Management hurdles: How to cope with issues related to Role Theory?

In my last post I wrote about the simple fact that most of the people confronted with Change tend to resist it. In a certain way the “role theory” is part of the problem, this is why I want to examine this piece of theory a little closer…

First of all: Let’s make some assumptions!
I tend to proclaim four basic rules related to roles that one defines for himself and those for others…

  1. People define roles for themselves and others based on social learning.
  2. People form expectations about the roles that they and others play.
  3. People subtly encourage others to act within the role expectations they have for them.
  4. People will act within the roles they adopt.

Second step: Description and clarification!
We all have internal schemas about the role of leaders, based on what discuss and learn from our social environment. 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 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.
Third step: Conclusion!
Initially I said that all of this is related to resistance to change. Of course in an indirect and subtle form, but one could say that, when role expectations are low or mixed, then this may also lead to role conflicts – and during processes of Change both is being the case.

So what should executives do? I tried to create an easy three-step model that I named “ACU-model” to deal with role problems:

  1. Analysis: Know your role and the roles of selected other persons of importance for the change process.
  2. Connections: Examine the relations of each role as well as potential conflicts between them.
  3. Unbundling: Segregate role relations and enforce isolated role actions.

As a result of the ACU-model you will achieve two things: 

  1. A clear overview of all roles and related expectations
  2. A hierarchy of the roles that are the most important and therefore the most sensitive ones.


Picture credits

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