Origin and nature of symbolic interactionism

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The term ‘communicative leadership’ refers to leaders who engage followers in communication. The concept emerged in the late 1990s in response to a changing business environment, and a movement towards value-based leadership. Initially only vaguely defined, the concept was associated with dialogue, openness, feedback, coordination and synergy (Johansson et al 2014:148). The contemporary notion of communicative leadership (Johansson et al 2014:153) points to leaders who are not merely communicating, but who are good communicators in their daily responsibilities, outperforming non-communicative leaders in achieving organisational objectives and motivating followers.Based on the research of scholars such as Fairhurst (2005) and Simonsson (2002), Johansson et al (2014) posit that leaders’ communication is influenced by the following individual requirements: communication awareness (adapting one’s messages to the receiver/s in the context); communication acquaintance, which can be developed through communication training; communication attitude, which influences communication behaviour (for example, leaders who view communication as important will devote time to ILC), and communication ability, which relates to both communication competence and enacting communication in a particular context, which may facilitate or hinder communication.Johansson et al (2014) proposes a theoretical framework for communicative leadership that consists of the following: four central leader communication behaviours, based on early notions of communicative leadership and integrated research findings in the two main historical traditions of communication scholarship (communication behaviour and communication discourse); eight foundational principles of communicative leadership, amalgamated from both quantitative and qualitative research studies; and a theoretically grounded definition of a communicative leader. These aspects are discussed below.

Four central leader communication behaviours

Johansson et al (2014) found four common leader communication behaviour categories that apply across various organisational contexts: initiating structure; facilitating work; relational dynamics; and representing the unit. The authors discuss each of these at both the leaderfollower level and the work-unit level. For the purpose of this study, the leader-follower level is more relevant and is therefore the only level discussed below.These sets of communication behaviours can be linked to outcomes on different levels. At the leader-follower level, effective leader communication reportedly results in greater follower role clarity, commitment to the organisation, and being more engaged in work assignments (DeRue et al 2011). Because of these effects, communicative leadership produces greater individual performance (DeRue et al 2011; Johansson et al 2014; Morgeson et al 2010).

Initiating structure

Leaders do the following to initiate structure: planning and allocating tasks (proactively developing assignments, designing clear, complementary roles, and defining priorities and authority); and setting goals and expectations (setting challenging yet achievable work targets, and maintaining clear standards for individual performance (Johansson et al 2014).

Facilitating work

Facilitating work involves coaching and training followers on the necessary knowledge and skills. Coaching and training develop followers’ job skills and include supporting them in learning new tasks, suggesting more effective approaches to tasks, and providing opportunities for improving job skills. Performance feedback comprises giving regular, clear and constructive appraisal of followers’ work, including recognition of contributions, balance between positive and negative feedback, and using a respectful tone during evaluations (Johansson et al 2014). Performance feedback to employees is essential for facilitating improvement (Morgeson, DeRue & Karam 2010).

Relational dynamics

Regarding relational dynamics, leaders should be perceived as ‘open’ listeners, giving feedback, trustworthy (DeRue et al 2011; Johansson et al 2014; Morgeson et al 2010), supportive, and managing conflict constructively. Openness means providing adequate and truthful information, being receptive to feedback, and listening non-defensively. Supportiveness refers to behaving considerately towards followers, taking an interest in their wellbeing, and being available and helpful when needed. Constructive conflict management involves resolving disagreements in a fair and respectful manner (Johansson et al 2014).

Representing the unit

Representing the unit involves exerting upward influence and being able to obtain resources (such as supplies or rewards) from senior management. Upward influence refers to shaping upper management’s opinions and actions (Johansson et al 2014)

Eight foundational principles of communicative leadership

The eight key principles of communicative leadership put forward by Johansson et al (2014) are that communicative leaders: equip followers to self-manage; provide structures that facilitate the work; set clear expectations; are approachable and demonstrate concern for followers; solve problems, respond to feedback, and advocate for the team; provide guidance and help followers to achieve their goals; frame messages and events; and facilitate sensemaking. These are discussed briefly below.

Communicative leaders coach and equip employees to be self-managing

Communicative leaders coach and equip followers to be self-managing, providing compelling rationales for job designs and individual and team objectives. They solicit followers’ input when solving problems and making decisions, improving their own understanding of relevant issues, and reinforcing follower commitment. People are more collaborative when working on joint goals (Johansson et al 2014:154). Making decisions together increases people’s social commitment to one another and to the decision (Kanji 2008).

Communicative leaders provide structures that facilitate the work

Communicative leaders provide structures that facilitate the work. They create effective processes, create safe spaces that invite followers to express themselves, listen and respond to feedback, and are willing to implement change (Johansson et al 2014:154). Communicative leaders guide followers through intellectual stimulation, by articulating a vision and by setting an example (Días-Sáenz 2011).

