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* Academy of Management Review

1994. Vol. 19, No. 1, 17-50.

AUTHORITY AT WORK: INTERNAL MODELS AND


THEIR ORGANIZATIONAL CONSEQUENCES
WILLIAM A. KAHN
KATHY E. KRAM
Boston University
This article focuses on how organization members authorize and deauthorize both others and themselves in the course of doing their
work. We argue that these authorizing processes are shaped, in part,
by enduring, often unacknowledged stances toward authority itself.
In tum, we suggest that these stances are enacted in similar ways
across hierarchical and collaborative work arrangements and across
various roles and positions. These stances areas Hirschhom (1990)
suggestedinternalized models. Working from a theoretical framework that combines concepts from developmental and clinical psychology, group dynamics, and organizational behavior, we define
and illustrate three types of internal models of authority: dependence,
counterdependence, and interdependence. We offer propositions
about how these internal models influence organization members'
behaviors during task performances generally, and more specifically,
as members of hierarchical dyads and work teams. We also suggest
propositions about how these internal models of authority are triggered and change in the context of organizational life. Finally, we
offer research methods and strategies by which to empirically examine these propositions.

Quite a lot is known about the nature and use of authority in traditional hierarchical organizations. Authority is defined as the given right
to perform roles; such rights are legitimated by consensual decisions
codified in constitutions, contracts, charters, rulings, and other accepted
institutional sanctions (Cartwright, 1965; Gilman, 1962; Katz & Kahn,
1987). Work organizations depend on members occupying roles of authority to ensure the predictable performance of organizational tasks (Simon,
1947). It is when organization members occupy their work roles (i.e., identify themselves with the authority mandated to those roles) that they have
the legitimate power to pursue their rights, duties, and obligations in the
service of their tasks. Authority offers a legitimate base to have power
and from which to influence others and bring about the completion of
work tasks. It is legitimate power vested in particular people or positions
for system purposes (Weber, 1947).
This definition of authority is particularly well suited to traditional
hierarchical organizations that operate according to powers vested in
specific offices and, therefore, officeholders. Organization members' tra17

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ditionally legitimate rights to wield power derive from occupying offices


that have affixed to them particular rules of influence, which specify the
officeholders by whom they are influenced and those over whom they
wield influence (Barnard, 1938; Simon, 1947; Weber, 1947). These rules are
woven into the fabric of the traditional hierarchical bureaucracy, giving
order and predictability to transactions among officeholders. It is increasingly the case, however, that traditional hierarchical bureaucratic organizations are changing, and with them are changing the ways in which
authority and power are distributed among their members. Handy (1989:
130) wrote convincingly that "the changing complexity, variety, and
spread of reaction which is now a feature of so many organizations"
makes it increasingly difficult to specify and reify in advance exactly who
should be doing what, when, in what order, and with whom for successful
task performance. Thus, organization members must negotiate such parameters themselves. Hirschhorn (1988, 1990) pushed this idea further,
noting that the pace, depth, and accumulation of change in the postindustrial organizational setting requires the maximum use of human resources. Such use, in turn, results in collaboration between leaders and
subordinates whereby duty and authority are negotiated: "The leader no
longer charts the organization's work, with subordinates lined up to do
the bidding. Instead, the leader and the subordinates must collaborate"
(Hirschhorn, 1990: 529). Such collaboration is at the core of what Lawler
(1988) describes as high involvement systems.
Such collaboration is based on negotiated authority, whereby leader
and subordinates jointly decide the scope of the power each has over their
tasks (Handy, 1989). Such decisions authorize leaders and subordinates to
be responsible for certain aspects of task performance. Authorizing is the
giving of authority, that is, the right to do work. Organization members
are authorized not simply when they are assigned responsibility for tasks
(i.e., delegated authority) but also when they are supported by others who
are either formally or informally connected to those roles. Organization
members are de-authorized when such support is withheld (even when
their rights have been formally delegated). In traditional bureaucratic
organizations, officeholders become authorized by the power of the offices they occupy. In more collaborative work arrangements, organization
members become authorized less through their identification with particular offices and more through their negotiations with other members
about task performances. As these newer organization forms become
more prevalent and necessary, it becomes increasingly appropriate to
conceptualize authority in terms of its underlying process dimensions:
the ways that organization members authorize and de-authorize both others and themselves in the course of doing their work.
Although authorizing and de-authorizing processes have not been
examined directly, it is clear that they occur in ongoing co-worker relations. Implicit in existing literatures on traditional authority is the following premise: How organization members actually work from roles of au-

