SCARPINO: All right. So we’re on. Today is October 29th and I am interviewing Dr. Fred Fiedler, currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Washington, at the annual meeting of the International Leadership Association in Boston, Massachusetts. I would like to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed, and to deposit the interview and the transcription in the IUPUI Archives for the use of its patrons.
FIEDLER: You have it.
SCARPINO: Thank you very much. I’ll say for the record something we chatted and laughed about while the recorder was off. You mentioned that you met your wife on a very special day and none of us could come up with the term; it’s Sadie Hawkins Day, when the girls could ask the boys for dates. I asked you a question yesterday and I think I didn’t frame it very well, so I’m going to try it again and see how we did. I asked you if you could talk about the scholarship of leadership that existed before your 1967 book came out, and in other words, what was it that you overturned?
FIEDLER: Well there were a number of things. One was that leadership was sort of historical, the histories of presidents and management officials, but great men and I had not, I did not overturn that. That’s always been interesting and continues to be interesting. What I, the other part of leadership, the selection and prediction of leadership performance consisted of looking for a trait of leadership, or an attitude, or a personality interview that dealt with the individual’s past and what everybody was looking for was the trait, the leadership attribute, whether a trait or a personality or an attitude. But it was the one leadership trait.
And what I have found, and by the way, others have sort of hinted about that too and it wasn’t a brand new idea, that there were leaders who were concerned with the task, and leaders who were concerned with the group and the personal relationship, and this was sort of vague and very often people sort of danced around that. And I was able to show, I and my students, my associates, were able to show that we were really talking about two different types of leaders. Leaders who were in fact task-oriented, task-motivated, to whom the task was the important part of any of a group enterprise, and also that there was another type of leader whose concern was with the group, with the relationship, and these were two different types of persons, and we were able to measure that with a scale which in fact was called the least preferred co-worker scale. That is, a leader who, a task-motivated leader who was willing to take out somebody who didn’t work on the task or who was a, they were in fact, willing to be punitive to people who didn’t do the job, versus people who were also interested in the task but they were, they were not willing to do that, who were concerned with maintaining the group, meaning cohesiveness.
They were a much softer, had a much more soft attitude toward people who did not perform well, and this was a major difference, and the fact that we put that into a simple scale, an eight point scale, eight attitude, not attitude, eight descriptions of personality scale. It was really unusual, that had been, and showing that this was related to leadership performance had not been done before. The attitude scales which had dealt with task and relationship motivated leaders had been hinted at, and I’m not sure that they hadn’t said so in so many words, but it certainly wasn’t, they certainly did not differentiate them. The main concern was with an attitude scale, with identifying a personality who was a leader.
SCARPINO: Before you published in 1967, who were some of the leading scholars in the field of leadership studies before your book came out?
FIEDLER: Oh, there were a number of them. A very well-known one, Bennis, and, you know, I block on some names.
SCARPINO: That’s all right.
FIEDLER: One of them was, who just got …?
J. FIEDLER: No, those are people after ’67.
FIEDLER: Yeah, Ed Hollander, Ed Fleischmann, Wagner, and so on. There were a whole bunch of very well-known and prominent people who worked on some of the leadership as well as historians and personality psychologists, and of course business psychologists, business people. I’m sorry I’m not, the names escape me but they were certainly there, and they were prominent and they did good work, but of a different type. They just, they were descriptive studies of leadership and there were attempts to trace the personality of leaders, and in fact personality psychologists also played a part. It was a concern of interest, and this concern dates back well beyond the Greeks who talked about it.
SCARPINO: Absolutely. I’m old enough to remember, and I’m 62 for the record, a time when we didn’t have computers, and when you were doing this research that led up to the publication of your 1967 book, can I assume that you were not doing your statistics on a computer? Did you have a mainframe you were working on that early or were you…?
FIEDLER: Well, there was always ILLIAC. I started rather early on the computer. I am not a computer scientist, but I had very bright graduate students who ran circles around me.
SCARPINO: [laughing] That’s why God made graduate students. I mean, did you, early on, do the statistics with a calculator or on a chalkboard?
FIEDLER: Yeah, yeah. As soon as we, and I started to work on the computer, I started to work on leadership right after I got my Ph.D. and moved to the University of Illinois, and we had computers there and we certainly used them.
SCARPINO: And you were entering the data on punch cards at that point?
FIEDLER: Yes. Boxes and boxes.
SCARPINO: I mean, what I’m trying to figure out is, as the computers got better and easier to use did that make your research go easier, allow you to do more?
FIEDLER: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so.
SCARPINO: Do you think you could have developed your theory without access to a computer?
