Leadership Emerging

Leadership Emerging / January 2010

wibbeke coverE.S. Wibbeke. Global Business Leadership. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2009.

What could be more natural than to discover a more robust treatment of leadership than one that requires attention to cultural diversity? That is what we find in Wibberke’s treatment of leadership in global businesses. Granted, the focus of his discussion is on American business leaders in different cultural environments from Canada to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. But much of what he attends to would be useful to leaders in multiple domains from multiple cultures. In fact, it is the unusually strong attention to aspects of culture and human being that makes this book both interesting and provocative.

The Leadership quote opening this issue of Integral Leadership Review was drawn from Wibbeke: “The problem with even the best-intentioned recommendations for leadership competence in intercultural contexts is that they still have a cultural bias. In other words, the very concept of leadership is culturally bound. Leadership is not what you think of as leadership everywhere else on this planet.” It is a strength of this book that the concept of culture plays such a central role with the recognition that how anyone will define leadership or indicate what constitutes effectiveness as a leader will vary by culture. Could it be that the well-known multiplicity of definitions of leadership in the literature are a reflection of the subcultures from which those definitions are spawned? Nevertheless, Wibbeke builds on a postmodern perspective on leadership as a social phenomenon, such as complexity leadership theory which “provides an integrative theoretical framework for explaining interactive dynamics” which are already acknowledged in other leadership theories in such notions as adaptation and relationships.

“Accepting the coexistence of the notions that constructing an ideal leadership model is practical and, that leadership models must allow for emergent variance, provides leaders with an expansive toolkit. Explicitly stated this means accepting the premise that, underlying fluidity there is regularity, underlying similarity there is diversity.” [43]

Thus, leadership competencies in an intercultural world include self-awareness and learning agility in the face of uncertainty, managing high levels of complexity in which cause and effect relationships are not always apparent, all leading to communication competencies across cultures and comfort within diversity. In global business leadership it is essential that leaders are adaptive to dynamic contexts. Wibbeke identifies a series of principles of global leadership (a geoleader) based on an international study:

• Care: “ A geoleader understand the responsibility to consistently balance interest and value for profit and stakeholders. By taking a 360 degree view of the global effects of decisions, the leader can demonstrate not only care for internal benefits but also forethought for any and all external consequences and constituents.”[48]

In his discussion Wibbeke addresses different ethical frameworks based on religious traditions. Furthermore, he draws on Kohlber’s framework for stages of moral development, preconventional, contentional and postconventional—so often referenced by Wilber and others in the integral community. Thus, he introduces the notion of adult development—a rarity in the leadership literature.

• Communication: “In order for business leaders to lead effectively in intercultural situations, they must engage and interact with those cultures in whose countries they work with a desire to understand and appreciate that culture and its people.” [81]

Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence plays a central role in this discussion, along with attention to nonverbal communication, time orientation, uncertainty-avoidance, locus of control, conflict orientation and worldview. Worldview plays a role throughout his discussion but it not clearly defined. Here the author could have drawn on Spiral Dynamics, for example, to enrich his approach. He advocates a positive and appreciative approach to differences.

• Consciousness: Yes, consciousness! He equates this with self-awareness, “a reflective practice meant to enhance your intentionality, higher order thinking, and interpersonal skills…Only with a high level of self-awareness can intercultural leaders engage the trust and commitment of others that is necessary to sustain organizational excellence.” [100]

Even with the focus on self-awareness I was pleasantly surprised to find this topic addressed in a book on business leadership. Wibbeke adds attention to consciousness as a “quality of being in a state of total awareness.” He discusses mindfulness, curiosity, observation, reflection, adaptability, and perspective taking.

• Contrasts: “Ambiguity means that there is doubt, disagreement, tentativeness, or contrasting perspectives.” [113]

The more ambiguity, the greater the need for leadership. Ambiguity can show up in relation to roles (vision, results), process (strategy, communication), and values (ethics and practices). I like the fact that Wibbeke includes the notion of roles or expectations. Too often the leadership literature fails to recognize that leading involves filling (or failing to fill) one’s own and others’ performance expectations.

