Fred Fiedler Oral History Interviews


Part one

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SCARPINO: We’re live. I can see the needles bouncing. So as I said when the recorder was off I will start by saying that today is October 28th and I’m interviewing Dr. Fred Fiedler, currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Washington, at the annual meeting of the International Leadership Association in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Fiedler has been honored by the International Leadership Association with a legacy award for lifetime achievement in the study and practice of leadership. So I’d like to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed, and to deposit the recording and the transcription in the IUPUI Archives for the use of their patrons.

FIEDLER: All right.

SCARPINO: Thank you. As I said, we’ll start with simple, basic questions.

FIEDLER: Let me ask you something.


FIEDLER: Will I see the completed interview?

SCARPINO: You bet. We can give you a copy if you’d like.

FIEDLER: And I can make, I can make changes if necessary.

SCARPINO: Our policy is to do a verbatim transcript but if you want to make some corrections that would be fine. If you want to add very much we’ll ask you to add it at the end.


SCARPINO: So I read that you were born in Vienna, Austria, July 13, 1922.


SCARPINO: Who were your parents?

FIEDLER: Their names?


FIEDLER: Victor Fiedler and Hilda Fiedler. Hilda Schellinger Fiedler.

SCARPINO: And what did you father do?

FIEDLER: He had a tailoring supply shop, company in Vienna. It was a, and he manufactured sugar sacks in addition. It was a moderately successful concern but not great.

SCARPINO: Would you say that you had a comfortable childhood?


SCARPINO: What did your mother do?

FIEDLER: Well she, after I was, after I was I think about 10 years old, she worked in my father’s business and selling and keeping books.

SCARPINO: Did you have any brothers or sisters?


SCARPINO: Only child?

FIEDLER: I’m an only child.

SCARPINO: If I did the math right you were just short of your 16th birthday when Hitler’s forces invaded Austria.

FIEDLER: You’ve got it correct.

SCARPINO: What was it like for you growing up as a young Jewish boy in Austria at that time?

FIEDLER: It was okay until I got into grammar school, into elementary school, and then I was the only Jewish child in the class and Austria being Austria, I got hazed and occasionally beaten up, and I had a very, very poor grade. My, I think I was the only child in that school who ever flunked freehand drawing.

SCARPINO: [laughing] I shouldn’t laugh but my handwriting is so awful that I could flunk it myself.

FIEDLER: But on the other hand I then went to, I passed the examination for the Realgymnasium, which is the higher academic high school, and I was a very poor student. As a matter of fact, I failed in three different subjects in the third grade and was kicked out of school and I then went to a private school for the third grade and after that my parents gave up, and I was apprentice to my father’s business, very reluctantly, and I came, in 1938 as you pointed out, I came to the United States by myself.

SCARPINO: You were not interested in going into your father’s business.



FIEDLER: But I don’t know. I certainly wasn’t eager.

SCARPINO: Why do you think you were such a bad student?

FIEDLER: I think it was because my grammar school experience was so bad. I hated school and in high school it was certainly better. I was not officially hazed and beaten but high school was, there were a lot of fights there and that was one of them, and when I repeated the course, repeated the grammar class by third grade I was more, I was both older—I was the youngest child in my grammar school and the high school—I was older and I completed the third grade. Not brilliantly, but passably, and then I was taken out of school.

SCARPINO: So basically, while you lived in Austria, you completed three grades of elementary school.

FIEDLER: No, four grades of elementary school and three grades of high school.

SCARPINO: So basically you, if I’ve counted up right, at the age of 15, you became a high school dropout.

FIEDLER: Yeah, well early perhaps somewhat earlier than 15, but I didn’t, it wasn’t more than a year and a half I’m sure.

SCARPINO: I read something that you wrote as I was doing the background for this interview and you described the Austria that you grew up in as alive with ideas.

FIEDLER: Oh, yes.

SCARPINO: And you were quite a young boy then so were you cognizant of…?

FIEDLER: Oh, yes. I read a lot and met some people, but I was intellectually interested, which is why I passed into the Realgymnasium rather than the lower vocational school.

SCARPINO: Who did you meet?

FIEDLER: I don’t think anybody whose name would stand out, but my father was intellectually alive and so was my mother. They read a lot and there were interesting discussions.

SCARPINO: I also read that you decided at the age of 12 that you wanted to become a psychologist.


SCARPINO: How does a 12-year-old boy make a decision like that?

FIEDLER: Well, I read a lot of psychology and as a matter of fact, when I was a child I wanted to become a detective or an explorer and I ended up very close to that.

SCARPINO: That’s right. A researcher does both, doesn’t he?

FIEDLER: That’s right.

SCARPINO: Did your parents or your teachers ever look at you and go, “Why is this young man failing his courses and he reads psychology at such a young age?”

FIEDLER: Yeah, there was some interest, but I don’t think I was ever thought to be a particularly brilliant child. I was certainly interested in a lot of things and interested in ideas at that time and the discussions about the ideas.

SCARPINO: Anything in particular that you remember from those discussions?

FIEDLER: No, not that I can, no.

SCARPINO: So what did a young boy do besides read psychology and go to school?

FIEDLER: Well, I read a lot of detective’s stories and romances, not romances as much as history. Detective stories, the sort of things kids read at that age and I really knew a lot. For instance I knew, I remember now that I knew every capital of every European city of every European country and I knew a lot about the countries. I certainly knew a lot more than most kids my age did.

SCARPINO: Well, that’s kind of what I was driving at. Did you parents ever realize what a smart child they had?

FIEDLER: Yeah, but they also realized what a stupid child they had.

SCARPINO: [laughing] March 15th, 1938, Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna and according to what I’ve read they were greeted by large cheering crowds of people who were happy to see them.

FIEDLER: Oh, yes.

SCARPINO: And things got pretty bad for Jewish people living in Austria. Do you remember anything about that?

FIEDLER: Yes, some, but it wasn’t as bad as it got to be later on. I remember that on my father’s business was a big sign, handwritten, that this is a Jewish store and there were a lot of marches by and there was one case where I was really surprised to find that one of our best customers, associate, was a member of the Party.

SCARPINO: The Nazi Party.

FIEDLER: Yeah, the Nazi Party.

SCARPINO: Were you afraid?

FIEDLER: Not really too much. Not, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t frightening. On the other hand, I was very happy to get out.

SCARPINO: Yeah. You left three months after the Nazi invasion for the United States because you found distant relatives in South Bend, Indiana?

FIEDLER: Not in South Bend. In Chicago.

SCARPINO: Oh, I’m sorry.

FIEDLER: Well, I had relatives in South Bend too, but it was a big family who were quite active and one of my distant cousins was a very prominent lawyer who arranged for the paper and so on.

SCARPINO: So did they find you or did you find them?

FIEDLER: Oh, I had written to a younger distant cousin of my age and I was sort of thinking of going before then. Was either when my father had written to some associates in Australia, and I was thinking of immigrating even when I was, oh, I don’t know, 14, I guess I started, I started corresponding with this kid my age when I was about 15 or 14 or 15. Early enough. It was no surprise that I could get a visa early.

SCARPINO: Do you think that your parents, or you for that matter, had any idea what was coming, really? How bad things were going to get?

FIEDLER: It was always, Vienna was known as a city with a lot of Jews and a lot of anti-Semitism, so it wasn’t really surprising that I would write to my cousin and thinking about immigrating to Australia or to the United States.