FIEDLER: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Although it was easier with a computer.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask a question that betrays the fact that I’m not a social scientist, but most of the people who listen to this recording or read the transcript probably will not be. When I read your work or I read about your work and you talk about the least preferred co-worker, it almost seems to me to be counterintuitive. I mean, how did you figure out that the way to understand leadership was by looking at the relationship with the least preferred rather than the most preferred or something like that?
FIEDLER: There was a lot of trial an error. We had, as I mentioned, the scale originally that in its primitive form in psychotherapy, and I expected that the good leader would be somebody who would be close to the members of the group, in this case basketball teams, and I tried everything else. It was natural to ask to have the scale as I said became the assumed similarity between opposite scales. Well, one (word inaudible) of the opposites was feeling good about the people and the other opposite was feeling bad about the people, and, but feeling good about people on a scale like this doesn’t go very far. I mean, you feel good; you put them all down on the positive scale. We also got it on the negative scale and it was the negative scale which really struck the chord, that there we got the variance, the variation between high and low, and I might point out that the high is just even with the high LPC people is just about the middle, if that high. But there you’ve got the variation.
SCARPINO: When those results began to emerge from your research were you surprised?
FIEDLER: Oh yeah, and delighted.
SCARPINO: And delighted. [laughing] Okay.
FIEDLER: As a matter of fact, most of my associates at that time didn’t believe it anyway. It was only when it was, it came out again that people, that my assistants and associates really, they became really excited about it.
SCARPINO: So when you said your associates didn’t believe it, you meant your graduate students, the people in your lab.
FIEDLER: Didn’t believe it, no. And I didn’t believe it either.
SCARPINO: So you ran it again.
SCARPINO: And came up with similar results.
SCARPINO: And is that when you also then tested the fraternity brothers?
FIEDLER: No, that was earlier.
SCARPINO: Earlier, okay.
FIEDLER: And that was a test of asking people to describe their friends, their best friend and their, the person they didn’t like. So I was always interested in the two opposites, which was the natural thing to do.
SCARPINO: I started to ask you this question yesterday and then realized we didn’t have enough time and stopped, but you had a colleague named Leonard Berkowitz.
SCARPINO: I believe that you had worked with him at Randolph Air Force Base.
FIEDLER: Randolph Air Force Base.
SCARPINO: And Leonard Berkowitz became the editor of Recent Advances in Experimental Psychology, which was a series.
SCARPINO: And he invited you to write a chapter for the first volume in that series, and so far as I can tell, that’s the first time you published something on the contingency model?
FIEDLER: I couldn’t tell you.
FIEDLER: It’s possible.
SCARPINO: Well, do you remember how that chapter, when it appeared was…
FIEDLER: I can’t even remember the book.
SCARPINO: Okay. Well, let’s try this then. 1963-1964, you were overseas again, University of Louvain in Belgium.
SCARPINO: L o u v a i n for the transcriber.
FIEDLER: Yes. V a i n, that’s Leuven in Flemish.
SCARPINO: Okay. You conducted a study that involved personnel from the Belgian Navy.
FIEDLER: Oh, that was later.
SCARPINO: Okay. You did not do that when you…?
FIEDLER: That was the start, that was in Louvain, the first study was in Holland.
SCARPINO: Right, right. When you were in Louvain doing the study on the Belgian Navy, you were getting close to publication. How did that study influence the development of your contingency model?
FIEDLER: Not much. The contingency model was a done thing. The important thing about the Dutch study and the Belgian study was that we, that I found, my associates and I found, that task-motivated leaders perform best with groups which were different than them, while relationship-motivated performed best with groups which were similar to them in an important dimension. In one case, religion, and in the other case, the region from which the leaders came. Now that was a very important problem. In Holland, perhaps less so because after all, they’ve been together for a long time and they sort of tolerated each other, but nevertheless it was a, it was quite clear that this was happening, that the religion did play a part. Religion in Holland is a big thing. There are Dutch labor unions and Dutch schools and Dutch clubs and Dutch football teams and Dutch…
SCARPINO: Football being soccer.
FIEDLER: Yes. Both with religion in the title. In Belgium, however, you had a country which was put together, sort of plastered together by Napoleon, and the differences were in language and culture and attitudes, and to some extent conflicts, which didn’t come to blows but were very visible. There were times when we found that street signs were taken down and written in a different language, and with the telephone operators, my wife once called somebody and the telephone operators insisted that she speak Walloon, and the French nurses, the Dutch…
SCARPINO: Did your work in Belgium provide any assistance to the Belgian government as they tried to deal with those problems?
FIEDLER: Oh yeah.
SCARPINO: Can you talk about that?
FIEDLER: I mean, it was not the government, but the Navy.
SCARPINO: The Navy, I’m sorry, yeah.
FIEDLER: Because they have to deal with mixed groups, Flemish, and that’s why the cooperation we got was phenomenal.
