Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Using Role Theory to Examine Determinants of Transformational and Transactional Leader Behavior

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Using Role Theory to Examine Determinants of Transformational and Transactional Leader Behavior

Article excerpt

Managers can and do behave differently in similar organizations and within similar jobs. Role theory is proposed to be useful in understanding and determining how managers' perceptions of the organizational setting influence their leadership behaviors. This paper seeks to: (1) introduce role theory as a mechanism for explaining the relationship between organizational context and leadership behavior; (2) integrate transformational and transactional leadership theories with research on organizational context and role theory; and (3) identify organizational contextual and personality variables that influence transformational and transactional leadership behaviors.


This paper addresses how managers' perceptions of context influence or constrain their utilization of transactional and transformational leadership behaviors. This paper also examines the role of personality in order to provide some insight into the question of why managers within the same organization view organizational context differently, which may further help to explain variations in leader behavior.

Role Theory: An Overview

Researchers have found many examples of leaders within the same objective context demonstrating different levels of transformational and transactional leadership (Bass, 1985; Bass, Avolio, & Goodheim, 1987; Hater & Bass, 1988; Howell & Higgins, 1990; Popper & Zakkai, 1994). It is clear that the objective organizational context influences leadership behavior, however, it has also been argued that interpretations of context shapes leader behavior (Ferris, Frink, Galang, Zhou, Kacmar, & Howard, 1996; Porter, 1976; Lewin, 1936). If this is the case, Merton's (1957) role theory may be helpful in examining how managers perceive context as creating expectations for their role as leaders and in further understanding their use of transformational and transactional leadership behaviors.

The Mechanisms of Role Theory

Associated with every work environment is a set of activities or roles that are defined as potential behaviors to be performed in accordance with a specific job. To understand and describe the process of how work environments engender certain behaviors, a number of role-related concepts will be examined: role set, role expectations, sent role, role pressures, role forces, and role behavior (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, & Snoek, 1964). See Figure 1.


Role set refers to any feature of the organization that is able to send role expectations/requirements and role pressures to the manager. Kahn et al. 1964 states that a role set refers to the interdependence that each member of an organization has with other members, usually the occupants of offices adjacent to theirs in the work-flow structure or in the hierarchy of authority. A manager's role set usually includes his or her immediate supervisor, subordinates, and certain members of other departments with whom he/she works closely.

Though Kahn et al. (1964) focus primarily on individuals within the organization as role senders; Stewart's (1967, 1976, 1982) demands-constraints-choices model asserts that characteristics of the organization also serve as influential role senders. She notes that the organization provides demands and constraints that provide a minimum core of required duties, activities, standards, objectives, and responsibilities that must be met by managers and can neither be ignored nor delegated. Yukl (1989) describes these demands and constraints as limiting ,manager's choices in the short-run; however, in the long-run the leader has opportunities to modify demands and eliminate certain constraints, thereby expanding choices (p.154). Yukl (1989) also notes that demands and constraints will differ even within the same job depending on the perceptions of the jobholder, rather than on objective job characteristics. See Figure 2.


Role expectations refer to the degree to which all members of the manager's role set develop beliefs and attitudes about what the manager should and should not do as part of his/her role (Kahn et al. …

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