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thority to accomplish tasks is not simply a matter of legitimation and


mandate, it is also a result of actual interactions between leaders and
followers (Gabarro & Kotter, 1980). It is within such interactions that the
scope and limits of the authority of both leaders and followers are negotiated (Bendix, 1974). Both leaders and followers are separately interpreting the nature of the leader's authority (i.e., given rights, duties, obligations, privileges, and powers), which cannot translate into power and
influence unless it is acknowledged by followers as valid (Gouldner, 1954;
Simon, 1947). Interactions between leaders and followers become joint
interpretations of authority, because each one can increase or decrease
the other's authority by offering or withholding legitimating support
(Bass, 1990) irrespective of formal delegation of task responsibility. This
interpretive process is often unconscious, as Barnard (1938) pointed out in
defining the zone of indifference to describe how followers automatically
defined their leaders' orders as acceptable unless the illegitimate nature
of those orders (on various dimensions) triggered their conscious questioning. What is actually triggered is the conscious process of authorizing
and de-authorizing oneself and others to engage in work.
Authority Relations

Researchers know little else directly about authorizing and deauthorizing processes in work organizations. However, there is a long
tradition of research and theory on authority relations (which generally
does not include the new collaborative organization forms), which points
to two fundamental types of influencessifuafionaJ and individualon
how organization members define and create their authority relations.
Each of these influences shapes the dynamics of authority and power
(Bass, 1990; House, 1988). The situational factors generally focus on how
organization members are externally driven to conform with existing
norms of thought and action, with a primary focus on "followership." The
literature on individual factors generally relates to how individuals are
internally driven toward power in certain ways, with a primary focus on
leadership. Each influence offers clues to key components of authorizing
and de-authorizing processes.
Situational factors. Research in the domain of situational factors has
been focused on how the social structure of situations presses individuals
to create and obey rules of hierarchical authority. Perhaps the most wellknown research is Milgram's (1974) set of experiments showing the conditions under which subjects obeyed authority figures to the extent that
they acted inhumanely toward others while disavowing responsibility for
their actions. In the initial experiment, 65 percent of the subjects followed
the authority figure's instructions to continue punishing the "learner"
(i.e., confederate) until they had reached the maximum shock intensity of
450 volts. Milgram noted that the key variable was the sense of diminished responsibility that subjects felt: They felt that they were agents (of
the authority figure) rather than actors responsible for their behaviors.