SCARPINO: So I read that you sailed on the SS Manhattan out of Hamburg, Germany.


SCARPINO: Did you have any trouble getting the paperwork?

FIEDLER: No. Not at that time.

SCARPINO: Did you travel alone from Vienna to Hamburg?


SCARPINO: What do you remember about that trip?

FIEDLER: It was long and I was not particularly anxious. I did, I was met by, the only incident that I can remember having giving me any anxiety was when a couple picked me up from the, from Hamburg and drove me, they said to the ship, but and I couldn’t quite figure out while we were driving why they would do that, and I asked them to stop and let me get out with my baggage and they did, but surprised that I would do that, and the rest was easy.

SCARPINO: Did the Nazis make any effort to hinder your departure?

FIEDLER: No. Not at that time.

SCARPINO: How did you feel about going off on your own and leaving your parents?

FIEDLER: It was an adventure. I was not, I was never that close to my parents that I would feel that this was a major, a major tragedy in my life. I looked forward as I wrote, however, in one of my later papers, that it was an exciting thing to go to the land of cowboys, Indians and big skyscrapers.

SCARPINO: Did you ever find any cowboys and Indians?

FIEDLER: Not immediately. As a matter of fact I was met by a big family which had brought me over. They had, and then an elderly couple who had a great fruit business in South Bend, Indiana became our hosts. They had a son, an adopted son, who was about to go to Purdue, and so I was the only, after the summer vacation was over, I was the only child in the family, and it was comfortable.

SCARPINO: What do you remember about crossing the Atlantic?

FIEDLER: I was in a cabin with three American fellows who had gone to, who had been in Europe for vacation, and I was treated well. I met one, I was in third class, and I met a kid from who was going to Little Rock, Arkansas with his family and we palled around. It was not unpleasant.

SCARPINO: Did you have much of a command of English when you came across the ocean?

FIEDLER: Some, but enough so that within the summer I came, on my birthday which was in July, and by the time school started they had me into, enrolled me in the second grade of high school in South Bend. There were a few, there were no difficulties.

SCARPINO: So German was your first language?


SCARPINO: And did you speak Hebrew?

FIEDLER: No. I was supposed to.

SCARPINO: Well. [laughing]

FIEDLER: There was an obligatory religion class.


FIEDLER: And it was a pain in the neck, and it was some formulas I had to learn for my 13th birthday which is called a bar mitzvah, and I knew enough to pass that, but I never spoke Hebrew and my parents spoke Czech, and I never learned, they talked Czech to each other but not to me. I picked up enough English within three months to start getting along in high school.

SCARPINO: Now did you take any English classes when you lived in Vienna?

FIEDLER: Yes. I took some English, private instruction, and it was enough to get me started. So I could manage high school without too much trouble as soon as I started.

SCARPINO: When the Manhattan got to the United States, where was your port of entry?

FIEDLER: New York.

SCARPINO: And did anybody meet you there?

FIEDLER: Yes. A relative that I’d known about met me and showed me New York and…

SCARPINO: You got to see the skyscrapers.

FIEDLER: They took me to see the Rockettes.

SCARPINO: There’s a treat. [laughter]

FIEDLER: Which I didn’t quite appreciate, and put me on a train to Chicago, and in Chicago I was met.

SCARPINO: So your family was in Chicago.

FIEDLER: Yes. Well they were in Chicago and other places, but Chicago was the headquarters.

SCARPINO: So how did you then end up with these people in South Bend? Were they related to you?

FIEDLER: Yes. They were part of our family.


FIEDLER: They, I stayed one night in Chicago and then the next evening we drove to South Bend with me in the rumble seat.

SCARPINO: [laughing] It’s almost like being a detective again, isn’t it, in that rumble seat?

FIEDLER: [laughing]

SCARPINO: What was the most surprising thing to you about the United States as a young boy getting off that boat?

FIEDLER: The most surprising thing was that they put me into high school, because I wasn’t eager to go into school after my experience in Vienna, and they entered me in the second class, second grade.

SCARPINO: So you started off as a sophomore in high school.

FIEDLER: Yeah. And as a matter of fact I finished high school in two years.

SCARPINO: So what was it, how did the experience in high school in South Bend compare with school in Vienna?

FIEDLER: Oh, it was very pleasant and then some. I had to work hard, but I was certainly not mistreated. It was a pleasant surprise. There were girls there.

SCARPINO: [laughing] Skyscrapers and girls. I mean that’s…

FIEDLER: Next to Indians, best thing.

SCARPINO: That’s right. Now your parents did not come to the United States with you. They went to Shanghai, right?

FIEDLER: They went to Shanghai.

SCARPINO: Why did they go to Shanghai?

FIEDLER: Well that was the, my cousin in Vienna went to all the consulates in the city to see if he could get visas and he got visas from China from a consul who broke the rules and was later fired by the Chinese. That was my parents and their uncles and aunts in Vienna. Our family was very lucky it got out.

SCARPINO: Most of them got out?

FIEDLER: Yeah. My grandparents did not, however. They were, my mother’s uncles were among the most wealthy people in Austria. Have you ever been to Vienna?

SCARPINO: I have not, no.

FIEDLER: Well, the two hotels that, the best two hotels had been built and managed by my uncle, my great uncle. He was, and he had a, he also was part owner of a bank or something. I never, I think I met him once in my life, but it’s not a close family, and for my birthday, for my 13th birthday, he gave me a 25-schilling gold piece, which must be worth all of six dollars, I think.

SCARPINO: That was it.

FIEDLER: That was it.

SCARPINO: As you look back on growing up in Austria, how do you think that growing up there shaped your personality and your, maybe even your ultimate professional success? What do you think you took away from that in terms of your personality?

FIEDLER: Well I was the youngest of two other cousins who, and we were very close to those two other cousins, and the fact that I was doing poorly in school was sort of a downer, but I had the, we had good summers and we met very often over the weekend and played together and afterwards went to movies together, stuff like that. It was not a bad childhood.

SCARPINO: As you got older in the United States and began to go through graduate school and achieve some success, did you ever feel as though you kind of needed to make up for your school experience in Austria?

FIEDLER: I think it certainly shaped me. I was surprised, I must say I’m still surprised, because my other cousins did well, but nothing like this. One or both went into business. My uncle, one of my uncles manufactured push carts which sold hot dogs, and later went into more elaborate trucks which sold and did well, and the other cousin said, and I think I have reason to believe him, that he was the cuckoo clock king of Canada. [laughter] I have a girl cousin who is, I think, two or three years younger than I, who married a physician who lives, who has since died, and she lives in Seattle someplace, San Rafael I think, or something.

SCARPINO: Obviously, you became one of the leading scholars who studied leaders and leadership, and I’m going to talk more about that in a minute, but do you think Hitler was a leader?



FIEDLER: Oh, yeah.

SCARPINO: By your definition would he be a leader?

FIEDLER: Oh, yeah. No question about it. Not my type, for sure.

SCARPINO: No, no. I didn’t ask you to endorse him. I just [laughing]. Why do you think that he would meet the definition of a leader?

FIEDLER: Well he had a big following, an enormous following and Germany was ripe for it. They were suffering from the humiliation of the first World War, and they were out for blood, and Austria was, had a lot of cheering for him, was not a surprise. There was a lot of anti-Semitism in Austria, and perhaps more in Austria than in many parts of Germany.

SCARPINO: Why do you think that was?