• Contexts: “…the surrounding circumstances and conditions in which something unfolds…we use context to make sense of what we observe happening around, or to, us…as convenient as contexts are to us, human social contexts can be complex.”[141-2]

Since leadership is a social construct, the cultural aspects of contexts are critical in both understanding it and practicing it. In times of ambiguity and complexity emergent leadership is called for. “The leader emerges because she or he is at the right time, in the right place, with the right group of people, and history is made.” [148] Here is a recognition of leader roles being filled in a wide variety of contexts, not only in cultures with variable orientation to context, but in organizational structure and processes.

• Change: “Postmodern organizations require having learning agile leaders who demonstrate flexibility in adapting to dynamic cultural environments. Intercultural leaders must shift from the old mechanistic mindsets of the industrial era to the flexible adaptive perspective of organizational life as what it is, a complex socio-cultural system.” [158]

Wibbeke draws on the idea that “people learn through the lens of the relationships between living things and their environment.” [159] This Vygotskian notion represents a significant shift in understanding not only leadership but individual development as a product of a dialogical process. He adds: “One suggestion throughout this book has been that to enhance experience on must have honorable intentions, a well-prepared and integrated strategy, a sense of adventure, courage, and determination.” [159]

• Capability: “Intercultural competence requires leaders to assess their own and others’ capability and build it where it is deficit. Organizational learning agility and understanding of how modern organizations operate are essential for intercultural leaders and managers.” [178]

Here Wibbeke cements the relationship with organizational systems, structures and processes. Note that so far he has been addressing the interior individual regarding consciousness, etc., the behaviors through communication and learning, the pivotal role of culture and now systems. All four quadrants of Wilber’s model are included. And he expands his attention to include the role of manager and management practices. Those organizations that succeed address issues of culture in leadership and management.

In his final chapter, Wibbeke states: “The purpose of this book on Geoleadership has been to identify the vital intercultural competencies needed by U.S. business leaders working in global situations.” He calls attention to two questions not addressed at this point in the book:

  1. “…how do we recognize intercultural leadership within our global and local communities?”
  2. “…what is the future for global leadership research.”[220]

I will leave it to you to follow up on these and close by noting this comment in the final chapter:

“Goodwill, reciprocity, and the simple practice of giving and receiving is a fundamental principle of business—it is all about circulation and exchange. It works best when all parties are well intended and assume that all other parties are well intended.” [221]

Given the economic and political culture in the United States, it is very difficult to trust this. In the long and short runs we have been faced with the growing domination of corporations and industries and the reduction of choice on the part of consumers and employees. I suspect that it is going to take a major culture change in the United States before we will be able to have the kinds of business cultures Wibbeke is so optimistic about.

fairhurst discursive coverGail T. Fairhurst. Discursive Leadership: In Conversation with Leadership Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Receiving this book was a distraction. I had intended to review it in March, but I found it so compelling in relation to other reading I wish to report on (Per Linell, Rethinking Language, Mind and World Dialogically) that I couldn’t put it down the day I received it. Damn the deadlines! I have become increasingly intrigued with questions of how dialectical, dialogical and discursive processes inform an integral approach to leadership. Here was a book that promised to address at least some of that. And the promise is wonderfully fulfilled.

I will not focus on the conversation between discursive approaches to leadership and leadership psychology that plays such an important role in this book. Rather, I will extract from it a few gems that are worthy consideration in our evolving quest for an integral understanding of leadership. I see the approach advocated by the author, that is, the discursive approach, addresses some internal and external, individual and collective aspects of leadership.

