Fred Fiedler

2010 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

John Adair

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.


Susan Murphy describes Fred Fiedler's contributions to the field of leadership during his induction event at ILA 2010 Boston

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