Communicative leaders set clear expectations

Communicative leaders set clear expectations, clarifying priorities, long-term goals and shortterm objectives, and checking if followers need their help. In collaboration with followers, they set high performance goals and establish how work will be evaluated. Communicative leaders give feedback that is specific, balanced, timely and unconnected to financial rewards. They are also receptive and responsive to negative feedback (Johansson et al 2014:154).

Communicative leaders are approachable, respectful, and express concern for followers

Communicative leaders are approachable and respectful, and listen to followers’ concerns. They promote a positive team climate, show concern for followers and share adequate information truthfully and appropriately (Johansson et al 2014:154). Communicative leaders respect and develop followers, encouraging them to contribute to the team (DeRue et al 2011).

Communicative leaders actively engage in problem solving, follow up on feedback, and advocate for the unit

Communicative leaders actively solve problems, respond to feedback, and advocate for the unit. They seek and share information with followers, peers and superiors to address issues.They use networking to learn more about the organisational context, unit needs and unit members’ abilities. Networking is part of the representing behaviours in the theoretical framework (Johansson et al 2014).

Communicative leaders convey direction and help followers to achieve their goals

Communicative leaders provide direction and help followers to achieve their goals. They comprehend how their team contributes to the organisation’s goals, and convey this insight to followers, often through daily informal conversations (Johansson et al 2014:155).

Communicative leaders actively frame messages and events

Communicative leaders actively frame organisational messages, processes and events, knowing that such framing influences followers’ sense-making and communication. They deliberately plan and seek feedback on their framing (Johansson et al 2014:155). According to (Fairhurst 2005), a leader can learn framing skills, but this competence depends on the leader’s motivation and his/her insight into the co-constructed aspects of reality.

Communicative leaders facilitate sense-making

Communicative leaders facilitate sense-making, recognising that followers constantly make sense of events and communication. Therefore, they use dialogue and stories, and facilitate sense-making in formal and informal interactions (Johansson et al 2014:155)

A theoretically grounded definition of a communicative leader

Johansson et al (2014:155) define a communicative leader as one who “engages employees in dialogue, actively shares and seeks feedback, practises participative decision making, and is perceived as open and involved”. They posit that the behaviours described in their definition are socially co-constructed, shaping leader/followers’ interactions.

Communicative leadership and hierarchical levels

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Johansson et al (2014) present their theoretical framework of ‘communicative leadership’ as relevant for leaders at top, middle and team levels. For leaders in top management, structuring and representing behaviours may be more important than developing and interacting behaviours. However, face-to-face communication (openness, listening and strategic messages) is important for employee awareness of strategic goals. Even sophisticated communication systems cannot replace the richness of interpersonal interaction between toplevel and frontline managers. Close contact is also essential for developing trust.Middle managers’ representing behaviours are probably stronger than those of team leaders.Middle management’s communication is both facilitated and constrained by the organisational environment and relations with top managers. Top management’s narration of the rationales leading to the organisational goals informs middle managers how present objectives relate to past ones. In addition, failure by top management to consider and reward middle managers’ ideas decreases their motivation to present such ideas (Johansson et al 2014:158).Balogun (2006) and Balogun and Johnson (2005) found that middle management has a considerable impact on the outcomes of organisational strategy, because these managers routinely engage in upward, downward and lateral communication. Thus, they interpret messages in various ways, and also influence each other’s sense-making processes (Johansson et al 2014:158). Middle managers may encourage different interpretations across hierarchical levels, or they may engage lower-level managers and employees in dialogue to develop a shared understanding in the unit (Thomas, Sargent and Hardy 2011). They use contextually relevant symbols and values to motivate followers. In this manner, they influence how organisational members view the organisation and its values (Smith & Plowman 2010).

Relevance to this study

Of the four central leader communication behaviours (Johansson et al 2014), initiating structure and facilitating work are more relevant to management than to leadership, and are moderately relevant to this study in so far as how the leader/follower communicates on a relational level while achieving these functions at an informational level. The matter of relational dynamics is highly relevant to ILR; hence the dimensions of this leader behaviour were considered in this study. Representing the unit to senior management is an important aspect of leadership, but less relevant to this study, unless it specifically involves ILC.Regarding’s the principles of communicative leadership (Johansson et al 2014), the following principles are relatively unimportant for this study, centring more on management than leadership as a relationship: coaching and equipping employees to self-manage; providing structures that facilitate the work; setting clear expectations; actively solving problems, responding to feedback, and advocating for the team; and giving guidance and helping others to achieve their goals. However, it is suggested that the manner in which these functions are performed or especially neglected will have relational implications from a systems perspective, a symbolic interactionism perspective and particularly the perspective of Axiom 1 (one cannot not communicate) of relational communication (Watzlawick et al 1967/2011).The following principles of communicative leadership (Johansson et al 2014) are considered highly relevant to this study, in terms of facilitating ILR from a systems perspective and a symbolic interactionism perspective: being approachable and respectful, and expressing concern for the other leader/follower; actively framing messages and events; and facilitating sense-making. These were taken into account for this study.The definition of a communicative leader (Johansson et al 2014:155) cited under Item 6.5.3 is highly relevant to this study. Although Johansson et al (2014) state that their definition and framework comprises socially co-constructed behaviours, such social co-construction and the implied interchangeability of the leader/follower roles were emphasised even more strongly in this study, both from a systems perspective and a symbolic interactionism perspective.