FIEDLER: I mean we, the United States, the Army, and the Army gave us permission to get data, and they sort of were passive about it, but permissive. In Belgium they were active. They got subjects for us en masse. Four hundred and some petty officers. That’s a lot of petty officers.
SCARPINO: Sure is.
FIEDLER: And something like four hundred recruits, half of them Flemish and half of them Walloon, and that’s a phenomenal amount of cooperation, and they had officers design tasks because they didn’t like the tasks we had in mind, and these will be senior officers design tasks and other officers who evaluated the way the teams performed. There was a phenomenal amount of cooperation.
SCARPINO: And they also listened to what you had to say.
FIEDLER: Oh yes. Yes. As a matter of fact the chief, the Director of the Ministry of Defense was, helped us, and helped us design the experiment so it would get what they wanted too.
SCARPINO: So at that point then, your work with the Belgian Navy really represented a significant practical application of your work.
FIEDLER: Yeah. But the American Army probably did too. I know that my theory was taught at West Point and other military institutions. Whether it was completely accepted by everybody is doubtful.
SCARPINO: In 1949, the U.S. military integrated. Were you ever called upon to do any studies of black and white military personnel?
FIEDLER: No. But some of the teams we dealt with, no, actually I don’t recall any time, I think that was too early. In most military crews, there are no mixed, I don’t think they were mixed by race that I can recall.
FIEDLER: On the other hand, did some studies with women in religious organization. Bunch of Unitarians had a summer camp and there we had women as well as men in groups and teams. Didn’t make much difference.
SCARPINO: 1967 you published A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness and I looked up as much as I could, reviews and so on, and I’ve seen the book described in terms like landmark, paradigm shift, seminal.
FIEDLER: Sounds good to me. [laughter]
SCARPINO: I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. In evaluating your own work you wrote, you said the paper in the Berkowitz volume, which you didn’t remember, in the 1967 book created a great deal of interest and at least according to some were responsible for a paradigmatic shift in thinking about leadership, which we actually talked about at the beginning, but is there anything that you want to add to that, what the significance of that paradigm shift?
FIEDLER: How much more can you say?
SCARPINO: I don’t know. I’m giving you a chance. [laughing]
FIEDLER: A paradigm shift is about as good as you can get.
SCARPINO: Yeah. So I’m wondering, this is the second time that you’ve now as a relatively young man have written something that really shook up your field and represented a paradigm shift. How did this affect your life? I mean, did your life change as a scholar or professional person?
FIEDLER: I don’t think so.
SCARPINO: More students want to study with you? More grant money coming your way? More demands to speak?
FIEDLER: I never had much trouble finding money, getting money. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, there was one case where the Surgeon General’s office sent me money before I had asked for it. It was, you know, I was a well-known researcher and we had always done work which was interesting. Yeah, it was pretty good.
SCARPINO: So you didn’t see much of a change in your professional life after that book came out.
FIEDLER: No. Well, I had somebody who described my work yesterday. It was one of my former graduate students, said that I’d gotten 40 Ph.Ds. That’s a lot of Ph.D.s. I didn’t realize that there were that many, and there were always some students from abroad and students from military, one Coast Guard, one Air Force, and a substantial number of Army people. The Army was always more accepting of this work than the Air Force, although I had an Air Force lieutenant colonel who worked with me and who had been taught at the Air Force Academy. They all went to their service academies afterwards to teach leadership. So it had its impact. Does that answer your question?
SCARPINO: It sure does. It absolutely does. So it was very clear when this book came out that you had become a leader if not the leader in the field of leadership studies. I wonder how you…
FIEDLER: There were a good number of critics too.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you about them in a minute, but I wonder how you would assess your own effectiveness as a leader. I mean, you clearly were a leader. Did you ever think about that?
FIEDLER: I was a very effective leader of a laboratory, [laughter] but you know I really never was a, I never had leadership jobs of any importance outside of that. I once headed a division, a subdivision of a psychology department and I think I did a good job, but after that I was never seen as somebody who would be an outstanding leader.
SCARPINO: Let me turn that around a little bit. You certainly led the field of leadership studies with your ideas.
SCARPINO: Right, and did that also make you a leader in a sense that you were a scholarly leader, a thought leader?
FIEDLER: Is a chess master a leader? [laughter]
SCARPINO: So you would then think of yourself as more of a chess master than a leader.
FIEDLER: Well, I hadn’t thought of chess master before, but I didn’t impress people as somebody who would be an outstanding leader. I’m quite sure of that. I was an onlooker, an analyst.
SCARPINO: I’m thinking of all graduate students that you attracted and trained who then went off to careers of their own clearly influenced by you and your thinking and your scholarship and your method.
FIEDLER: Well I was sure as hell task-oriented.
SCARPINO: [laughing] Okay.