FIEDLER: One thing was that there’s always been a lot of Semitism in Europe and many European countries and among them Germany and Austria, and the Jews were prominent in the arts and sciences. Vienna was really the cultural capital of much of Europe, and a lot of the people in that area of writing and music and poetry and science were Jews. The Jews felt, as my mother drummed into my little head, that being, having a profession like that, you can take with you, while a lot of, and many of the Germans were, many of the Austrians were lower class rather than middle class, and some of them were very prominent. As I said one of my uncles was one of the most prominent men in Vienna although we have nothing to do with him.

SCARPINO: Did your parents eventually end up in the United States?

FIEDLER: Yes. After the, I think they were in China for 10 years and then were able to get a visa and lived in San Francisco. My father died within the few years afterwards. But I suspect because he was a chain smoker.

SCARPINO: Did you mother live long enough to witness your success?

FIEDLER: Enough so that she knew that I was a faculty member at the University of Illinois and had knowledge that I’d gotten a Ph.D. and I don’t if you, I got a Ph.D. and undergraduate, graduate degree and everything else in just five years, including a dissertation which became well-known.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you about that in a minute, but when I read that I couldn’t believe that you did all that stuff in five years.

FIEDLER: I don’t either. But of course, this was after the war and I, I picked up some credits from Indiana, Turkish language, Turkish area, the language for one quarter, and then I got some, I got a few credits from just being in the Army and taking some courses there, but I entered Chicago and I was, summer quarter at Western Michigan College in Kalamazoo, and didn’t feel comfortable there. It was, I thought…

SCARPINO: It was a teacher’s college, wasn’t it?


SCARPINO: It was a teachers’ college then?

FIEDLER: Yeah, and I didn’t quite fit. I got into Chicago and was drafted within a couple of months. I met my wife there.

SCARPINO: Yeah. I actually, I talked to some of your colleagues before I did this interview and each one of them in one way or another said ask him what he did between high school and college. [laughing] And all I could find was that you claimed that you had 20 different jobs in a few years. What were you doing?

FIEDLER: I don’t think 20. I’m not sure about them. Well, I was a furrier’s apprentice for a while. My uncle’s friend was a grand furrier in South Bend, Indiana, and I helped clean furs, but that lasted for while I was still in school, and after that, let’s see, I was the assistant of the superintendent of a junkyard, and I was for a few days working as helper in a bottling plant. I was, what the hell was I doing? I sold auto parts for a short time. I was a salesman in a department in South Bend’s big department store. I don’t know, Gold something or other. Probably something like Macy’s or Nordstrom’s for South Bend. And…

J. FIEDLER: You sold hot dogs.

FIEDLER: Pardon?

J. FIEDLER: You sold hot dogs in California. You sold hot dogs at Billy Rose’s Aquacade.

FIEDLER: Oh, yes. When I came to San Francisco I sold, I think I sold hot dogs at Billy Rose’s Aquacade.

SCARPINO: So you went from South Bend to San Francisco.


SCARPINO: And picked up a little money as a hot dog salesman.

FIEDLER: That’s right. And then I had a job in San Francisco by one of the big furriers. It was the most miserable job I’ve ever had. I stretched mink skins. Have you ever seen those, mink skin stretchers?

SCARPINO: I’ve seen hide stretchers. I know what you’re talking about, yes.

FIEDLER: That clock just did not move. It was a miserable job. I can’t remember anything else.

SCARPINO: It sounds like you were doing the kind of things that persuaded you that graduate school would have been a good idea.

FIEDLER: Yeah. I had, I started having thoughts about college after I graduated from high school. I mean, I went through high school, through a four-year high school in two years, and put out, I came out in the upper third of the class.

SCARPINO: When you were drafted and you spent a little time studying Turkish, but you ended up in the civil affairs, military government branch assigned to Germany.


SCARPINO: To occupied Germany.

FIEDLER: But before then I was in a motorized medical battalion.

SCARPINO: And where were you stationed?

FIEDLER: All over.

SCARPINO: All over Europe?

FIEDLER: No. This was in the United States. So I remember Tennessee maneuvers and I was a clerk in headquarters, and then I was shifted to a, well I was in the Austrian battalion too, and we complained so much that the Austrian battalion was discontinue, was building up, and because I was one of the people who said them, I thought. I didn’t want to stay in the Austrian Battalion. I had a low mark.

SCARPINO: The Austrian Battalion?


SCARPINO: That was assigned to Austria?

FIEDLER: No, no, it was here. It was in Camp Atterbury. I haven’t thought about Camp Atterbury for some time.

SCARPINO: That’s in Indiana.

FIEDLER: Yeah. And then I was, after Turkish Aryan language was discontinued because there wasn’t going to be a fight with Turkey, it was an interesting assignment. I was classified as an interpreter but I was really a headquarters clerk and I had some fairly important jobs. There was one point where I did some political intelligence work, and I was sent to Frankfort to supervise moving the social security of Germany from one place to another. We were stationed in Marburg and so that was an interesting assignment.

SCARPINO: What kind of political intelligence were you?

FIEDLER: Oh, talking to Germans about how they felt and stuff like that. Nothing very, I did interview Adenauer once. Or, if not, no I don’t think it was Adenauer. It was people who knew Adenauer, and I was doing some background checking.

SCARPINO: Did you ever see any irony or justice in the fact that the Jewish boy who fled Hitler’s Army was back with the conquering Army occupying Germany?

FIEDLER: I wasn’t the only one. Yeah, sure, but we all did our job.

SCARPINO: Were you a good soldier? Did you take to military life?

FIEDLER: No, I think I was a good soldier. Not an enthusiastic one, but a good one. I took my job seriously and I got fairly responsible assignments. I had good relations with the officers. I mean, this was an outfit with 64 officers and 62 enlisted men, and some of the enlisted men were pretty hot stuff. There was one who was a journalist and one who was a lawyer there and social work executive and stuff like that. So it was a respectable outfit.

SCARPINO: Did any of the experiences that you have in the military influence your thinking about leadership later on in your life?

FIEDLER: Yeah, I suspect so. I took a course in, I took a correspondence course in industrial psychology. That is really my choice, industrial psychology, and was my choice until I got to the University of Chicago and into it.

SCARPINO: Mm hmm, and changed your mind.

FIEDLER: It didn’t change my mind. The Veterans Administration changed my mind.

SCARPINO: Oh. [laughing] Of course you had the GI Bill, right?


SCARPINO: So you were discharged from the Army in November of 1945 and headed back to the University of Chicago, and I tried to add up the number of undergraduate credits you had and I couldn’t quite do it, but there were not very many.


SCARPINO: And yet you managed to test your way into a Ph.D. program into one of the best universities in the country. I mean I, you took some tests, and as I was able, I think you started your Ph.D. program in January of 1946?


SCARPINO: How did you do that? I mean was that common?


SCARPINO: How did you talk people into this? I mean, I’m wondering how this could happen.

FIEDLER: I, as I said I went to Western Michigan College and I know that they had thought that I was pretty hot stuff. They were impressed, and I also took some correspondence, I took some extra courses which I guess they had never seen before. I was really interested, and I remember I took a, I wanted to take a course in Shakespeare, and here’s the instructor thought that I would like to do a study of Hamlet or what, something else and I said no, I’d rather have something I’ve never seen before. But I did go to a lot of movie, to a lot of plays and operas in Vienna. And instead took, instead did my study of “Troilus and Cressida,” which I’d never heard of before, but he was very impressed.

