of the manager (Northouse, 113). In turn, the author of this article only draws random examples which illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of each leadership style (Murray, unpaged). Overall, this source is rather general; it must not be taken as the ultimate guideline. More likely, its purpose is only to make a quick survey of leadership styles and help the reader to do independent research.

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