FIEDLER: As a matter of fact, one of the things they remember is that every once in a while I stuck my head into one of the offices and said… work. [laughter] Or, what did you find today?
SCARPINO: That’s the one I heard from one of your colleagues, that you stuck your head in the door and asked him what did you find today.
FIEDLER: You did not hear it from my colleagues?
SCARPINO: I did. I remember which one. One of the people I called told me that you had opened his door and said what did you find today?
FIEDLER: [laughing] It wasn’t really, I didn’t really expect any great results, but it was sort of a half funny…
SCARPINO: But I would have to look at my notes to see exactly who said that ,but what I can say is the person told me that well, he said while I didn’t necessarily find anything new today, I always believed that Fred did. That’s what he told me.
FIEDLER: [laughing] Well, that was not a serious remark, but I think it sort of epitomized my concern with the tasks.
SCARPINO: I read your little piece called “Life in a Pretzel-Shaped Universe” and you wrote in there, you said my best-known contribution is the development of the contingency model. It was really then that I had my first eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations with the pretzel shape of life in leadership research. Could you explain what you meant by that? What is the pretzel-shaped life of…?
FIEDLER: It was much more, well above all the contingency model is a much more complex explanation of leadership. Maybe you had two different types of leaders and you had a problem of analyzing how the environment and the task would affect which leader would be more effective. It was a, which had never been described before as far as I know, and it was putting these two together which really made a much more complex picture of the leadership problem than had been seen before. Before it was, if you have the personality or the attitudes or whatever of a leader, and the question is are you a leader or are you not a leader no matter what, almost no matter what the task was, and I analyzed how the task was related to what kind of a leader would be effective. So this was a much more complex and pretzel-shaped picture.
SCARPINO: In addition to effusive praise for a theory of leadership effectiveness, your book also attracted a great deal of critique.
FIEDLER: Oh yes.
SCARPINO: And your former student and later your colleague, Martin Chemers, told me, he said he felt those critiques came from two sources. One is the toes you stepped on, the entrenched interests, and the other was its inductive approach. But I’m wondering how you would describe and assess the critiques.
FIEDLER: Say this again.
SCARPINO: His assessment was that people critiqued your work for two reasons. One is that you stepped on scholarly toes, entrenched interests, and the other was its inductive approach. But I’m wondering how you would assess the critiques of your work.
FIEDLER: Well, there were a lot of people, a lot. There were a number of people who just didn’t believe it. They didn’t think this was real stuff earlier on, and the answer to that was validation, and test after test after test. There’s a mountain of, compared to other approaches, and so there was a mountain of studies which supported the model, and before that became overwhelming, there were a lot of people who criticized. They didn’t understand that the least preferred co-worker at all, or did not intend to understand, and a lot of people, all the critics attacked the least preferred co-worker scores as something that just is silly or which did not, which they didn’t understand why, same question you asked. Why the least preferred co-workers were and I, myself, didn’t really understand that.
Martin Chemers did, but he’s one of the brightest, and the other was a matter of just simple jealousy, and I know this sounds petty but I’m quite sure that that was a part, a case, and in part and interestingly enough, there have been a number of my colleagues who later sort of apologized for that. It was such a different stance in this field that a number of people just couldn’t believe it.
The, for two reasons. One was that the least preferred co-workers, that didn’t make any sense to them, and I can understand why it didn’t make any sense to them. Why the least preferred co-worker? Why an eight point, an eight item scale should make a difference, or 10 item scale, whatever it was. And the other was that it seemed so obvious afterwards, that it was out with it and so different from the rest of the leadership stuff that it was difficult to swallow.
SCARPINO: Speaking as somebody who thinks of himself as a humanist and not a social scientist, what surprises me a little bit is it seems to me as though given what you did, that it would be impossible for people to test that themselves. In other words, to see if they could replicate the study, rather than just trash it.
FIEDLER: Because many of them, because there were some studies, I showed you a group of validation studies and it took a while before people, I mean it takes a while before you wrap up something like this.
SCARPINO: That’s true. You also said one time, you wrote, speaking of your critics, you said, as is usually the case, some criticisms successfully slew nonexistent dragons.
FIEDLER: Is that what I said?
SCARPINO: You did say that, yes.
FIEDLER: Clever phrase.
SCARPINO: I thought it was a very nice turn of phrase. What did you mean by the nonexistent dragons?
FIEDLER: Well, they questioned the validity of the scale. They would question the validity of classifying, you see one problem was the classification of task-motivated and relationship-motivated leaders that had not been seen by most people and if it had, I didn’t know about it. That is, if you ask somebody what kind of a leader are you, the task-motivated people said, well I’m a warm, considerate, cuddly type but the least preferred co-worker scale was in the opposite direction. And the warm, cuddly, the relationship-motivated leaders thought of themselves as task-motivated, and that’s, one of the people as a matter of fact who did a study of this was Chemers, and it’s very clear that the task-motivated people thought of themselves as relationship-motivated and relationship-motivated people thought of themselves as task-motivated, and almost the same words, and that’s, what that means is that a lot of the tests of leadership apparently weren’t valid.
