Analyzing Roles and Leadership in Organizations From Cognitive Complexity and Meaning-Making Perspectives

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Organizations can be seen as social systems with hierarchical structures and roles at different levels of complexity with correspondingly different complexity of tasks. This article applies the perspectives of two theories from the field of adult development, namely, the model of hierarchical complexity (MHC) and ego development theory (EDT) to analyze stratified systems theory (SST). Although the theories are not regarded as strictly comparable and commensurable on account of differences in basic assumptions and methods of the theories, the analysis leads to the conclusion that descriptions of role complexity and individual capabilities in SST, to some extent, correspond to descriptions of developmental levels according to the MHC and EDT. Both comparisons support the notion that task and leadership complexity increases with organizational level, and thereby demonstrates support for the existence of qualitatively different levels of leadership. However, based on the methodological choices of the study, it is beyond the scope of the article to validate the key concepts, constructs in SST, as well as provide support or nonsupport for the proposed value of application in practice. Furthermore, we point out the lack of a more thorough analysis and comparison between the theories built on rich empirical material. Nevertheless, we conclude that the MHC, EDT and SST are fruitful lenses that can further the understanding of organizations as social systems with hierarchical structures.

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