SCARPINO: I’m still trying to imagine how you knock on somebody’s door and said, “I’d like to test into your Ph.D. program.”

FIEDLER: Well, I don’t know. I just, I applied and was immediately accepted, probably because there were not many males available at that time, but also perhaps because they were sort of impressed that I made it by myself and did a good job at Western Michigan College.

SCARPINO: Well, you married Judith Joseph in the spring of 1946.

FIEDLER: Mm hmm. (words inaudible)

SCARPINO: Right. [laughing] You know, that’s often the question that either makes or breaks an interview when I ask usually a man with his wife in the room when he got married and he can’t remember. So I gave you the date in case. How did you meet?

FIEDLER: We met at the University of Chicago. As a matter of fact, she wasn’t too anxious to meet me, and when—what was that, Daisy Mae?

J. FIEDLER: Oh, there was a, oh, what was that called?

FIEDLER: Li’l Abner’s.

J. FIEDLER: There were these parties that students used to have all the time. What were they called? A character from Little Abner who was desperately anxious to get married and whose father rounded up young men for her to look at. What would be…?

FIEDLER: Li’l Abner. They had a Li’l Abner cartoon.

J. FIEDLER: You’re too young for this, but there was a dance at which traditionally the girls asked the boys, and Fred asked me to go to the dance with him and I didn’t really want to, but instead of saying that I rather foolishly said oh, no, I’m supposed to ask you.

SCARPINO: [laughing] It’s right on the tip of my tongue because people still used that term when I was still in high school. I’ll think of it in a minute. So she went to the dance with you?

FIEDLER: Yes, oh yes and then we, and then I went into the Army shortly, we got engaged and while I was in the Army I came back and we broke up our engagement, and then decided to become engaged again, but then when I got back to Chicago we married.

J. FIEDLER: But we had met before this dance because we were taking the same class and got into an argument in the class, something we were reading.

SCARPINO: [laughing] So you were in class together.

FIEDLER: Yeah. And the argument about…

J. Fielder: Herodotus.

FIEDLER: About Herodotus, that’s right.

SCARPINO: You know, I bet in all the stories a person could tell about how a man met his wife, there are not too many that could say it began with an argument over Herodotus. [laughter]


SCARPINO: While you were working on your Ph.D., which according to my count you got in just a little bit over four years, you also took a two-year training program with the Veterans Administration on clinical psychology. Is that right?


SCARPINO: Why did you add that two-year training program to your doctoral work?

FIEDLER: Well, the Veterans Administration at that time was looking for clinical psychologists, and even if I told them that I was interested in industrial psychology, they said that’s fine, just but they’ll still pay tuition and a stipend if I switch to clinical psychology, and we had just gotten married and the money looked good, so I did.

SCARPINO: I also understand that you were involved in campus politics.

FIEDLER: Oh, yeah. I wrote the constitution of the government, of the student government organization which was then being organized, but they, it didn’t last long, and I wasn’t, the guy who became president I thought I should, had something to do with the election too. Didn’t choose me to be on the organizing committee. That ended my student politics.

SCARPINO: Did you think of yourself as a leader when you were in graduate school?


SCARPINO: I also understand that you were earning money working as a janitor.

FIEDLER: Oh, yes. “Great Books” course came out in fact. We did it together. Mortimer Adler’s course. Judy, what did you do, Judy?

J. FIEDLER: I was far above the level of janitor.

FIEDLER: You were what?

J. FIEDLER: I worked far above the janitor level.

SCARPINO: She said she was far above the level of janitor.

FIEDLER: [laughing] Yes, it was definitely a comedown from…

J. FIEDLER: This was a university program for hiring students.

SCARPINO: I see, like work study or something. You also underwent two years of psychoanalysis, which I assume is part of your doctoral training?


SCARPINO: What was that like?

FIEDLER: Well, I saw a man once a week and we talked. I didn’t feel that this was, I didn’t feel it was really exciting stuff, but actually I talked a while about my parents and particularly my father, who was not the warmest and cuddliest kind. And after two years we decided that that was enough.

SCARPINO: Did you learn anything important about yourself while you were going through that process?

FIEDLER: It’s hard to say. I didn’t have any great insights, but I thought it was reasonably helpful. That was a time when I was pretty anxious. Chicago was a tough school. Still is, I think.

SCARPINO: I think it is, yes.

FIEDLER: And it was helpful. I don’t know. Besides, being in clinical psychology getting a psychoanalysis was sort of the thing to do if you’re good. A lot of my classmates did.

SCARPINO: You researched and wrote a dissertation that caught the attention of the field of clinical psychology, and I’m not a psychologist so I’m going to quote you and then let you respond to this, but I read that little piece that you wrote in 1992 called “Life in a Pretzel-Shaped Universe.”


SCARPINO: And here’s your assessment of your own dissertation. You said your dissertation shook up clinical psychology by focusing on the therapeutic relationship rather than the different techniques. So I want to ask you a few questions about that, keeping in mind that most of the people who listen to this or read the transcript will not be psychologists. So why did your dissertation shake up clinical psychology?

FIEDLER: Let me, let me first say. I was, have you ever heard of a man named Stephenson?

SCARPINO: I, no I haven’t.

FIEDLER: Well he is a statistician, the main one, who developed the Q-technique which is a way of comparing what people said about themselves and said about others and I, having had Carl Rogers was one of the, was my sponsor for my master’s thesis which was a, my master’s thesis was…

J. FIEDLER: Preventive psychology.

FIEDLER: Yeah, how, what a preventative, Rogers developed non-directive therapy and I administered non-directive therapy to some students who were about to take their exams and some who were, who, and our control group. That was published and one of the few master’s theses which got published at all. Most master’s theses just…

SCARPINO: Stay on the shelf? [laughing]

FIEDLER: Stayed on the shelf and some of them the wastepaper basket.

SCARPINO: So tell me what non-directive therapy is?

FIEDLER: Well, it’s mostly listening to the patient and trying, and reflecting what the patient is thinking and feeling and making clear to the patient how he feels and how he thinks and it’s fairly successful, was very successful. In fact, Carl Rogers was the guru of psychotherapy, of psychological psychotherapy. Well he was on my committee and the chairman of the department named Jim Miller was my chairman at that time and Stephenson was and so were two other faculty members and Carl Rogers said, when I told him that I was going to compare, that I thought that different psychotherapists were really, that it was really the relationship between the patient and the therapist that made a difference and that different therapies would have similar relationships. Carl Rogers and the chairman of my committee said they wouldn’t believe it even if it came out and I shouldn’t do that.

SCARPINO: But you did it anyhow.

FIEDLER: And I said in that case I’ll do something else and they said now, can’t do that. That wouldn’t look good. So I did anyway and I took, I got four psychoanalysts and four non-directive therapists and two Jungian therapists, two of them experts and two non-experts and I showed that that was indeed the case. And that was so against the common thinking in that era but it really shook people up, and it got published and re-published. I became relatively well-known in the area.

SCARPINO: As you were working on this dissertation you understood that you were breaking with established scholarship.

FIEDLER: Oh, yeah. I knew that.

SCARPINO: How did a young…

FIEDLER: It only took me six months to do it.

SCARPINO: …and how did a relatively young Ph.D. student feel about what he was doing? I mean, you knew that you were going to publish a dissertation that was going to…

FIEDLER: I thought it was going to be a coup and it was.