SCARPINO: So self-perception, self-reporting was not working.
FIEDLER: Was not working. And you can see why because task-motivated people saw themselves in a way which was much more flattering, and relationship-motivated leaders also saw themselves in a way which was more flattering. Now, in both cases to some extent, task-motivated people have to be concerned with the group and to some extent relationship-motivated leaders have to be concerned with the task. So it’s easy to see that they emphasize that part of their leadership behavior which they didn’t, which they were least strong on.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the amount of controversy that your work engendered when it first appeared is in some ways a measure of its impact?
FIEDLER: Oh yeah, sure. Look at the controversy that psychoanalysis created. Think of the, there are lots of new ideas which create a lot of controversy and in some cases justified and in some cases not justified or partly justified, but you don’t attack something that’s obvious. You won’t get that published either.
SCARPINO: Although I think I said yesterday I think some people may have earned tenure criticizing your work. [laughing]
FIEDLER: Yeah. That too. I can name some of them. [laughing]
SCARPINO: In 1969 you moved to the University of Washington as a professor of psychology and adjunct professor of management and organization and spent the rest of your career there at the University of Washington. Why did you decide to move from Illinois to Washington?
FIEDLER: Have you been to Urbana, Illinois?
FIEDLER: The saying there was that there’s nothing there to keep you from your work.
SCARPINO: [laughter] I shouldn’t laugh.
FIEDLER: There were soybeans and there was corn, lots of corn. As a matter of fact, the oldest cornfield in the United States is in Urbana.
SCARPINO: Is that true?
FIEDLER: It’s, and it is considered to be a monument, that corn field. It’s not very big but it’s there. That was one, and it was really a, oh, it was really a place which was intellectually exciting. It’s a very good school. But beyond that there isn’t much there. There are a couple of good restaurants there and every once in a while a troop of actors came through to put on a play, and I’m sure that the same thing is true of Purdue, and then I sort of felt that I had exhausted the, had exhausted the place, and I’m, it wasn’t that I didn’t have good colleagues. They were very stimulating and every once in a while I feel that I made a very big mistake by moving, although as it turns out Washington has a lot of things that Urbana didn’t have…Seattle.
SCARPINO: Well, I’ve also lived near Seattle, and there is a difference, yes.
SCARPINO: I notice that your current address is Mercer Island, which is a very interesting place as well.
SCARPINO: So, had you gotten quite a few offers after that book came out? I mean were you, were people trying to lure you away?
FIEDLER: Some, but not many.
SCARPINO: So you went to the University of Washington where you set up an organizational research group.
FIEDLER: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: How was that similar to or different from the Group Effectiveness Laboratory?
FIEDLER: Not much.
SCARPINO: Not much.
FIEDLER: I had more military students there, and I was of course better known. Some of the students were very good and some weren’t so good, but I came there because the offer was tempting. As a matter of fact it was once, when I didn’t, when I turned it down and I was a little sweetened the next year I accepted it.
SCARPINO: When you were at the University of Washington, West Point was sending you military officers for graduate training.
FIEDLER: Yes. But they had sent them at Illinois too.
SCARPINO: So what was your relationship with West Point? Was there anything besides training their students? Did you go there and lecture or work specifically with them to develop curricula or anything like that?
FIEDLER: It was sort of like that. I don’t remember giving any lectures. I may have talked, but I did talk to the, I consulted with the superintendent and some of his officers. It was a very, and I had, I became friends with the medical officer in charge there who was interested in leadership. I don’t really know how to characterize my relationship to them. It was certainly very friendly and, in fact, I was accepted by the brass of West Point as I was, for instance, for the brass of Royal Roads, the Canadian military college, in Vancouver, or off like Victoria, and I on a number of occasions I gave talks in general to the military and I remember once being kidded that there were all these, I was at the speaker’s table with all the generals, but I had been discharged as a technician fifth grade.
This happened recently too when I was in charge of picking of, well it wasn’t picking of, I was in charge of the committee to select the state adjutant general, the major general, and I was the, with me on the committee were two generals and a vice admiral or an admiral, all were retired and with lots of stars so it was sort of comic relationship in many respects, but I certainly had the respect.
SCARPINO: Do you think that your ideas had an impact on the way West Point taught leadership?
FIEDLER: Oh yes. From all I hear, yes.
SCARPINO: And given that West Point is at least one of the foremost training academies for military officers in the world, that’s a further assessment of the impact of your work.
