When reading Heifitz's "Values in Leadership" article, I found myself thinking about my favorite television show; Lost. The theory that Heifitz discusses that I feel applies specifically to Lost is the contingency theory. To review, contingency theory states that "different situations demand different personalities and call for different behaviors," and that "the appropriate style of leadership is contingent on the requirements of the particular situation," (Heifitz, 1994, p.17). Anyone who is a Lost fan knows that the leaders of the various groups change as situations on the island change. Ben, Jack, Sawyer, and Jacob can all be considered leaders at one point or another. Even Hugo calls the shots now and then.
In our discussion of contingency theory, I would like to look specifically at Ben. On the island, Ben is a devious and manipulative man who killed his own father in order to gain power. For the majority of the show he is the leader of "the others." Although his tactics are seen by many as evil, he claims he is only doing what is necessary to protect the island and those on the island. However, in a flash sideways (a flash sideways shows the lives the characters would have lead if they were not on the island) Ben is depicted as a mild mannered history teacher with very little power. So, we see that given a different situation Ben is not a leader. Could it be that because there were such dangerous circumstances on the island, a ruthless and manipulative leader was necessary, which drew out Ben's leadership skills?
I believe that most everyone would agree Ben is a negative example of contingency theory. He was willing to kill anyone who got in his way, including his father. His daughter was even killed as a result of his tactics. It could be argued that Jack is a more positive example of contingency theory. There were times when he stepped down as a leader because the situation called for someone different, but his methods were never hostile.
This example is important because it demonstrates how a seemingly harmless person can turn into a destructive leader when the situation calls for it. It is important to understand that it may be necessary to alter a situation in order to get a positive leader.