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Variations on the basic experiment showed that manipulations that increased the psychological distance between "teacher" and "learner" decreased subjects' perceptions of personal responsibility, which increased
their obedience to authority. Milgram's experiments indicated the power
that social situations have to dictate how members enacted their roles as
both subordinates (to legitimate authority) and authority figures (to
"learners"). They showed how even temporary social systems exert pressures on people to act as if they have no choice but to create and reinforce
particular types of authority relations.
Another classic social psychological experiment attests to the power
of situations to determine how people create and respond within authority
relations through the roles they assume. Zimbardo's (Haney, Banks, &
Zimbardo, 1973) experiment involved the creation of a temporary system,
a prison, and the randomly assigned casting of individuals into system
roles, "prisoner" or "guard." In little time the prisoners accepted themselves as inferior and acted passively, whereas the guards accepted
themselves as superior and engaged in episodes of abusive, authoritarian behavior. The subjects thus projected themselves emotionally and
cognitively into the roles into which they were physically placed, on the
basis of their stereotypic understandings of the norms by which prisoners
and guards act and prison systems operate. On the basis of accepting
those norms, Zimbardo's subjects created and enacted stereotypic relations of authority between the powerful and the powerless. The experimenters halted the experiment six days into a planned two-week simulation because of the emotional force with which the subjects took up their
roles as superior and subordinate. The experiment's duration was enough
to show how powerfully the roles that individuals occupyeven in temporary social systemsshape the relations of authority they create and
enact. It also showed how drawn people are to adopt norms to help them
define their situations and themselves, regulate their behaviors, locate
themselves hierarchically, and create authority relations.
These classic studies indicate the power of roles and norms to shape
people's experiences and behaviors in authority relations. Organizations
rely on people occupying given roles to reduce the variability, instability,
and unpredictability accompanying human behavior and to withstand
personnel turnover (Katz & Kahn, 1987). Also, they traditionally have relied on predictable authority relationships between superior and subordinate that follow accepted norms of relative power and powerlessness,
respectively (Simon, 1947). Although these authority relations typically
are neither so brutally polarized as those evidenced in Zimbardo's experiment nor so explicitly fraught with anxiety and pain as those evidenced
in Milgram's work, they are nevertheless subject to similar social, role,
and normative pressures (and may lead to equally brutal results; cf.
Arendt's [1965] banality of evil). The more contemporary variable of organizational culture (Schein, 1985) maintains the focus on the complexity of

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the situational influences that create and maintain particular types of


authority relations.
The implication here is that when individuals enter into both temporary and ongoing systems, there are cues that help them take up certain
types of roles (e.g., "teacher," "prisoner"), follow certain behavioral
norms, and create certain types of authority relations. These cues lead to
the authorizing of formal leaders occupying certain offices, regardless of
the individuals occupying particular superior and subordinate positions.
What is left unexplained, however, is why some individuals in such situations do not create expected authority relations; that is, why 35 percent
of Milgram's (1974) subjects did not show complete obedience to the authority figure but acted counternormatively. There are individual-level
differences thatin conjunction with situational influenceshelp explain how individuals occupy superior and subordinate roles.
Individual factors. A variety of individual factors help account for
how organization members frame and perform superior and subordinate
roles. In terms of enduring personality variables, two concepts illuminate
the relation between personality and power. One concept is the authoritarian personality (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950),
measured by the F-scale, which is associated with power-seeking and
personality attributes that include conservatism, emotional coldness,
hostility toward minority groups, and resistance to change (Bass, 1990)
attributes indicating rigidity. Researchers have explored the relations
between individuals' F-scores and the types of leaders they prefer (high
F-scores prefer autocratic leaders and low F-scores prefer consultative
leaders), and the effects that authority-relation matches and mismatches
have on both leaders and followers (see Bass, 1990). A second concept is
Machiavellianism (Christie & Geis, 1970), which refers to the extent to
which people are impervious to and resist social influences and emotional or moral considerations (high Machs), or are susceptible to such
influences and are distracted by interpersonal concerns (low Machs). Researchers have noted the generally consistent relation between expressed Machiavellian attitudes and behaviors (Epstein, 1969). According
to these concepts, individuals have particular motives or needs to establish specific types of authority relations in which they feel comfortable.
The implication of these traditional concepts, for our purposes here,
is that people are drawn to create or enact authority relations partly on
the basis of compelling, deep-seated personality attributes of which they
may be only partly aware (McClelland, 1985). Recent research similarly
suggests a connection between individual differences and constructed
relationships. Researchers have noted how various self-concepts shape
organization members' abilities to perform effectively. Concepts that
have received attention in this regard include self-efficacy (Bandura,
1982), self-confidence (Mowday, 1978), self-understanding (McCall, Lombardo, & Morrison, 1988), and self-actualization (Burns, 1978). The tenor of