But let’s begin near the beginning by her choice in selection of a definition of leadership in the face of the extraordinary confusion associated with doing so. She adopts a definition by Robinson (2001, Leadership for Quality Schooling): “Leadership is exercised when ideas expressed in talk or action are recognized by others as capable of progressing tasks or problems which are important to them.” Okay, maybe that is not a definition that you or I would choose. For example, it would lend itself to a lack of distinction between leader and manager. She does note, however, that she will use this distinction when relevant to her presentation. Nevertheless, let’s look at Fairhurst’s reasons for choosing this definition:

  1. Leadership is a process of influence and meaning management among actors that advances a task or goal.
  2. Leadership is an attribution made by stakeholders.
  3. The focus is on process, “not communication alone, as in heroic leadership models.” [6] and
  4. Influence and managing meaning making can shift among stakeholders, as can leading.

Fairhurst points out that the notion of discourse is an equally contested term ranging from written and spoken text to reality construction (as in the work of postmodernist Foucault, an author who must be considered in the work of dialogism, as well) [6]. In any case, discourse occurs in social contexts (although there are aspects of dialogism that are internal to the individual, albeit rooted in social contexts and influencers). She notes Foucault when she states: “Discourse (also known as Big ‘D’ Discourse) refers to the general and enduring systems for the formation and articulation of ideas in a historically situated time [in situ—Russ].”[7] This is an approach used by Bennis and Thomas in their 2002 book,Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders.

Rather than account for all of the work in this book, I want to focus on Chapter Four, the chapter in which Foucault’s contribution is central, and is entitled “Disciplinary Power.” This chapter offers a flavor on how “Big D” Discourse relates to leadership and where there are potentials for inclusion in the Integral Leadership enterprise. Here she explores “Foucault’s conception of Discourse and through it how leadership actors may become objects and subjects of their relationship, organizations, and societies. In this context the forces of history and culture produce disciplinary power.” [75] Leaders are quintessentially creatures of history and culture.

Rather than seeking to identify who is the leader, Foucault’s approach would ask which person is leading when, in the emergence of discourse. There is no essence of leadership to capture. Rather there are power dynamics to consider that shed light on key performance management technologies with the leadership literature, including the performance appraisal, 360-degree feedback and executive coaching.” [76]

Keep in mind that Foucault is the object of much attention by Ken Wilber as a leading postmodernist whose insistence on contextualized meaning led to relativist abuses by some of these postmodernists. I will leave it to those better steeped in these philosophies than I to articulate and argue these issues. As Wilber noted, Foucault’s position that words have meaning because of its context in relation to the words around them “and these world have meaning only because of other words, and eventually the entire network or system of signs must be studied in order to understand the meaning of any given sign or object or phenomenon in my awareness.” [Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 280]. The subject of Wilber’s treatment of Foucault and other postmodernists deserves additional attention, but I am writing this away from my library and shall defer to others.

One of those others is Wilber critic Jeff Meyerhoff who states,

“Michel Foucault, in his poststructural phase, used a method of social history writing that told a version of the past while simultaneously raising the question of the very possibility of history writing. He adapted Nietzsche’s concept of the genealogy to trace the convoluted twists and turns that particular ideas and practices go through as now this or that group appropriates them for their differing needs. The idea of history as genealogy undermines the positive evolution and developmentalism that Wilber promotes.” (Poststructuralism and Postmodernism,http://integralworld.net/)

Bauwens notes that Foucault promoted “analysing the subject as being an entity exposed to an endless series of fields of meaning.” A search for Wilber and Foucault unearths a plethora of material and commentaries. My purpose here is only to show where there may be a tension between Foucault and Wilber. These, along with notes in Boomeritis and elsewhere will keep you busy.

Fairhurst notes, “If Foucault was writing about leadership today, he would advise us to look for relations of power and domination and insist that leadership is a kind of labor power produced by systems of subjections…leaders who are made into ‘subjects’ are an interesting counterweight to leaders as crucial ‘agents’—transformational leaders, visionaries, change masters, and the like.” [76]


Leadershift—Two Uses of the Concept—Clayton and Gobillot and a Note on Role Theory
Russ Volckmann

These books are not directly related to Ervin Laszlo’s Worldshift 2012 or spin offs from that work.

clayton leadershiftDon Clayton. Leadershift: The Work-Life Balance Program. Camberwell, Victoria, Australia, 2004.