SCARPINO: And that was your goal.

FIEDLER: Well, I wanted to get a Ph.D.


FIEDLER: I had a, while I was a student, a clinical trainee. I took a clinical internship. While I was a trainee I published a number of papers which was really unusual.

SCARPINO: I mean there are very few master’s theses to get published and very few dissertations that turn scholarship on its ear.

FIEDLER: And I had a couple of things published which were not dissertations or master’s theses. I really had a knack for seeing problems which were worth examining. To give you an example, one of the fellow students or fellow trainees had gotten a bunch of drawings from patients that was a test which was called a draw a man test or something like that, and I looked at them and said, you know the patients which were successful didn’t draw a face, and that was published. The student whose drawings they were and I published this together and then this sort of an interesting thing.

SCARPINO: And what was the significance of not drawing the face?

FIEDLER: Well, that the, that the sick patients, well the sickies, didn’t face, didn’t relate to people enough to draw their face. I mean if you draw somebody’s face you’ve got to look at them. You’ve got a, you’ve got some ideas about what kind of a person that is or at least that was the thinking.

SCARPINO: So someone else had the patients draw the pictures.


SCARPINO: And you look at them and reach these conclusions.

FIEDLER: Yeah, and then I had some other papers published. As I said, my master’s thesis was published and there were a number of others. I can’t think of them now. They weren’t terribly significant but they were significant to be published in good journals.

SCARPINO: One of the things that struck me when I read all the background material on you is that some people are fortunate if one time in their life they write something that catches the attention of their peers or has an impact on their field, but you not only caught the attention of your peers and had an impact on your field, but more than once you changed the orthodoxy.


SCARPINO: Why do you think that was? I mean, what do you think set you apart from your colleagues?

FIEDLER: I have a knack for it. I was no therapist. I mean it. I was no therapist, but no holding of hands or curing schizophrenics or even neurotics, but I was a real hand at seeing problems.

SCARPINO: I was going to say, the man who wrote the path breaking paper on therapy, declares himself to be not a very good therapist.

FIEDLER: Oh, yeah, that’s true. Sure. I didn’t think I was going to be a good therapist. As a matter of fact, the next year I finished my dissertation. It was cited by Carl Rogers who was then President of the Psychological Association at the meeting of the Psychological Association and my former supervisor thought that this was really unusual.

SCARPINO: Were you there to hear that? Were you present when he did it?

FIEDLER: Yeah. That was at the Psychological Association meeting.

SCARPINO: That must have been pretty heady stuff for a young man.

FIEDLER: Yeah, it was.

SCARPINO: You know, it just seems to me that as a young doctoral student you began with your dissertation a pattern of breaking with established scholarship and blazing new trails and that you just kept on doing that. Did you surround yourself with people who would go with you and that you made a career out of blazing new trails?

FIEDLER: Yeah, I think so.

SCARPINO: At the point that your dissertation began to attract considerable attention from your peers, did you then begin to think of yourself as an emerging leader in your field?


SCARPINO: Still not.

FIEDLER: I don’t think so. I was a former graduate student, but I was picked up. After my dissertation I was picked up by one of the real leaders in the field. A man named Crombach who was a, not only a statistician of first order but he was an educational psychologist who was really leading the field and he picked me up for two years and for two years I worked with him, or under him, and he gave me a lot of leeway and at that point my first study after I got out of the Ph.D. program was to study high school basketball teams, and I came up with the correlation of I think 78 or something. Nobody’s ever heard of anything like this. That was sort of a good thing to have on your record then, done it there.

SCARPINO: I read somewhere... Actually I think I went and looked it up that even into the 1990s that your dissertation remained one of your most frequently cited works. Is that right?

FIEDLER: It’s possible. I have not seen that but it was quite a pretty important groundbreaking study. There’s no question about that.

SCARPINO: While you were still working on your dissertation and then in the year afterwards, you worked with the Veterans Administration project or on a project where you were predicting the competence of clinical psychologists.

FIEDLER: Yes. That was while I was still a student.

SCARPINO: And you developed criteria for assessing their performance.

FIEDLER: I was hoping to do that. I don’t think I was successful.

SCARPINO: Well you wrote at one point, you said that the research that you did there had a major influence on your professional life, and I’m wondering why it did.

FIEDLER: Because on the basis of this research which was known as, sort of a thing that didn’t quite come the way they wanted it to come. I never did predict the success of our therapist as far as I know but it led, when I went to the University of Illinois I was interested in leadership, had always been. And it led to a measure called least preferred co-worker. And that was the measure which predicted the, and a version of that measure, predicted the success of basketball teams. That was sort of a good start.

SCARPINO: I mean I read that you also, in conjunction with that VA research, did some research with fraternity members?

FIEDLER: With what?

SCARPINO: Fraternity members?

FIEDLER: Oh yeah, but nothing great. It showed that fraternity members saw themselves, who liked each other, saw themselves as more similar that those they didn’t like and this was, this came out of the therapy research.

SCARPINO: And were both of those steps on the way to the least preferred co-worker?


SCARPINO: So as I looked back at the relatively short amount of time that you spent as a Ph.D. student and I don’t mean this in any way to sound flip, but in slightly over four years you completed a master’s degree, a Ph.D., you had your master’s thesis published, you researched and wrote a path breaking dissertation, you took a training course in the VA, you participated in student government, you worked as a janitor, you began a major research project with the VA, and I’m wondering how did you do all this stuff and not get divorced? I mean, you must have been working all the time.

FIEDLER: Well, yeah I was a workaholic.

SCARPINO: Would you describe yourself as a workaholic?

FIEDLER: Oh, yeah. But my wife was not too happy at that time. She was working too.

J. FIEDLER: It wasn’t a life that had much leisure in it.

SCARPINO: [laughing] Not much leisure. So did you ever get a chance to enjoy Chicago while you were there?

FIEDLER: Yeah. We lived in a community which, in a student housing project, but we had friends and…

SCARPINO: Did you live right near University of Chicago?


SCARPINO: You spent several months in the summer of 1951 at Randolph Air Force Base.


SCARPINO: Near San Antonio, Texas working with B29 bomber crews?


SCARPINO: What were you doing down there that particularly related to your emerging studies on leadership?

FIEDLER: Well I studied bomber crews.

SCARPINO: But what were you doing with the bomber crews?

FIEDLER: Oh, I gave them some of these tests which I talked about, some of which turned out to be useful and some of them didn’t, and as a matter of fact as I went on with the analysis it was quite clear that the least preferred co-worker scale which we didn’t call at that time, but it was related to the visual bombing performance of the aircraft. One of the things that was unusual about my research is that I was always interested in hard criteria and hard performance criteria.

SCARPINO: And for the benefit of people who are going to read the transcript, what are hard performance criteria?

FIEDLER: I’m sorry?

SCARPINO: You said you were interested in hard performance criteria?


SCARPINO: Could you just briefly explain what that…?

FIEDLER: Like bomber crews.

SCARPINO: Okay, I see. All right.

FIEDLER: Like I wasn’t interested in how they felt it. I was interested in how they felt about each other but I was by now interested in how their bomber crew performance records…

SCARPINO: Okay, the results.

FIEDLER: Yeah, the results on visual simulated bombing runs.

SCARPINO: And what would you say is the significance of that research in terms of your developing understanding of leadership?

FIEDLER: That was part of it. It was one of a long run of studies of this type. I think it was close to 40 or more studies of leadership performance.

