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Role modelling in manager development: learning that which cannot be taught

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Purpose ‐ This is an empirical article which aims to examine the extent and nature of management role modelling and the learning achieved from role modelling. The article argues that the spread of taught management development and formal mentoring programmes has resulted in the neglect of practice-knowledge and facets of managerial character formation, the learning of which are largely attributable to informal role modelling. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Empirical research was conducted with middle manager respondents who compiled portfolios of images representing the process of their "becoming" managers. Respondents then participated in in-depth interviews to explore their portfolios. Findings ‐ Respondents typically learned from observing several positive role models and at least one negative role model. Positive role models were selected on the basis of charisma but also competence and contextual compatibility. The key lessons respondents learned from role models involved values, attitudes and ethical stances. Research limitations/implications ‐ The research study was limited to a particular group of middle managers, MBA student-managers and recent graduates and ways of extending the research are suggested. Implications for HRD research include the significance of social learning in managers' lives and of social learning theory in explicating the processes of manager development. Practical implications ‐ Managers require training in recognising the contribution of role models to their practice, in selecting role models and in deriving learning from role models. Originality/ value ‐ Management role modelling has been little researched to date. Through in-depth qualitative research and analysis, the article addresses this gap.
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Keywords: Informal learning; Management development; Management practice; Middle managers; Role modelling

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2011

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