I recently discovered two books with the same primary title: Leadershift. The first published is by Australian Don Clayton, Leadershift: The Work-Life Balance Program. As the title suggests, there are lots of exercises and practices geared to individuals at work and at home. Clayton states,

“This publication is prepared to accept the wisdom of the masters like Drucker and Bennis, while staring down the shallowness and emptiness of much of what passes for ‘leadership’ and ‘development’ in organizations at this time. In fact, it extends the scope of ‘leadership’ to include not only your work life, but how you manage your personal wellbeing and the priority people with whom you live and work.”

Clearly, the focus is on work-life balance for individuals who occupy leader roles. And for Clayton, everyone is a ‘leader.’ This derives from the ideas that

  • Leadership thinking includes planning and setting objectives at home and at work.
  • Leadership intentions include personal commitment and perseverance at home and at work.
  • Leadership actions include initiative and risk-taking at home and at work.
  • Leadership relationships include influencing and monitoring performance at home and at work.

This suggests three frames of reference associated with leadership and development:

  1. The personal domain that includes awareness, wellbeing, preferences, meaning making and objectives,
  2. The priority people domain that includes personal relationships, biological relationships, mentors and mentees, and priority groups and communities.
  3. The professional domain that includes relationships with employers, competitors, and other stakeholders in one’s work and roles.

Clayton adapts Manfred Kets de Vries’ definition of leadership, an interactionalist approach that involves three sets of variables: leader, followers and situation.

  1. For the leader he includes type, values, beliefs, position and experience, thus combining upper left and upper right quadrant variables, as well as the factors involved in position (title and role) which include lower left and lower right quadrants.
  2. For followers he includes type, values, beliefs and group cohesiveness. This, again, can be interpreted through all four quadrant lenses since cohesiveness may be cultural and systemic behavior.
  3. For the situation we have lower left and lower right quadrant factors such as nature of the task, organizational life stage, culture, industry context and wider socio-economic and political context.

Leadership involves awareness of and “effective management” of these variables. Much of leadership in this sense mixes both leader and manager activities.

To assist in all these domains, Clayton offers activities and methods for addressing a number of aspects, including:

  1. Managing time and priorities,
  2. Improving wellbeing,
  3. Effective relationships with individuals and groups/teams,
  4. Developing and renewing one’s career,
  5. Enhancing competencies,
  6. Effective communication and conflict management, and
  7. Retirement.

His final chapter provides encouragement and tips for implementing the suggestions offered in this book. These include drafting a credo, identifying workplace priorities, attending to one’s health, being clear about which are your primary relationships, work on developing technical and emotional competencies and the like.


gobillot leadershift coverEmmanuel Gobillot. Leadershift: Reinventing Leadership for the Age of Mass Collaboration. Philadelphia, Kogan Page Limited, 2009.

Similar title, very different book! Gobillot is focused on recent technology facilitated shifts in how human beings are involved in doing work. A leading example is NASA’s use of 80,000 volunteers to organize photos taken from the Mars mission. Millions of photos were taken of craters. By having volunteers organize these photos, NASA was able to free up graduate students and professionals to do more complicated work. The volunteers received a minimum of training and did outstanding work. This is an example of Mass Participation. Earlier examples involve the use of thousands of personal computers volunteered by their owners to out produce the world’s fastest computer. It is Gobillot that this mass participation phenomenon will be accelerating and will have profound implications for how we think about and practice leadership.

Recently, I (and I suspect you) have been the recipient of email from Google regarding a way to earn money working from your home computer. There have been many similar appeals from obscure sources, but this came from Google! I believe this is about posting ads of something like that. In any case it may be further evidence that Gobillot is on to something—another example of “mass participation.”