SCARPINO: How did you get interested in leadership as opposed to all the other subjects you could have picked?

FIEDLER: You know, I don’t know. But it’s been a long interest and the fact of the matter is that my own leadership performance was very limited.

SCARPINO: Your personal leadership performance?

FIEDLER: Yeah. And so I was never a leader in high school or grammar school or, nor in college to any extent.

SCARPINO: So there’s sort of a continuing pattern there. You wrote a path breaking work on therapy and didn’t consider yourself to be a very good therapist. You’re one of the world’s leading scholars on leadership and don’t think of yourself as a leader.

FIEDLER: That’s probably true, although I did of course have some leadership responsibilities.

SCARPINO: Certainly, yes.

FIEDLER: And I ran two laboratories successfully. And for a while I was a head of a subdivision of the department of psychology in Illinois. But these were not, these were not…

SCARPINO: I think anybody who can lead academics deserves a gold star. [laughing]

FIEDLER: Well, this was not a high level leadership responsibility.

SCARPINO: In the fall of 1951, you accepted a position as the research assistant professor of education at the University of Illinois.

FIEDLER: Mm hmm.

SCARPINO: And your mentor was Lee Crombach, and I’m going to spell that for the transcriber, C r o m b a c h.


SCARPINO: Why an assistant professor of education? I mean, you were a rising star at that point. I assume you could have picked your positions.

FIEDLER: I think he was interested in what I had done and he was really not the typical education faculty member. He was a statistician of note and had done some groundbreaking work in education. I don’t know what, I wouldn’t, he was clearly one of the top people in his field. Became president of the American Psychological Association.

SCARPINO: That must have been an interesting education department with the two of you in it. Doesn’t seem typical to the way I view missions of schools of education.

FIEDLER: We didn’t have too much to do with education.


FIEDLER: Because he had a laboratory, but he, you know, I can’t recall what happened, but he got a grant which was on a big grant from the Office of Naval Research to study military psychology, and I guess I looked to him like a good bet and I became the assistant, I was the assistant in his laboratory.

SCARPINO: What was a big grant in 1951?

FIEDLER: Oh, $20,000.

SCARPINO: Oh my word. [laughing]

FIEDLER: It was a big grant.

SCARPINO: It was. I mean what could you do with $20,000 in 1951?


SCARPINO: Paid your salary?

FIEDLER: His research, his salary at that time was $10,000 and a research assistant, what, $2500? $1500, I don’t know. I think a secretary got a lot. What do you think Judy?


FIEDLER: What was the salary level when I started out after my Ph.D.?

J. FIEDLER: I think it was six or seven thousand.

FIEDLER: How much?

J. FIEDLER: Six or seven thousand for a graduate assistant.

FIEDLER: Six or seven thousand?

J. Fiedler; Mm hmm, for a post doc.

FIEDLER: Yeah, something like that. It wasn’t…

SCARPINO: So $20,000 went a long way.


SCARPINO: Was his ability to attract grant money from the Office of Naval Research related to the cold war?

FIEDLER: He was a big gun in research.

SCARPINO: And was that money available because of the U. S. involvement in the Cold War?

FIEDLER: I doubt it. I doubt it, but he, I kind of think that he picked me because of my record, and there were a number of students working on that project, usually half-time.

SCARPINO: 1953, you moved to the psychology department.


SCARPINO: And began the Group Effectiveness Research Laboratory.


SCARPINO: Why the move to the Psychology Department?

FIEDLER: Psychology Department was a good department and they offered me a job.

SCARPINO: The Group Effectiveness Research Laboratory, though, is something that you began.


SCARPINO: So did they offer you money to start up a lab?

FIEDLER: I got a contract that they offered to me at that point.

SCARPINO: So at that point you had your own, you were the primary investigator on your own Naval research grants.

FIEDLER: Yes, yes.

SCARPINO: Okay, and were you studying leadership at that point?

FIEDLER: Oh, yeah.

SCARPINO: What, why do you think the Office of Naval Research was funding studies of leadership? What do you think they wanted to get out of it?

FIEDLER: Well, they were, because it was an important problem for the military. It didn’t matter where the money came from, but leadership was something they were really concerned about, and still are.

SCARPINO: So the Group Effectiveness Research Laboratory, that was your idea as you made the move.

FIEDLER: Mm hmm.

SCARPINO: What was its purpose? The Group?

FIEDLER: Study leadership.

SCARPINO: Okay, and so you used it to attract graduate students, faculty, grant money?


SCARPINO: Harry Triandis?

FIEDLER: Yes. He came later.

SCARPINO: But he, he was your student, right?

FIEDLER: No. He was a faculty member. He was, he had gotten a degree in engineering and switched to psychology.

SCARPINO: And he later joined you as associate director of the laboratory.


SCARPINO: What was his contribution? I mean, what did the assistant director do?

FIEDLER: Well we all, we had a whole bunch of different projects. Harry Triandis was interested in different cultures, and he worked with me on leadership projects, but he was a real hot shot.

SCARPINO: Did his work on different cultures in any way influence your developing understanding of leadership?

FIEDLER: We, yes, and then we did a whole series of studies on intercultural communication and groups made up of different cultures, and I can’t think right now of Harry’s doing anything special to begin with, but he was, he was a real hot shot. He later became a, or got an honorary doctorate from one of the Greek universities.

J. FIEDLER: But that was one you did in the culture assimilators.

FIEDLER: What, Judy?

J. FIEDLER: You did the culture assimilators.

Fielder: Well, he was instrumental in that too.

SCARPINO: The culture assimilators?

FIEDLER: Yeah. Those are programs we developed for the military who were being assigned to other cultures, and we had them for Greece and for Iran and for India and for…

J. FIEDLER: Honduras.

SCARPINO: Honduras, you said?

FIEDLER: Honduras. Did a study in Honduras. It was an interesting project but a side issue on the leadership problem.

SCARPINO: You stayed at the University of Illinois and ran the Group Effectiveness Research Laboratory until you left for the University of Washington in 1969, and I’m just going to note for the record here and then ask you some questions, that in 1967 you published a theory of leadership effectiveness.


SCARPINO: Which was really a game-changer.

FIEDLER: And was published in six different languages.

SCARPINO: When it came out it came out in six different languages, or eventually translated?

FIEDLER: I don’t know how. It was, it’s available in six different languages.

SCARPINO: I found them on the internet. [laughing]

FIEDLER: Yeah, German, Spanish, and Swedish and Chinese, Japanese and Thai.

SCARPINO: I ran across a Chinese version when I was searching on you but, you know, obviously I couldn’t read it.

FIEDLER: Couldn’t read it, huh?


FIEDLER: What’s the matter with you? [laughing]

SCARPINO: I’m wondering though, if we could start, if you could, because your book was a game-changer, could you start by explaining for people who are not in your field what the orthodoxy was in terms of leadership/scholarship before your book came out?