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the research is that members who are high on such self-concept dimensions are better able to create and push toward goals, and they display
(and gain) leadership characteristics (Bennis & Nanus, 1985). A related
research stream has focused on the personal characters of leaders and
executives, in whom certain tendencies toward defensiveness (Argyris,
1982, 1990) or personal achievement (Kaplan, 1991) lead toward the creation of particular (and variously effective) authority relations. There also
is a more unconscious, psychopathological relation between character
and leadership style, as was noted by Kets de Vries and Miller (1987).
They describe how neurotic styles of leaders, based on unconscious fantasies, create shared pathologies in their systems mirroring those fantasies (e.g., persecution, helplessness, narcissism, compulsiveness, schizoid detachment). The vehicles by which these neurotic styles are enacted
and shared are the authority relations established by leaders and members as they interact.
The individual factors described here help explain how organization
members engage in particular types of leadership behaviors, based on
personality attributes and self-concepts, that offset some of the situational influences reviewed above. The literature reviewed here suggests
that individuals are internally motivated to repeatedly develop certain
types of authority relations that enable them to use or react to power in
ways that are comfortable or necessary for them, for whatever conscious
or unconscious reasons. The authority relations that individuals create
are thus the vehicles through which they satisfy their needs or express
their attributes.
Implications. This brief review of the traditional literatures on authority relations suggests particular gaps in knowledge. First, it seems
that the theory and research about situational influences on authority
relations is more developed than that about individual-level influences;
for example, researchers have not yet conceptualized an individual difference variable that would speak directly to what drives people to authorize and de-authorize themselves and others in patterned ways. Second, it is clear that researchers have, as noted above, generally linked
followership (i.e., obedience) to situational influences and leadership to
individual difference influences, and they have kept the two domains
separate (for an important exception, see Burns, 1978). It is likely, however, that followership and leadership are more tightly linked within individuals; that is, people have particular stances toward authority relations that affect their actions as hierarchical superiors and subordinates
alike, and in the more collaborative work arrangement, as co-workers
(Hirschhom, 1990). This article begins to fill these gaps in knowledge by
building on two implications from the literature reviewed above.
First, the situational literature implies that authorizing is related to
the allowing of personal thoughts, feelings, and beliefsone's own and
othersto be brought into the performance of work roles. There is a

continuum here, in terms of the extent to which such personal dimensions

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are imported into role performances. When the 35 percent minority of


Milgram's subjects authorized themselves to be responsible for their actions as subordinates, they did so by taking seriously their personal beliefs and feelings and using them as the standards by which they acted.
Most of Milgram's subjects, like those of Zimbardo, did just the opposite,
keeping their personal sensibilities out of the rolessuperior or subordinateinto which they were cast. In both situations, there were external
cues suggesting that subjects split off their personal feelings, beliefs, and
thoughts and leave them outside the confines of given hierarchical roles.
It is likely that subjects' responses were related to some sort of individuallevel factor that led some to follow internal cues directing them to access
rather than split off personal dimensions and take rather than deny personal responsibility. Authorizing, then, is defined not simply in terms of
giving the right to do work; it is also giving the right to bring the personal self (one's own or another's) into the work role (see Gould, 1993;
Hirschhorn, 1985, 1990; Kahn, 1990a, 1992).
A second, less visible implication of the traditional literatures is the
importance placed on how childhood factors shape authority relations
and, thus, authorizing dynamics. Both situational and personality researchers emphasize childhood factors. Milgram noted that one of the
crucial factors in obedience to authority was the socialization history
within one's family, whereas Zimbardo attributed the ease with which
subjects assumed roles to their experiences of power and powerlessness
relationships as children and parents. Individual-level researchers also
focus on childhood experiences, tracing the authoritarian personality to
particularly harsh, punishing parents (Adomo, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950) and drawing specific connections between upbringing and the characteristics of achieving, driven executives (Kaplan, 1991)
or neurotic leaders (Kets de Vries & Miller, 1987). Both approaches thus
emphasize childhood experiences as influential in authority dynamics,
although as yet neither has yielded a comprehensive framework that
describes the connections between people's early and later authority relations. Hirschhorn (1990: 541) hinted at one, when he noted that "internalized models of authority figures . . . derived from childhood" influence
authority relations at work (see Kahn, 1990b).
These implications help frame our approach to the authorizing and
de-authorizing processes that shape authority relations at work in both
traditional and collaborative organizational arrangements. Specifically,
we focus on how individuals authorize or de-authorize themselves and
others partly on the basis of enduring, often unacknowledged stances
toward authority itselfstances that are enacted in similar ways across
hierarchical and collaborative work arrangements and across various
roles and positions. These stances areas Hirschhorn (1990) suggested
infernaiized models developed in childhood that individuals typically
continue to carry into adulthood and which influence their authorizing
and de-authorizing of themselves and others in patterned ways. Drawing