Furthermore, on December 15, 2009 National Public Radio in the United States broadcast a story (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121452513) about DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) trying an experiment. Seems they like to run contests for geeks. This time, however, they widened the opportunities by positioning ten red weather balloons around the United States. The task was to find the balloons scattered around the U.S. Competing teams posted information and misinformation on Twitter and other social networking sites, thereby involving thousands of participants in the search. The MIT team won in less than nine hours. This is relevant for our purposes in that it provides still another example of explorations in mass participation.

Gobillot begins with the notion that in an age of increasing mass participation leadership might need to change. This suggests a shifting process from collaboration to communal. It changes the leadership narrative—“leadership in communities is intrinsically linked to narrative task and contribution rather than power, role and accountability. Therefore, by understanding the communal landscape we can understand the nature of the leadership requirements and start to develop new models of leadership effectiveness.” [5]

Gobillot suggests four trends with the acronym “DEAD.” This is not as threatening as it appears. The trends are:

  1. The Demographic trend in which multiple generations with different socio-cultural backgrounds are all vying in the workplace and the economy and making the traditional leader reliance on experience as a claim to position increasingly of less irrelevance.
  2. The Expertise trend in which rapidly changing technologies and socio-cultural dynamics make expertise les relevant.
  3. The Attention trend in which alternative social and informational networks make it increasingly unlikely that efforts useful in the past will continue to attract attention, and
  4. The Democratic trend in which growing organizational complexity shifts the weight of each voice into areas where traditional formal leaders lack control.

“These shifts cannot be stopped. But they are not to be feared as they offer leaders new, efficient and effective sources of value generation.” [19]

Gobillot sees the purpose of leadership has been and shall continue to be “to secure engagement, alignment, accountability and commitment.” [6] After laying out the evidence for the DEAD trends, he turns to considering what the new face of leadership will become. One are that he discusses is that of roles. I have contended that in our thinking about what it means to lead, we need to understand that individuals step into roles we label “leader.” These are social roles that are at the heart of increasing attention to leadership occurring in a relationship among individuals.

Most prominent (and recent) of this literature focuses on followers and followership, there is no leader without follower, and so on. The late Joseph Rost (Leadership for the 21st Century) anticipated this trend in his shifting the focus of leadership from the control (via one way influence models) roles of much of the literature to one of reciprocity based in part on the work of Margaret Wheatley (Leadership and the New Science) and others. Today we have the forthcoming work of Mary Uhl-Bien on relational leadership (whose best known work to date has been to edit a volume on complexity theory and leadership, Complexity Leadership: Part 1: Conceptual Foundations,http://www.integralleadershipreview.com/archives-2009/2009-03/2009-03-leadership-emerging.php) books by Ira Chaleff (The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To & For Our Leaders), and by Ron Riggio (The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organization) with Chaleff and Jean Lipmann-Blumen (a fellow academic at Claremont-McKenna College’s Kravis Leadership Institute of which Ron is the Director).

All of this is to say that fundamental to the concept of role is expectations, the expectations we have of each other in our various roles. The individual stepping into a leader role has expectations of herself in that role, as do all of the stakeholders to that role. By defining these roles we develop clarity and a sense of legitimate control. We thus have increased accountability based on expectations. Gobillot points out a second aspect of role, how we see ourselves fulfilling a position or activity in a social context. This is the sense of role that I have been suggesting for the individual occupying a leader role. And in his world of growing mass participation our sense of control is diminishing, as is our sense of how to fill a leader role. He notes that there is growing dissonance between role and self-image at work:

The demographic trend means that self-image is becoming ever more important as an entire generation no longer identifies with organizations. The expertise trend is making it ever harder for one organization to define a coherent role when the accountabilities are multiple and distributed throughout a network. The attention trend is making organizations less and less relevant to the building of social roles and norms as the tools for identity-building available to all increase exponentially. Thedemocratic trend is making it harder for leaders to take a primary role in the definition of role and self-image. [128] [emphasis added-Russ].