FIEDLER: Oh yeah. I’m, you know, I don’t know to what extent it changed with the change of superintendents. You never can tell. But from what I gather, not only there but other military establishments also knew about the contingency model and were influenced by it. And this goes in the Navy, on the, it goes into military in Belgium and in Holland and lots of other places too.
SCARPINO: I tried to figure out what happened to some of the military officers that you trained and I was able to find some of them taught at West Point, some of the National Defense University, some the Command and General Staff College, the Coast Guard Academy, the Air Force Academy, and some of them…
FIEDLER: Commands at the Air Force Academy, of the Coast Guard.
SCARPINO: That’s what I found.
FIEDLER: Oh really? I didn’t know that.
SCARPINO: I mean it seems to me as though you had quite a multiplier effect where you trained those officers and then they went off to places where they further trained leaders.
FIEDLER: And in other countries too. Australia for instance.
SCARPINO: So foreign military officers came to study with you.
FIEDLER: Oh yeah. Well, foreign officers. Some are Canadian and I don’t know. I can’t recall all of them, but the Canadian, but the military academies abroad certainly knew about me.
SCARPINO: Let me see if I can make a segue here. Your 1967 book had, was literally a paradigm shift in terms of the scholarship of leadership. You attracted significant numbers of graduate students that you trained. Your work not only engendered positive response but criticism in your field and then there are a number of instances of the practical application of your work in the military and in the civilian sector. And then in 1976 you furthered the practical application of your leadership theory by co-authoring a book called Improving Leadership Effectiveness: The Leadership Match Concept.
FIEDLER: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: With yourself and Martin Chemers and Linda Mahr, M a h r. Which as I understand it was really like a workbook that was supposed to really be a hands-on practical application of your work.
FIEDLER: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: How did that come out? Where did you, who came up with idea to package it up that way?
FIEDLER: I don’t know. It was a natural. By the way, were you aware that Theory of Leadership Effectiveness was translated into six different languages? I was kind of impressed by it myself.
SCARPINO: So, let me ask you a question about that. If somebody translates your work into a language, I mean how do you know that they did a good job?
FIEDLER: I have no idea. I don’t speak Chinese, Thai, or Japanese for sure. I had a Japanese student, you know, and a, you were asking about students. I had foreign visitors or, who came for a year, and there was an Australian, an Israeli, two Israelis, a Frenchman, a Dutch student who got his Ph.D. and I sat in on his Ph.D. dissertation in Holland on a visit examination, and who else?
J. FIEDLER: An Egyptian.
J. FIEDLER: An Egyptian.
FIEDLER: An Egyptian, right, an Egyptian lieutenant colonel who worked with an Israeli student.
J. FIEDLER: And a Thai student.
FIEDLER: Oh, a Thai, yeah.
J. FIEDLER: And a Belgian.
FIEDLER: A Belgian. So there were a lot of people.
SCARPINO: But that’s also sort of an international effect of your work in terms of through your students.
SCARPINO: What was the nature of your collaboration with Chemers and Mahr on that book?
FIEDLER: Well, Mahr was my secretary for many years, and she, she was more, she became more than a secretary. We urged her to get a Ph.D. but she was interested in becoming a comedian, which I think was appropriate. I was my, but she was not a major contributor to books, but in a minor way she helped us get that book out, sufficiently so that we felt that she should be a co-author. Chemers was a undergraduate student who stayed to become a graduate student, as was the case with the woman who introduced me yesterday, Susan Murphy.
SCARPINO: That was at your breakfast.
FIEDLER: Yes. Did you hear it?
SCARPINO: No, I was up here getting ready. I had an interview that was too tight to...
FIEDLER: I think your career will not suffer. And so anyway, does that answer your question?
SCARPINO: Yeah. I mean, how did that leadership match represent a practical application of your contingency theory? What was it that you had people doing?
FIEDLER: I don’t understand the question.
SCARPINO: This was like a workbook, right?
FIEDLER: Oh, that.
SCARPINO: Yeah. What was it that you were having them do? What was the nature of that workbook over the tasks that you were assigning them to do? It was like self study, right, where they could go through and…?
FIEDLER: Yeah. I guess some people bought the book.
SCARPINO: More than 45,000 by the early 1990s.
SCARPINO: According to my Google search.
FIEDLER: I didn’t realize that. How many books were sold of, by 1967?
SCARPINO: I don’t know. I didn’t look that up. Because this one was intended for a broader audience, I ran a quick search and according to what I found, you’d sold over 45,000 copies by the early 1990s.
FIEDLER: That’s a lot of copies.
SCARPINO: It sure is.
FIEDLER: That was also, I think that was, either was the book which was republished in six languages. No, the Leadership Effectiveness book was in six languages, but there were also manuals, these sort of manuals were also republished in a number of languages.