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on recent theory and research in child development, we offer a framework


by which to understand such processes.
INTERNAL MODELS OF AUTHORITY

Clinical psychological research (Bowlby, 1980; Freud, 1936) suggests


that people tend to recreate the unresolved dynamics of past relationships (with parents, siblings, and other important figures) and act as if
those dynamics are part of present relationships (e.g., with spouses,
bosses, and co-workers). The psychoanalytic concept here is transference
(Freud, 1936): Impulses that have their source in early object relations are
not created by the objective situation but merely revived by the compulsion to repeat early relationships. The colloquial expression here is that
of the personal "baggage" that people carry with them to work and unload
on others. Clinical and developmental psychologists (Bowlby, 1980),
group dynamics theorists (Bennis & Shepard, 1956), and organizational
psychologists (Argyris & Schon, 1978; Hirschhorn, 1990; Kets de Vries &
Miller, 1985) have in various ways suggested a more technical version of
this dynamic: Individuals have internal models of authority that shape
how they experience and act in social systems. This notion builds on the
concept of theories-in-use (Argyris & Schon, 1978), but it adds both a sophisticated theoretical base (attachment theory) and a particular content
focus (authority relations).
Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1973, 1980) focuses on how infants' early
attachments to primary caregivers determine enduring ways in which
they continue to attach themselves to significant others. On the basis of
experiences with primary caregivers, infants develop internal working
models of the world and particularly their relations to attachment figures.
More specifically, infants who develop secure models of attachment reflect caregiving environments that are stable, consistent, and nurturing,
whereas infants who develop insecure models of attachment are accurately reflecting caregiving environments in which nurturing is absent or
inconsistent. Internal models of attachment thus enable infants to carry
accurate pictures of their environments to guide their responses to primary caregivers (Bowlby, 1980; Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985). Those
models guide behaviors and the appraisal of experience (Bowlby, 1973,
1980) and continue into adulthood (Weiss, 1982). Recent research suggests
that people's models of attachments influence ongoing relationships
other than those with parents and other primary caregivers (Hazan &
Shaver, 1987; Main et al., 1985). This is not to say that internal models
developed in childhood continue unabated or unchanged into adulthood,
but that aspects of those models continue to shape behavioral tendencies
and adult relationships.
Although these internal models of attachment are primarily about
autonomy and dependence in relationships (cf. Klein, 1959), they are implicitly about authority, given that parents and primary caregivers are the

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first authority figures in people's lives (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1973),