Consequently those in leader roles need to shifty their attention from accountabilities to successful accomplishment of tasks. Using the Linux and Wikipedia experience, many tasks are not within the purview of anyone’s role. Rather,

“These are completed because individuals who define themselves through the community’s existence would do anything to make it strong, irrespective of whether or not they accountable for these tasks through their role.” [128] Thus identification is with the community. Roles no longer drive accountability. “What the leader is there to do is to facilitate the creation of coherence by letting community members create that logic [for sorting through roles and accountabilities to resolve conflicts with self-image—Russ] for themselves whilst reinforcing the need of the community.” [131]

Gobillot sees a series of shifts taking place in order to strengthen community and promote accomplishments on its behalf. The first is from clarity to simplicity. Complexity is a source of considerable stress. Effective engagement requires simplicity. The role of leaders is to position themselves at the crossroads where the community comes before determining what it stands for by articulating where the organization or community is heading through the development of coherence.

A second shift is from plans to narratives. Gobillot emphasizes the importance of narrative in the life of an organization. “A narrative helps a community in two ways. First it clarifies the role of mass collaboration in a business and second it helps participants align their action to the delivery of value.” [106] Leaders must facilitate the narrative evolution involving social processes and alignment with mission. This involves shifting from planning to narrative evolution.

As an aside, the role and nature of narrative is one element under consideration in a remarkable book by Per Linell (Rethinking Language, Mind, and World Dialogically: Interactional and contextual theories of Human Sense-Making), reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Integral Leadership Review. From an integral point of view, this work shows the importance of a dialogical understanding of the role of language in sense-making, as opposed to a strictly monological understanding. Linell argues for the primacy of dialogical understanding of communication, meaning making, sense making and gives attention to the role of narrative. The link to integral is the recognition that the processes involved in the development and use of narrative (as well as other languaging processes) involves a dialogical interaction between individual and context.

A third shift is for a focus on roles to a focus on tasks. I explored this a bit above. I would add only that Gobillot offers the compangnonnage(guild) movement of the Renaissance as a model for leadership under conditions of mass participation. These are open communities where one’s status or position at any time is a product of one’s reputation, capabilities and craftsmanship. It would seem that an equivalent craft of a leader is in the ongoing evolution of the organization’ narrative.

Shift number four is from money to love. I remember Roger Harrison in the 1980s writing about the role of love in organizations, an approach that was looked upon askance by clients and trepidation by consultants. But now, as Tim Sanders noted, Love is the Killer App in which he argued that leaders build success through knowledge, networking and compassion. Kevin Roberts introduced another threefold model building on Sanders’ work:

  1. Mystery—the use of inspiring stories;
  2. Sensuality—all of the senses are evoked; and
  3. Intimacy—through empathy and passion.

All of this gets at the issue of motivation—money or commitment. Gobillot states,

…what ultimately determines any business’s success is not the provision of a power answer to the question [of motivation]…but rather an ability to ensure the question never arises. When we have a simple, well articulated narrative, supported by a focus on tasks, everyone is clear bout how to achieve the purpose that drew the community together. [137]

In the context of mass participation, commitment is about a specific undertaking and obligation, a determination to do something, accomplish some task. This, in turn, leads to sustaining relationships. Money plays an important role in initiating such a relationship. Money buys performance, but not commitment. “Money is a currency for motivation, not the motivation itself.” And “it can destroy the very social and moral obligations we seek to introduce.” [144] Love of community is what provides motivation. Leaders create social incentives by attending to community, rather than the individual.

By facilitating conversations leaders can “DEAD trend-proof” their organizations. For leaders to develop their strengths and capacities for resilience necessary to do this, they must

  1. Learn to do nothing. Their roles are to arbitrate for the community, when they are called upon, in the shaping of outcomes.
  2. Contribute to the narrative with the contribution of others.
  3. Build personal reputation, thus earn the right to lead—“thinking about your impact and managing your influence is a strength successful leaders have.” [164]
  4. Learn to love what you do.

This is no standard list of the challenges of leader development and skills.