Based on the theoretical foundation of this study as discussed in Chapters 2-6, a preliminary conceptual framework for ILR in knowledge-based contexts is presented in this section. The preliminary framework consists of a definition and a model, which was subsequently adapted and expanded, based on the results of this study.

Preliminary definition of ILR

The preliminary definition of ILR in knowledge-based organisational contexts is formulated as follows:Interpersonal leadership relations is a dynamic, relational process in which two or more leader/followers share meaning through symbolic interaction at an informational level to collaborate on a task, and at a relational level to define and redefine their selves and their relationship.

Preliminary model of ILR

Based on the theoretical research in Chapters 2-6, a preliminary model of interpersonal leadership communication is presented in Figure 6.3

1.1  Introduction
1.2  Context of the study
1.3  Conceptualisation of key terms
1.4  Type of study
1.5  Conclusion and exposition of chapters
2.1  Introduction
2.2  General origin and nature of the systems theory
2.3  Qualities of systems
2.4   Critique of the systems theory
2.5   Conclusion
3.1   Introduction
3.2   Origin and nature of symbolic interactionism
3.3   Symbolic interaction
3.4   Meaning
3.5   The nature of selfhood
3.6   Critique of symbolic interactionism
3.7   Conclusion
4.1  Introduction
4.2   The leadership trait approach
4.3  Behavioural or leadership style approaches
4.4 The contingency or situational approach
4.5  Emergent or informal leadership
4.6  Servant leadership
4.7  Leader-member exchange theory
4.8  The New Leadership movement
4.9   Authentic leadership
4.10 Relational leadership theory
4.11 Shared leadership
4.12 Spiritual leadership
4.13 Summary of the leadership perspectives
4.14 Conclusion
5.1  Introduction
5.2  Social constructionism
5.3  Watzlawick,  Beavin  Bavelas  and  Jackson’s  axioms  of relational communication
5.4   Attribution theory
5.5  Rokeach’s comprehensive theory of change (beliefs, attitudes and values)
5.6  Summary of the interpersonal communication perspectives on leadership
5.7   Conclusion
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Barrett’s leadership communication framework
6.3  Mitchell’s conceptual framework of leadership communication skills
6.4  Hackman and Johnson’s communication perspective on leadershi
6.5  Johansson, Miller and Hamrin’s ‘communicative leadership
6.6  A preliminary conceptual framework for iLR
6.7   Conclusion
7.1  Introduction
7.2  Unit of analysis
7.3 Population parameters
7.4  Sampling: Non-probability sampling
7.5  Data collection method: Triangulation
7.6  Data analysis and interpretation method: Qualitative content analysis
7.7  Trustworthiness
7.8  Ethical considerations
7.9  Conclusion
8.1 Introduction
8.2 A shift towards collaboration
8.3 Advances in communication technology
8.4 Cultural diversity in the workplace
8.5 Leadership concept
8.6 Synopsis of Theme 1
8.7 Conclusion
9.1 Introduction
9.2 The LFD as the locus of interpersonal leadership
9.3  Relational communication in the LFD
9.4 (Re)definition of self through ILR
9.5   Attribution in the leader-follower dyad
9.6  Role-taking in the leader-follower dyad
9.7  Maintaining system balance in the LFD
9.8 Meaning and purpose through ILR
9.9  Emergent properties of the LFD
9.10 System outputs into the organisation (systems theory)
9.11 Conclusion
10.2 Values
10.3 Competencies
10.4 Synopsis of key constructs across major themes
10. Conclusion
11.2 A theoretically based definition of constructive interpersonal leadership relations
11.3 A general model of ILR
11.4 An organisational environment that supports ILR
11.5Constructive interpersonal leadership relations
11.6 Leader/follower attributes that enhance ILR
11.7 Conclusion
12.2Contributions of the study
12.3 Limitations of the study
12.4 Recommendations for further research
12.5 Conclusion

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