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Role Theory

 

Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership theories > Role Theory

Assumptions | Description | Discussion | See also

 

Assumptions

People define roles for themselves and others based on social learning and reading.

People form expectations about the roles that they and others will play.

People subtly encourage others to act within the role expectations they have for them.

People will act within the roles they adopt.

Description

We all have internal schemas about the role of leaders, based on what we read, discuss and so on. We subtly send these expectations to our leaders, acting as role senders, for example through the balance of decisions we take upon ourselves and the decisions we leave to the leader.

Leaders are influenced by these signals, particularly if they are sensitive to the people around them, and will generally conform to these, playing the leadership role that is put upon them by others.

Within organizations, there is much formal and informal information about what the leader's role should be, including 'leadership values', culture, training sessions, modeling by senior managers, and so on. These and more (including contextual factors) act to shape expectations and behaviors around leadership.

Role conflict can also occur when people have differing expectations of their leaders. It also happens when leaders have different ideas about what they should be doing vs. the expectations that are put upon them.

Discussion

Role expectations of a leader can vary from very specific to a broad idea within which the leader can define their own style.

When role expectations are low or mixed, then this may also lead to role conflict.

See also

Roles, Social Learning Theory, Function and leadership

Merton, R.K. (1957). Social theory and social structure, NY: Free Press

Pfeffer, J. and Salancik, G.R. (1975). Determinants of supervisory behavior: A role set analysis. Human Relations, 28, 139-153

 

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