and they set the template for what people expect in authority relations.
Consider, for example, a person who had powerfully negative experiences with untrustworthy primary caregivers. Initially, the person will
maintain the belief that those in authority cannot be trusted. The person
may act as a subordinate in ways that are unauthentic and defensive,
and he or she may perceive others as manipulative and deceitful, so that
superiors will be forced to appear punitive and demanding as they seek
information and resources from the withholding subordinate. Similarly,
the person may act as a superior in ways that lead subordinates to withhold and defend themselves, allowing the person to confirm the belief
that others cannot be trusted. The person thus acts from a model of authority-as-untrustworthy to create untrustworthy authority relations. Like
self-fulfilling prophecies, people's internal models of authority are confirmed as they construct authority relations in ways that shore up those
models (Kets de Vries & Miller, 1985). Such cycles remain unbroken until
individuals enter meaningful relations of authority in which they are
given feedback and new experiences that weaken the hold of their internal models (described further in the following section).
Three points need to be emphasized here about such internal models,
as conceptualized in attachment theory. First, people may be more or less
aware of their internal models of authority, that is, of the nature of their
beliefs and how deeply embedded they are. Although people are typically
unaware of their internal working models (Bowlby, 1980; Main et al.,
1985; Sroufe & Fleeson, 1986), these models may become accessible to
individuals who understand the underlying patterns of their behavior in
relation with others. Individuals will therefore differ in terms of how consciously aware they are of their internal models. A second and related
point is that internal models tend to endure and shape people's relations
with others, unless people become aware of them and change them in the
context of meaningful relations with significant others and therapists
(Argyris & Schon, 1978; Egeland, Jacobvitz, & Sroufe, 1988). As models
become increasingly amenable to change, they exert less force on behavior and allow for situational influences (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Third, the
models are not of authority figures per se; they are of authority relations
(Kahn, 1990b)particularly of hierarchical relations, given that internal
models develop within the context of parent-child relations. Internal models of authority thus dictate how individuals will act in relation to one
another, in given or negotiated authority relations, irrespective of the
particular positions they occupy. The notion is that people strike various
poses or stances toward authority, regardless of who occupies authorized
roles.
Drawing on work from interpersonal (Argyle, 1967; Gabarro & Kotter,
1980; Hirschhorn, 1990; Kets de Vries & Miller, 1985), group (Bennis & Shepard, 1956; Schein, 1979), and institutional (Miller & Gwynne, 1973; Turner,
1976) dynamics, we define three enduring stances toward the nature of

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authority: dependent, counferdependenf, and interdependent (see Table


1). Each stance is characterized by a set of assumptions about authority
and the principles on which relations of authority operate. These assumptions may be more or less explicit, depending on how aware individuals
are of their existence and operation. Internal models also are characterized by people's sense of self in relation to authority: beliefs about how
their personal selves are affected by relations of authority in hierarchical
systems. Like the assumptions about authority, these beliefs may be more
or less conscious. We also identify the patterns of attachment (Bowlby,
1973, 1980) to which the models correspond. Attachment theorists have
empirically documented three types of attachments between infants and
caregivers (Ainsworth, 1973). These types correspond to the three internal
models of authority in the next sections and are useful reference points for
understanding the formation of the operating strategies that adults use
(knowingly or not knowingly) to enact their internal models in relations
involving authority. Operating strategies are part of internal models, yet
they are observed through people's behaviors at work and in work relationships. The strategies guide people in enacting and reinforcing their
internal models of authority, leading to particular behavioral outcomes.
The following discussion highlights how people's internal models of
authority shape the relation between their personal selves and the hierarchical roles they occupy. The centrality of this theme reflects two converging notions. First, as noted above, authorizing is defined in terms of
giving the right to bring the personal self (one's own or another's) into the
work role. Second, an ongoing struggle for organization members is how
much they bring relevant dimensions of their personal, authentic selves
into task performances (Gould, 1993; Hirschhorn, 1985; Kahn, 1990a). Internal models of authority are thus patterns of how individuals resolve
such struggles in authorizing themselves and others to work. The three
internal models of authority described in the following sections each offer
different resolutions: to deny the need for bringing the self into the hierarchical role (suppress the self), to deny the need for the hierarchical role
itself (suppress the role), and to manage the ongoing relation between self
and role (suppress neither).
What follows are relatively pure forms of people's internal models of
authority described in terms that clearly distinguish them from one another. People's actions, beliefs, and feelings in relations involving authority may contain various shadings of the models and resemble aspects
of more than one of the models. Indeed, as people mature into adulthood
and participate in important relationships, they typically are able to revise their internal models and allow for behaviors usually associated
with other models (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). People thus mature so that they
have the capacity to take on aspects of multiple internal models and to
respond partly on the basis of situational cues. It is also the case, however, that aspects of people's childhood internal models are woven tightly
into their dispositions (Bowlby, 1973, 1980) such that they may be gener-

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TABLE 1
Three Internal Models of Authority
Dependent
Stance toward
nature oi
authority

Emphasizes hieiaichical
roles of superior and
subordinate, whose
relationships are
governed by the rules of
iormal organizations.