SCARPINO: And then you updated it into a second edition in 1984.
FIEDLER: I did that?
SCARPINO: [laughing] Or at least your name is on it.
FIEDLER: I probably did. I was never a great moneymaker.
SCARPINO: I was thinking less of the money than the impact of your work by making it widely available like that.
FIEDLER: Yeah. Well it had impact. It certainly had impact on a lot of universities which taught leadership courses.
SCARPINO: You wrote at one point, and I’m going to read a couple of lines, what you said about yourself as a researcher. You said I’m convinced that data are adversaries that should be beaten into submission. I was struck time and again by the realization that I really did not begin to understand some of our research results until many years and studies later. Research to me is more like an archeological 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. I wonder what you meant when you said that research is more like a dig than a mathematical game? I mean, I think of social science is all based on math.
FIEDLER: You think that…?
SCARPINO: I mean I think of the kind of research that a social scientist does as being math-based.
FIEDLER: Oh. There’s a lot of psychological research which comes out of a hypothesis. Somebody, and observations which is then transformed into a model and the model is very clean. Good example is Festinger and others who… Simon is another one. Blumen.
J. FIEDLER: Lipman-Blumen or Blumer?
J. FIEDLER: Are you asking about Lipman-Blumen or Blumer?
FIEDLER: Couldn’t hear you?
J. FIEDLER: I’m sorry. Are you referring to Lipman-Blumen or Blumer?
FIEDLER: Blumer, too. No Newmark was a…
J. FIEDLER: No, Blumer. Never mind.
FIEDLER: Herbert Blumer? Was sociologist.
J. FIEDLER: Yeah. Is that who you were referring to?
FIEDLER: Well, in some cases, for instances the games theories really have a model which they run work on. Well, the field of, in many cases the field of leadership and other social sciences—sociology, some economics, and anthropology is a matter of playing with the data and examining data and thinking about data and sleeping with them and feeding them until they give you some results, and it isn’t as neat as the textbooks tell you, that you suddenly come up with a clean theory and lo and behold, there it is.
SCARPINO: It took you almost 10 years to put that theory together.
FIEDLER: Yeah. To neaten it up. Make it plausible to myself and to others.
SCARPINO: Martin Chemers, as I understand it one of his specialties is cultural studies.
FIEDLER: No, Triandis.
SCARPINO: Triandis, okay. To what degree did your contingency model hold up across cultures? Did you ever test that? I mean would it work in Japan or China or Korea?
FIEDLER: Yeah, it does.
SCARPINO: A couple more questions here. In Seattle, when you were living in Seattle, you became a consultant to the county executive, which I assume is King County. For about a decade you worked in his office, you worked in city government. What were you doing with the county executive? How did, what was one of the world’s leading scholars of leadership doing in the county executive’s office?
FIEDLER: Well, it started earlier when he became county executive in 1970, I think it was, I was sort of looking, I had just moved from Illinois and another colleague of mine named Hunt, very bright guy, and I were talking and sort of felt it would be interesting to see whether our—Hunt’s work is not in leadership, it’s something else—would be interesting to see if we could be of some use to the, in a political sense, and I offered my services, and one of the chief, the county executive’s close associates said, well, I told the county executive’s office I’d be interested in consulting and that I would kind of a, we have a guy would do this, and this man said, oh, it would be interesting to see what he can do. And so they, I felt, I volunteered, and it was a very interesting experience to volunteer because there were a lot of departments which needed some help. For instance, I developed a performance form for the fire department, and I worked with parks and with the parks department, parks and recreation and this and that. We eventually made a film which made the, Linda Mahr, as a matter of fact directed for the, to make bus drivers more charming.
SCARPINO: [laughter] Were you in this film?
FIEDLER: No. I was involved in… (interruption)
SCARPINO: So you mentioned that part of the fruits of your work was this film for bus drivers.
FIEDLER: Yeah. And it was a lot of, it was a very interesting experience because I actually had my hands on, I had free access to all kinds of things and I saw all kinds of things. I saw what they were doing in the jail and I was taken on rides in the police car, and I had a good time. And I saw how different, the public works, for instance, the public works at the parks and recreation department had, the chiefs of those had problems which I helped resolve and it was a general leadership practicum and when the county executive became, won the election for governor, I was one of the people who were on the transition team which was also a very interesting experience.
SCARPINO: What was his name?
FIEDLER: Spellman, John Spellman. It was a very interesting, very interesting experience. I was, I did some, I helped pick a judge for one of the outlying districts and it was a hands-on experience, which was very interesting.
SCARPINO: Did you ever take any of that experience and then plow it back into your research? Did you ever publish anything based on that experience?
FIEDLER: No. I didn’t publish anything. Yeah, I published one paper on the weather and the type of robberies which were….