Certainly, you can see the challenges and the shifts suggested by Gobillot’s explorations. What comes up for me is “Yes/And.” The “Yes” is that I can see the increasing use of mass participation in organizations and communities as technology and socio-economic and political complexity demands and allows it. The “And” is that there is a great deal of human activity in organizations and communities that suggest continued use of more traditional forms of organizing, identifying and managing work. Leadership as a phenomenon or an occurrence will continue to take many forms over the coming years. These forms will demand a wide variety of behaviors and relationship models, shaped in part by culture and by systems, including technology.

This in no way takes away from the impressive contribution made by Gobillot. His is, indeed, an integral perspective in that he is seeing both individual and collective interacting through culture and systems. But as is the case for so many of us, we are challenged to understand the evolutionary dynamics of which Gobillot speaks as they are informed the life conditions and waves of development among the populations. The tasks before us are daunting. And we have Gobillot to thank for adding elements of clarity about what we might anticipate and explore.


A Note on Role Theory

journal of occupational scienceRole theory can mean many things to various disciplines in academia. Here is an account of criticisms of role theory and my responses.

Jeanne Jackson, “Contemporary Criticisms of Role Theory,” Journal of Occupational Science, August 1998, Vol 5, No 2, pp 49-55.

Abstract: This article examines contemporary criticisms of role theory that question its accuracy in depicting human behavior. Five criticisms are discussed. First, role theory reifies ideologies into concrete entities, rendering a sense of universality. Second, role theory places greater emphasis on social conformity than questioning social policies. Third, the socialization process, as depicted by role theory, lacks comprehensiveness. Fourth, human agency is not sufficiently addressed in role theory. Fifth, role theory promotes the notion of segmented rather than enfolded occupations. [49]

I will comment only on the first four in order to clarify the sense in which I and I believe, Gobillot, find value in the notion of roles.

First, here is a rather lengthy quote from her article that sets the stage for this discussion:

Role theories are predominantly concerned with describing the mechanisms by which individuals are socialized to assume congruous societal roles in a manner that sustains a stable social order. In this sense, “role theory may be said to concern itself with a triad of concepts: patterned and characteristic social behavior, parts or identities that are assumed by social participants, and scripts or expectations for behaviors that are understood by all and adhered to by performers”[50]. Specifically, these theories are organized around the notion that individuals occupy a variety of social roles or positions, each of which specifies certain normative behaviors and attitudes. Depending on the theoretical perspective of the author, normative behaviors and attitudes can be defined in terms of specific prescriptions or a “broad set of imperatives”. As a role occupant, one not only endorses normative behavioral expectations for oneself, but also holds expectations for those individuals occupying counter-positions. This situation is exemplified in the reciprocal roles of the physician-patient dyad. According to role theory, the physician is expected to use his or her expertise in maintaining an authoritative attitude and prescribing medical intervention that cures dysfunction. The patient, who assumes a counter-position, is expected to diligently obey the physician’s orders with the sincere intent of getting well. In this example, for the social interaction to run smoothly, it is critical that both role occupants understand their social position, share the behavioral expectations associated with their positions in society, and, for the most part, enact those expectations and scripts.

Consensus and conformity are central concepts in role theory used to explain social integration. Role theorists, especially those following the functionalist tradition, celebrate normative consensus among members of society as a whole or specific groups, as the foundation for maintaining an integrated harmonious social order. As Biddle states, “social systems are presumably better integrated and interactions within them proceed more smoothly, when normative consensus is obtained”.

What becomes clear in this description is that there is not a common ground in role theory. Furthermore, the values and assumptions of researchers have strongly impacted they research and theory about roles e.g., Biddle’s assumption about normative consensus. [50, Footnotes omitted]

In (re)introducing the notion of roles in leadership theory I would like to offer the themes that bring value added.

  1. Roles are defined on the basis of expectations.
  2. There is no mandate that all stakeholders, including the role occupant, have consensus on what those expectations are, hence the phenomenon of role conflict. And add to that the fact that different expectations are the stuff of politics, problem solving, decision making and so on in human systems. In fact, it is useful to have diverse sets of expectations for understanding events.
  3. When role theorists site one set of expectations, it will virtually always be a partial description of expectations for that role on the part of stakeholders.
  4. Expectations change over time and as life conditions change.
  5. One’s own expectations for a role are a reflection on the intentions, assumptions beliefs, values and worldview (among other factors) held by the individual.

