Lifetime Achievement Awardee

Fred Fiedler

Fred Fiedler decided to become a psychologist before he had even entered his teens. Post-World War I Vienna, where Fiedler grew up, was richly flavored by the ideas of Freud, Adler, Jung, and their followers, and the Fiedler household contained many intriguing psychology books for a boy his age. Fourteen years, five thousand miles, and twenty-one jobs later (not counting military service in the U.S. Army), Fiedler completed his PhD in Psychology from the University of Chicago and embarked on a research agenda that would paradigmatically shift how people think about leadership.

For eighteen years, beginning with a 1954 study of the leadership of high school basketball teams—which led to the development of the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) score—Fiedler poked and prodded the data from his various studies on leadership effectiveness. As Fiedler writes, “A clean and elegant experiment may be a thing of beauty and joy forever, but building a sound theory is more like trying to solve a picture puzzle in which half the pieces are missing… I am convinced that data are adversaries that have to be beaten into submission… I have been struck time and again by the realization that I did not really begin to understand some of our research results until many years and studies later. Research to me is more like an archaeological dig than a mathematical game. It takes a lot of shoveling and sifting, at least in the area of leadership, before you really begin to hit pay dirt” (1992 p. 315).

The result of Fiedler’s digging was the game-changing 1967 book A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness in which he proposed the contingency model of leadership—the first leadership theory to operationally measure the interaction between a leader’s personality and situational control as a predictor of leadership performance.

Shortly after its publication, Fielder moved from the University of Illinois to the University of Washington where he is currently Professor emeritus of Psychology and Professor emeritus of Management and Organization. A prolific writer and thinker, his achievements have been recognized by numerous associations including the American Psychological Society, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and the American Academy of Management.

Fiedler, F. (1992). “Life in a Pretzel-Shaped Universe,” in Management laureates : a collection of autobiographical essays. Greenwich, CT: Jai Press, 303-333.

Oral history is an excellent method for collecting and interpreting memories and fostering new knowledge. Dr. Phil Scarpino, past president of the National Council for Public History and Professor of History at IU, exhaustively researches each recipient prior to conducting his interviews and uses the highest standards prescribed by the American Oral History Association.

The Tobias Leadership Center focuses on research and programs related to the study of leadership across all sectors – including corporate, public service, education, religion, medicine, and non-profit organizations. Its focus on multiple sectors and on both the practice and theory of leadership distinguishes its agenda among leadership programs nationwide. Through ongoing research in a variety of sectors, it generates knowledge about leadership and disseminates this knowledge through a variety of programs.

Oral History with Fred Fiedler
View all oral histories here

2010 Leadership Legacy Induction of Fred Fiedler