J. FIEDLER: Fred, what about the Sea-Tac study?
FIEDLER: Oh, yeah.
SCARPINO: Seattle-Tacoma airport, Sea-Tac, yeah.
FIEDLER: The study was named “Portnoy’s Complaints.”
SCARPINO: Uh oh.
FIEDLER: The complaints about the noise at Sea-Tac which won a title, which won a reward. Judy and I published that together. So I got my hands into a lot of stuff which ordinarily academics would not do.
SCARPINO: Right. In 1978, James MacGregor Burns was a political scientist, a Pulitzer prize-winning author, taught at Williams College. He published a book titled Leadership which became an important study on the subject of leadership, quite a different approach than yours. I’m wondering how, do you know him?
FIEDLER: I met him. We are not close. I don’t think we ever really had a serious talk about it.
SCARPINO: Cognitive resource theory, in 1987, you and Joseph Garcia published a book called New Approaches to Effective Leadership: Cognitive Resources and Organizational Performance.
SCARPINO: And one of the things that you wrote about your own work that I found was that that was an attempt to explain the contingency model. So was that in some ways a response to people who had been criticizing you all these years?
FIEDLER: I can’t remember.
FIEDLER: I also did work and so did some of my graduate students on intelligence and experience, the two major predictors of leadership for many years, and we found the results were underwhelming. The correlations were close to zero. Among the experience, as a matter of fact the experience was negatively correlated with intelligence so that highly intelligent leaders were least, were negatively affected by experience and highly experienced leaders were negatively affected by intelligence, by their intelligence. As leaders gained in experience the less they relied on their intelligence, and of course intelligence doesn’t change much, but for instance, a study of principals, high school principals, and elementary school principals were quite different in terms of how experience affected the way in which they performed. And there are a number of studies like this also with the post office. So we were interested in a lot of other cognitive resources and why, why that particular—also post office managers—why intelligence should have such a negative effect on experience.
SCARPINO: What kind of an impact did your findings have on leadership training because again that’s the thing that seems kind of counterintuitive when you first hear it?
FIEDLER: Yeah, yeah, but it is nevertheless striking. Was there anything in the stuff you read about this?
SCARPINO: Yes, yes.
FIEDLER: It’s a very striking finding, and it hasn’t been much publicized, but neither intelligence, but for instance high school principals or school principals in general, and I think post managers too, the, when they started out, elementary school principals for instance, when they started out, experience didn’t have much effect and intelligence was important, but as they moved into, with the later experience, experience became more important and leadership became less important.
SCARPINO: Intelligence became less important.
FIEDLER: Yeah, intelligence became less important, and vice versa with high school principals. This is kind of striking because when you, generally speaking, managers look for intelligence, intelligent and experienced leaders.
SCARPINO: So how do you think your findings would affect leadership on the ground?
FIEDLER: Meaning what?
SCARPINO: Well, as you pointed out, when people are looking for someone they tend to look for intelligence and experience and your research indicated that those were not as important as people at least intuitively believed. So once you know that, once you had those findings, where do you go from there in terms of understanding leadership and its application?
FIEDLER: I don’t think this was picked up by a lot of people. I think it was sort of uninteresting, seen as sort of a ho hum result, because ultimately I don’t believe that most believe, most managers believe in that, believe that that’s true. It’s so counterintuitive.
FIEDLER: But so is, after all, the contingency model counterintuitive.
FIEDLER: Or the idea that there are two types of leaders and that their performance depends on whether or not they match up with the task environment.
SCARPINO: As you think back over your entire career in the university and particularly your work on leadership, how would you assess the impact of your own work?
FIEDLER: It’s had some impact but it is certainly not in the folklore. I think I would not expect the man on the street or the woman on the street, know about it or to be affected by it. It certainly has affected some segments of society. I think its effect on and even the effect on military policy as well would be moderate, but I’m not sure. I don’t know.
SCARPINO: I want to ask you one more question. Is there anything that I should have asked you and I didn’t or anything that you wanted to say that I didn’t give you a chance to say?
FIEDLER: Well I would be interested in knowing what you’re doing with this material.
SCARPINO: I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you the quick answer and then I’ll turn it off and give you the more complete answer, but this is for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at Indiana University, and for the International Leadership Association. The recordings and the transcriptions will go into the archive, where they will join interviews that we’ve done with several dozen other leaders to try to create material that will allow people to study leadership and the subject areas embraced by those individuals. So, for example, I interviewed Father Hesburgh up at Notre Dame and James MacGregor Burns. I interviewed Lee Hamilton who was the head of the 9/11 Commission, and you know, we’re just trying to get a variety of leaders and to do in-depth interviews with them to create an archive of material to help people understand leadership. So, on behalf of myself and the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association, I thank you very much for being patient enough to sit with me twice and talk to me about your scholarship and your experience.