FIEDLER: Well, the orthodoxy was that they were looking for traits and attitudes and God knows what else of leaders, and those were correlated with leadership performance to a very low degree and what I, the way I changed that was to…in two ways. First of all, I discovered and other people also sort of were on that trail, that there were two types of leaders. Leaders who were task-motivated, to whom the task was the thing, and the relationship was secondary. And leaders who were relationship-motivated, that is, the important thing to them, aside from the task, was the relationship within the group and between the leader and the group. And in fact, people who are task-motivated tend to think that they’re relationship-motivated and people who are relationship-motivated tend to think that they are task-motivated, which makes a hell of a lot of difference when you try to get an attitude scale to get both which only taps one of these if that many, and the other big thing was that different types of leaders perform better under some conditions and not under other conditions. And specifically, leaders who perform specifically, the degree to which a leader has power, influence, and the most stressed situation tends to be task-motivated, and performs well under these conditions. And a leader who is relationship-motivated performs best in moderately powerful situations and leaders who are task-motivated also perform best when things go to hell. When it’s difficult, when they have stress, when the task is not very easily understood, and that was a big change from what had been done before. In other words, I said that leadership performance is contingent on the leader’s personality and the degree to which the situation provides power and influence.

SCARPINO: So you were looking at tasks, relationships, and situation?

FIEDLER: Yes. As a matter of fact if you want to see a graph of this by pure chance, it happens only 24 hours a day. I happen to have one if you want to look at it.

SCARPINO: Sure. I’m going to hit pause here and then we’ll look at it.

SCARPINO: Okay, now we’re back on so what I’m going to say for the record is that you’ve handed me a graph and you can tell me what we’re looking at here.

FIEDLER: Well the thoughts are the, based on the coalition coefficients between LPC, this, and performance, and as you can see the high LPC people perform in the middle, and the low ones perform at the end, and this is a validation assist, set of validation studies in industrial outfits.

SCARPINO: The figure is called Correlations Between Supervisor (LPC) and Team Performance - Various Work Situations.

FIEDLER: Yes. And these are chemical, or there was a chemical plant and a heavy machinery plant and meat-packing plants and hundred and some supermarkets.

SCARPINO: So these were basically all precursor studies to the 1967 book. This one is 1966.

FIEDLER: This book? No, they were both in here. But these are quite unusually high.

SCARPINO: So, just again so that we have a baseline, could you, if somebody wanted to read a good example of accepted leadership theory before your book came out, what would they read? Who was on top of the field before you published?

FIEDLER: Oh, people like, who was being honored today besides myself?

SCARPINO: Well, the only one that I know is Russ Mawby, and he’s not a leadership theorist.

FIEDLER: No, but…

J. FIEDLER: Ed Hollander.

FIEDLER: Ed Hollander and Ed Fleischman and…

J. FIEDLER: Rob House.

FIEDLER: Rob House. The whole bunch of people.

SCARPINO: And they were all Americans?

FIEDLER: Most of them. There were some English domesticated. It was a much-published field.

SCARPINO: You had proven with your dissertation that you were kind of iconoclastic scholar, willing to break with the past, and could see paths of inquiry that other people didn’t see, and that you’re willing to follow those paths. At what point did you realize when you were working on your leadership research, at what point did you realize that you were going to produce results that were different from the mainstream in your field and were likely to turn leadership, likely to turn leadership scholarship upside down? When did you know that you were really on to something that was going to be a game-changer?

FIEDLER: Oh, with the basketball study.

SCARPINO: That far back?

FIEDLER: Yeah. I didn’t know it but I had a, I had a good idea that we were onto something. But there were a lot of people who worked with me. Something like 20 different military officers, for instance, who got their, I think something like 15 military officers got their Ph.D.s in our lab.

SCARPINO: While you were still at Illinois?

FIEDLER: And at Washington. Something like 15 or 20, and Susan Murphy said today that there were 20, I had sponsored 20 Ph.D.s. I don’t, no 30 Ph.D.s. I’m not quite sure that that’s true, but it was a lot of people.

SCARPINO: I was going to say, I tried to count up when I was doing the background reading and there were an awful lot. Thirty seems close.

FIEDLER: Does it?


FIEDLER: Well, I would have thought fewer. These people did quite well. One, for instance, became a general, and two of them became generals, and lots of them became full colonels in the Army after they got through.

SCARPINO: I’m going to talk to you more about the military later on, but would you say that your work on leadership had a significant impact on the way the military teaches and practices leadership?

FIEDLER: Certainly the military…

SCARPINO: Officer Corps.

FIEDLER: Yeah, but certainly was pointed, and I think that the Air Force Academy may, but I have not kept track of it, and the, but I don’t know about the Navy. I never had any Navy students, but the military did for sure.

SCARPINO: According to my count, you worked on the research that produced your 1967 book for about 10 years.

FIEDLER: Okay. I’m a slow writer.

SCARPINO: [laughing] I didn’t say that, for the record. At some point did you realize what you were onto and did that slow you down? In other words, did you feel as though you really had to have your ducks in a row before you published?

FIEDLER: What do you mean?

SCARPINO: Well, at some point did you realize how much of a game-changer your research was going to be, and did that cause you to be more careful in your results and the work that you did and the documenting of your results, because it seems to me that you didn’t rush to publish.

FIEDLER: No, I didn’t. But at this fairly early I knew that we were doing something different and I got something like my first post-Ph.D. award was just a few years after I graduated, so I know I must have been pretty good.

SCARPINO: Were you ever worried that somebody else would come up with the same idea?

FIEDLER: No. But there have been many people who have written scathing critiques.

SCARPINO: [laughing] I think some people made their careers critiquing your work.

FIEDLER: Yeah, and I don’t think this has slowed it down.

SCARPINO: Let’s see if I can frame this in a way that works. I understand that from talking to some of your colleagues that one of the strengths of your work was its inductive nature. That is, you didn’t start with a theory, you ended up with one.


SCARPINO: But that was also one of the things that opened you up to criticism.

FIEDLER: Yes. On the other hand, of all the stuff I did was also validated. So we didn’t just, I didn’t just throw out an idea.

SCARPINO: No, no, that’s not what I’m saying. I mean, was that the customary way to do research in your field, or was it more the other way, that a person would postulate a theory and then…



FIEDLER: Somebody like Feslinger would, for instance, was certainly postulated theory and so did a number of other people. It’s nice if you can do it, but leadership is such a difficult topic really. It’s not easy.

SCARPINO: Why do you think that is, as the leading scholar of leadership?

FIEDLER: Because there are so many different variables. A lot of people have stopped by, for instance, showing that leaders, certain leaders, have very pleasant groups or cohesive groups and others that don’t, and there have been studies that leaders have certain attitudes and attributes like intelligence and experience which turned out to be flops. And so on. And there have been a lot of studies which have started out with no theory, but in general a lot of studies have had theory from other fields and tried them out.

SCARPINO: For an average person who thinks about or reads about leadership what they’re apt to think of are great leaders—presidents, generals, governors, and I think of James MacGregor Burns who wrote about leadership and published on high-level leaders, but you seem not to have done that. I mean, you look at steelworkers and bomber crews and tank crews. Why did you take that particular approach?

FIEDLER: Because it’s possible to get a good criterion paper. You know if a basketball team is good you can tell, and if a tank crew can shoot and finds the target you know it’s good, and if a meat market sells a lot of meat that’s good or has a high profit rating. We’ve always looked for good criteria and a lot of people in the leadership field have not done that. I think I have perhaps been more meticulous about the criterion problem than the others have. That is, I have really looked for situations in which there are good criteria, good measures of performance.

SCARPINO: And do you think that separates your work from the field?