Counterdependent
Undermines or dismisses
hierarchical roles of
superior and
subordinate.

Interdependent

Emphasizes interdependencies among


people occupying
various hierarchical
roles, acknowledging
both person and role
dimensions.
Authority itself is of
Authority itself is oi
Authority is a
Underlying
paramount importance.
minimal importance.
collaborative process.
assumptions
Relationships structured
Authority is suspect to the Different hierarchical
according to rules of
extent it undermines
positions offer diiierent,
personal expression.
equally valid, and
hierarchy.
complementary
Personal dimensions of
Nonrole data are
perspectives.
trustworthy.
people are suspect to
the extent they
Relationships structured in
undermine authority
terms of role and
personal dimensions.
relations.
Authority and personal
dimensions are linked;
one without the other is
suspect.
Sense oi seli
One's self is found
One's self is found outside One's seli is found in its
simultaneous
in relation
defined, constructed,
hierarchy and
dependence on and
to authority
maintained in
relationships of
independence from
relationships of
authority. In such
hierarchical
authority.
relationships, one's self
relationships of
Hierarchical position gives
becomes lost: engulfed
authority.
sense of self; without
or abandoned, denied or
such relationships, one's
suppressed, deself is lost.
constructed.
Corresponding Anxious resistant:
Anxious avoidant:
Secure:
pattem oi
Uncertain if others will
No confidence in others'
Confident in authority
attachment
be available,
helping, expects
relations, in which
responsive, helpful.
rejection. Seeks to be
others are available,
Tends to cling to
emotionally selfresponsive, and helpful.
authority relations,
sufficient, withdraws
Bold in exploring world:
anxious about exploring
from authority relations.
sense oi simultaneous
world.
connections and
independence.
Emphasize hierarchy,
Operating
Dismiss status diiferences, Emphasize person-in-role
status differences.
within hierarchical
strategies
de-emphasize hierarchy.
Encourage dependency,
relationships.
Rebel against authority
along hierarchical
Contribute personal
(own, others') with
thoughts, feelings
structures {in seli,
confrontation or
within authority
others).
withdrawal.
Idealize authority and its
interactions.
Deny dependency (in self,
representatives (in seli,
Acknowledge both
others).
personal and role
others).
Seek to pull self and
dimension (of self,
De-emphasize personal
others out oi role
relationships.
others).
thoughts and ieelings.
Emphasize simultaneous
dependence and
independence.

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ally characterized by one of the three general models described in the


following sections. In our analysis, we focus on these dispositional elements as they shape authority relations at work.
Dependent Model of Authority

We define the dependent model of authority in terms of people's dependency on the rules and roles of formal hierarchy. People whose internal models are of dependency tend to establish relationships in which the
dependency of the hierarchical subordinate on the superior is highlighted, sought, and valued. In Schein's (1979) terms, people seek conformity with established patterns of thought and behavior; in Turner's
(1976) terms, they adopt an "institutional" focus for their self. As subordinates, these people seek dependency on those in formal authority, deauthorizing themselves to take responsibility for managing themselves.
As superiors, these people seek the dependency of others over whom they
have authority, de-authorizing others to assume responsibility for managing themselves. They seek to structure relationships in terms of formalized relations between the roles that people occupy rather than between
the people themselves. As both superiors and subordinates, people with
dependent models of authority suppress their personal selves within such
role-based interactions. We suggest that this suppression is based partly
on their assumption that such personal dimensions inevitably undermine
the strict relations of authority on which they depend to guide their work
and work relationships. Given that assumption, they seek to split the
person away from the role and leave personal dimensions outside role
performances.
We also suggest that such dependency is based partly on people's
sense that they will find their identities only within the context of hierarchical relationships; that is, that their personal selves will find definition
only through the roles they occupy. Such self-definition is external. Employing this internal model, people depend on externally determined
rules and roles to guide their behaviors, beliefs, and feelings in relation
to others. It is within those role relations that people "find themselves,"
and it is outside those relations that people feel "lost." The dependence is
on the scripts attached to hierarchical roles that offer characters to portray (i.e., stereotypical characters of "boss" and "employee"), lines to say,
and plays to enact (cf. Fiske & Taylor, 1984). This model echoes the anxious resistant pattern of attachment (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1980), in
which infants who are uncertain about the availability of parents or primary caregivers tend to cling to those figures. These infants have anxiety
about exploring their world and wish to remain connected to authority
figures. Unless this type of internal model is replaced with another one,
the adults into which these children grow will maintain the desire to
remain connected both to authority figures and to authority itself, and
they will feel disconnected from internal guides of feelings, ideas, beliefs, and values.

