There is not a great deal of evidence on this issue, although there is considerably more untested speculation.
An early attempt to suggest a range of leadership styles, as opposed to one or two mutually exclusive styles, was made by Tannenbaum and Schmidt in the 1950s.Their continuum of leadership styles ranged from authoritarian behaviour at one extreme to democratic behaviour at the other with several alternative styles in between. Like most of their contemporaries, Tannenbaum and Schmidt were more concerned with identifying a ‘best style’ rather than an ‘appropriate style’ (i.e. the best in the circumstances).
Prof. John Adair’s functional model of leadership goes some way towards an appropriate style by suggesting that a leader’s aim is to achieve the task set for him by paying sufficient attention to task needs, group needs and the needs of individuals within the group. Depending on the circumstances, the leader may need to pay more or less attention to each of the three variables ,but he must direct some attention to all of them. The approach suggested by Adair has been used as the basis for training leaders.
The most influential theory on the issue of flexible leadership style, however ,is that of
F.E Fiedler. His researches were first written up in 1967 in a volume entitled “Theory of Leadership Effectiveness”, in which Fiedler referred to a “contingency approach” to leadership. His conclusions were that group performance was dependent, or contingent upon, the leader adopting an appropriate style in then light of the relative favourableness of the situation. Fiedler found that the most important variables in determining the relative favourableness of the situation were as follows;
i. The quality of leader-member relationships;
ii. The degree of structure in the task; and
iii. The power and authority of the leader’s position
(b) The most favourable combination of variables for the leader appeared to be when:
i. He had good leader-member relations;
ii. The task was highly-structured; and
iii. His position was powerful.
By comparison, the least favourable combination was when:
i. The leader was disliked by the members;
ii. The task was relatively unstructured; and
iii. The leader had little position power.
(c) In considering the issue of style flexibility, a number of important factors appear to be emerging from the theories and researches carried out so far. These factors are as follows:
i. There is no “one best way” of arriving at an optimum leadership style.
ii. The most practicable approach is to aim for the “best fit” between the leader and his situation.
iii. The situation usually comprises the following variables:
• The requirements of the task
• The needs of the team
• The needs of individuals within the team
• The relations between the leader and the team
• The authority granted to the leader as part of his appointed role
• The power of the leader to act
d) Meeting the demands of the situation requires leaders to select an appropriate style from a range of styles, depending on the circumstances.