These points are relevant for the criticisms of role theory. I will mention a couple of examples here. For a more though discussion see the Jackson article.

“Role theory perpetuates a normative illusion, the notion that so-called normative behavioral expectations associated with a role reflect the actual behaviors of the majority of people. [51]

Behaviors may be influenced by a wide range of factors, such as life conditions, primary relationships in other roles, etc. When it comes to evaluating the performance of an individual in a leader role, formally or informally, through objective or subjective lenses, accounting for both the individual’s expectations about that performance, as well as stakeholder expectations, is essential. From a first person perspective, the individual makes choices based on their own expectations and her understanding of the expectations of stakeholders. From a second person perspective, an individual who is a stakeholder will evaluate performance (as well as make choices about participation) based on his expectations of performance of that role. Finally, an observer, an evaluator or a researcher can offer a 3rd person perspective. She brings expectations about what accounts for effective leadership.

The difficulty with the critique above is that it is a straw man, perhaps based on the misplaced emphases of theorists or researchers. Expectations will vary widely depending on the particular positions of stakeholders (follower, collaborator, competitor, etc.) so even thinking in terms of majorities is misplaced. The question is, what is the constellation of expectations? Further, how does the individual in the leader role dance with the variations among the expectations of others, as well as her own expectations? While some theorists may have gone down the prickly path of accounting for majorities, my point is that attending to the constellation of expectations is a mare fruitful and integral approach.

Connell argues that the emergence of role theory in the social sciences supported a conservative political ideology that attempted to maintain social cohesiveness and restrict resistance to the established social norms defined by those in power. Role theory promotes social conformity by endorsing a normative analysis of human behavior, implying that certain behaviors exist that exemplify the “proper way to live. [51]

The history of role theory is interesting but should not be used to impair the use of the notion of role in understanding leadership. Certainly, there is nothing in how Gobillot or I would apply the notion of role that links it either to a particular ideology or support of conformity. Rather, it is an analytical device for understanding the dynamics of leadership in a way that recognizes the importance of individual and collective, internal and external, organization and governance (a la Mark Edwards) and other factors.

“Role theory designates the process of socialization as the mechanism for intergenerational transfer of so-called normative values and behaviors.” [52]

The tension in the critiques about role learning seem to me to be that which exists between monological and dialogical assumptions about learning. For us, the challenge is to consider how both play a part in learning. Relying on one only would justify the critique that role learning is a simplification of what actually happens for individual learning.

Role theory fails to provide an authentic account of human agency, more specifically, the subjective experience of an individual’s engagement in occupation, the resistive efforts by some individuals to change existing social practices, and the creative methods employed by some people to adapt to their situations. [52]

This criticism may be accurate in describing how role theorists have used the notion of role; in fact, all of the criticisms may have value in that context. But there is nothing in the notion of role, per se, that should preclude attending to human agency or subjective experience.

Well, enough. I have added this piece to the review of Clayton and Gobillot because I have had responses from some who have expressed concern with the use of role theory in exploring Integral Leadership. Given the criticisms raised in Jackson’s article, that is understandable. But there is no reason that I have found to throw out the concept. Rather, we have an opportunity to use an integral approach for addressing the factors concerned with role, e.g., its definition by stakeholders, how definition evolves and changes, how it influences and is influenced by life conditions and the like.

The use of the concept of role in leadership theory is not new; how closely it is aligned with role theory may be questionable, but Bernard Bass, Fred Fiedler, Robert House, and Ed Schien are but three of many examples of attention to leader as role. A useful article on the subject that discusses context and type in relation to leader behaviors and role theory is Shivers-Blackwell, Sheryl L., “Using Role Theory to Examine Determinants of Transformational and Transactional Leader Behavior.” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, January 2004.

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