FIEDLER: Yeah. I don’t know, I’m sure there must be other people who have done that. But I’ve probably done it earlier and longer and to a greater extent than many of them or most of them, if not all of them. There are certainly other people who have done leadership research with hard criteria, especially people in the Army research field and they have gotten some, they have gotten some results, but they have not been as clean as the ones I’ve used, and the outcomes have not been as consistent as those I have gotten and my students have gotten, my associates have gotten. There are a lot of people who followed.

SCARPINO: Do you think the fact that you conducted research in areas where there were hard criteria and measurable outcomes and where, in a sense, real people had to perform whether it’s on a tank crew or a bomber crew or making steel or whatever, that that enhanced the impact of your work?

FIEDLER: Oh, I’m sure.

SCARPINO: The significance of your work?

FIEDLER: I’m sure of that. The soft criteria, you know, so you’re a cuddly one, you’re more cuddly than others, or you’re more hardnosed than others and you make people feel better than something else, but that’s, I’ve always seen the criterion problem as the basis of research, and I found that in clinical psychology too. I’ve been concerned that the criterion, although that, it’s hard to get good criteria in a field like clinical psychology.

SCARPINO: And in fact, I was just looking down at my notes here. All of your former students who I could either track down online, or in the case of Martin Chemers and Harry Triandis, talked to in person, emphasized how careful you were as a researcher and how you saved all your data.

FIEDLER: Yes. Yes, boxes and boxes are full, full, are still someplace else. I don’t think we took any with us after I retired.

SCARPINO: Did you donate it to a library somewhere?

FIEDLER: It’s hard to donate IBM cards to a library.

SCARPINO: That’s true.


SCARPINO: My master’s thesis had a data set on IBM cards that I eventually had to throw away. They’re unusable after a while.

FIEDLER: It’s really interesting how fast the field has made previous data useless. I still remember the needles which we stuck into the (word inaudible).

SCARPINO: Well, I started with punch cards. I want to get you to talk through some of the key research steps along the road to the publication of The Theory of Effective Leadership and you alluded to some of the studies that you did of informal leaders like high school basketball teams and, that won most of their games. When you did that you developed something, you wrote an article that was called “The Assumed Similarity Measures as Predictors of Team Effectiveness.”

FIEDLER: Oh yes.

SCARPINO: What contribution did that assumed similarity measure as predictors of team effectiveness have to the subsequent development of your contingency model?

FIEDLER: Well, the assumed similarity between opposites is the similarity between yourself and the preferred co-worker, and the assumed similarity to the APN, ASN, is the similarity to the opposite to that, and between them is something called ASO, and ASO is correlated with the ASN score, and ASN is basically, was the preferred co-workers score. So it was a natural and a more precise measure of your not preferred co-worker than ASO was.

SCARPINO: Of all the things that you could have picked, how did you end up with basketball teams?

FIEDLER: Well, we picked a lot of things and this came out. That is, ASO came out of the therapy studies. That is the similarity between the therapist and the patient, and ASO came out of a basketball study and we just, and one of my students pointed out that ASN, the assumed similarity to the least preferred co-worker was a better way of doing it.

SCARPINO: So that idea came, or that twist came from a student.

FIEDLER: Yeah, well, we were all involved in that.

SCARPINO: So then again we talked about the studies that you did with the B29 crews and you also did studies with tank crews and published something called “The Influence of Leader Key Men Relations on Combat Crew Effectiveness.” How did those studies and that piece contribute to the evolution of your 1967 book?

FIEDLER: Well the problem was that the influence of the aircraft commander, for instance, depended in large part on how well he got along with the navigator, with the navigator and the bombardier. And if the aircraft commander and the navigator and the bombardier got along well, then the aircraft commander as well as the navigator and the bombardier’s score would contribute to the performance of a crew. Or for instance in this study of farm cooperatives the general manager had most influence if he was accepted by his subordinates, by his assistant managers. If there was a rift between the two, then there was no, he didn’t have any direct channel to the outcome. And this is also true of steel crews, for instance. There is a senior melter and a junior melter, and the junior melter’s score depended in part on how well he got along with the senior melter and vice versa, the senior melter’s score depended in part on how well they got along with the junior melters.

SCARPINO: As you were working through these various studies, did the institutions that you studied like the steel or the tank, military or whatever, did they see value in what you were doing? I mean did they…

FIEDLER: They wouldn’t do it if…

SCARPINO: I mean did they learn, do you think they learned from participating in your study, that they improved their effectiveness, their outcomes?

FIEDLER: I hope so. You never can tell. It’s, you know, a change in management would have made a difference.

SCARPINO: 1958-59 you went to the Municipal University of Amsterdam as a Fulbright Fellow?


SCARPINO: And while you were there you conducted laboratory experiments related to leadership.


SCARPINO: And if I understand it correctly you had Catholics and Protestants.


SCARPINO: And you put them in groups, some homogeneous, some heterogeneous, and you studied them, and you wrote at one point you said I began to look at these groups as falling on a continuum of how much power and influence the situation gave to the leader. This really constituted the inception of the contingency model. Could you talk a little bit about how that research contributed to the inception of the contingency model?

FIEDLER: I don’t think I can.


FIEDLER: The one thing that’s really interesting that came out of these studies was that task-motivated leaders performed best with groups of their own faith, and relationship-motivated leaders performed, ah, sorry. Relationship-motivated leaders performed best with groups of their own faith, but task-motivated leaders performed best with groups of the opposite faith, and that was also true of the Belgian Navy study. Well we had, I don’t know, 480 recruits and 218 petty officers. That was a huge study, and the Belgian Navy was very interested in it, and we got the same results, which is sort of a hallmark of my research, that we validate. We repeat studies. We look at other things which I like everyone sees they work and we’ve been both lucky and persuasive, in getting people to do that.

SCARPINO: Getting them to cooperate with your research.

FIEDLER: Yeah. That’s particularly important in Belgium which has Flemish, which has two almost equal Flemish and Walloon regions, one of which speaks Dutch and the other one speaks French, both of them with accents.

SCARPINO: And so when you did the Belgian Naval study, you really were also looking at those factors as well.

FIEDLER: Well that’s what we were doing. We were quite concerned with that and this was a very important thing to the Belgians because otherwise they wouldn’t have given us this much cooperation. That’s almost unheard of.

SCARPINO: And in fact the Belgians are still struggling with that issue.

FIEDLER: And have been since eighteen hundred and what, thirteen?

J. FIEDLER: ’43.

FIEDLER: ’43, and the Dutch Catholics and Dutch Calvinists have been at it since?

J. FIEDLER: 1540.

SCARPINO: At least. I believe 1540 though. Let’s see where we are here. I wanted to talk to you first about the paper you published with Leonard Berkowitz and then about your book, but…

FIEDLER: Leonard Berkowitz?

SCARPINO: He was a colleague at Randolph Field.

FIEDLER: Oh, yeah.

SCARPINO: Editor of the recent Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, and you wrote a chapter for him that really sort of trotted out your contingency theory, but I’m thinking that we’ve been talking for about two hours and maybe this would be a good place to break and we’ll just start with that the next time and talk about your book and so on, if that’s agreeable to you.

FIEDLER: Yes. If you’re getting tired, that’s okay.

SCARPINO: Well, I really hesitate to go longer than two hours and it’s five o’clock.


SCARPINO: Before I turn it off though, I’m going to thank you very much for being kind enough to sit here with me for two hours.

FIEDLER: Well, it’s always fun to talk about myself. [laughter]

SCARPINO: Well, that’s the beauty of oral history, though. You give people a chance to talk about themselves. Thank you.