cognitive resource theory pros and cons

Cognitive resource theory pros and cons

Fred Fiedler and Joe Garcia in 1987 developed the theory of leadership called Cognitive Resource Theory. The basic tenet (percept, principle) of the cognitive resource theory emphasizes that stress can be a factor that makes an intelligent leader ineffective and hence group inefficient.  The cognitive resources of a leader identified in this model are their experience, intelligence, competence and task-relevant knowledge. Cognitive Resource Theory arose from the dissatisfaction with the Trait Theory.

The Cognitive Resource Theory’s main claim is that various sources of stress are blocking the use of rationality in leadership. The more cognitively acute and experienced a leader is, the more he or she is able to overcome the effects of stress. Intelligence is the main factor in low-stress situations, whilst experience counts for more during high-stress moments. However, the leader’s ability to think is more effective when his or her style is more orderly, premeditated and authoritarian. Command, though, is the factor that overcomes the effects of stress.

The leaders who perform the best are those that use their cognitive abilities to determine the most efficient way to lead their groups.



Ø  The theory helps predict whether a certain type of person will be able to lead in a stressful situation.

Ø  The theory helps the placement of persons in leadership positions by suggesting that people be tested for intelligence and the ability to manage stress in addition to assessing leadership qualities.

Ø    It differentiates the abilities of a skilled labour from an experienced labour and indicates how they are useful.

Ø  The Cognitive Resource Theory helps in understanding the role of intellectual abilities and organizational performances in solving tasks.



v      Cognitive resource theory does not talk about those leaders who have both, a good IQ and a good work experience.

v Intelligence is not defined. There are many types and degrees of intelligence and the Cognitive Resource Theory doesn’t account for them.

v  Many types of stress exist; one cannot simply say “stress”. For example, there is psychological and physical stress and each has its inhibiting effects that the theory does not account for.

v      The nature of tasking itself is not addressed. There are many types of tasks a group may need to achieve and each may involve a different level of stress and hence, requires a different leadership method.

Irrespective of the above criticisms, the Cognitive Resource Theory holds an important place in the leadership theories and in organizational development. Nonetheless, the Cognitive Resource Theory demands further extension and exploration. In conclusion – the leader’s abilities and intelligence aid organizational success when they are directive, in a stress-free situation, the organizations’ members are supportive when the task requires high intellect.

“The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization.”
— Fred Fiedler

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