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We posit that people with dependent models of authority have operating strategies to maintain their dependency and that of others. Their
strategies involve emphasizing the status differences between themselves and others with whom they are hierarchically affiliated and acting
in ways to reinforce such differences: Superiors act in ways that disempower or de-skill subordinates so they will be needed by those subordinates, and subordinates act in ways that disempower or de-skill themselves so that they consistently feel the need for their superiors. In doing
so, both superiors and subordinates with dependent models idealize authority and those in whom it is formally vested by organizations, and they
disparage the personal thoughts and feelings that people bring to relations of authority. In such a case, the ongoing deference to authority
one's own and that of othersis maintained at the expense of people
using their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to help guide their work.
What is left is simply the ongoing deference to authority. Behaviorally,
this means that people will suppressin themselves and othersreal
thoughts and feelings, spontaneously generated ideas, and the questioning of decisions based on personal values and ethical principles.
Counterdependent Model of Authority

We define the counterdependent model of authority in terms of people's resistance to the rules and roles of formal hierarchy. People whose
internal models are of counterdependency tend to establish relationships
in which authority itself is minimized, undermined, and de-valued (cf.
Schein, 1979, on rebellion). In Turner's (1976) terms, such people are "impulsives," who create their selves via spontaneous and often deviant
acts. As subordinates, these people dismiss or undermine hierarchically
determined role interactions; as superiors, these people similarly seek to
step outside the boundaries of role-determined relations. In each case,
hierarchical relations are de-authorized; that is, people are not given the
right to do work in the context of hierarchical relations. This deauthorization assumes various forms, ranging from the outright refusal to
cooperate in authority relationships (Schein, 1979) to the more subtle but
equally undermining substitution of personal connections for role-related
interactions with others (Hirschhorn, 1985, 1990), that is, undermining the
authority relations while maintaining or even emphasizing personal connections. As both superiors and subordinates, people with counterdependent models of authority thus seek to suppress authority.
Such counterdependency is based partly on people's sense that they
will find their identities only outside the context of hierarchical relationships and that they will be lost if fused with the roles they occupy (i.e.,
personal identity becomes de-constructed rather than constructed in rolebased relations). In such a case, the desired means of self-definition is to
resist external demands and to substitute countervailing personal behaviors, beliefs, and feelings. The scripts attached to hierarchical roles that
offer people characters to portray are ignored at all costs. This model

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echoes the anxious avoidant pattem of attachment (Ainsworth, 1973;


Bowlby, 1980), in which infants who do not have confidence in parents or
primary caregivers, and expecting rejection from them, tend to distance
themselves from those figures. These infants have become emotionally
self-sufficient and suppress their needs for help from authority figures.
Unless this type of internal model is replaced with another, the adults into
which these children grow will maintain the desire to disconnect from
authority figures and from authority itself.
People with counterdependent models of authority have operating
strategies to maintain their dismissal of hierarchical role relations. Their
strategies involve de-emphasizing status differences. This constitutes rebellion against authority (one's own and others') that may occur in the
form of direct confrontation of authority or passive withdrawal from relationships involving the use of authority. Both types of behaviors are attempts to deny the dependency inherent in hierarchical relations. Such
behaviors also are, in Bion's (1961) terms, responses to anger at authority:
Active rebellion is the "fight" response, and passive withdrawal is the
"flight" response. Regarding the first response, organization members
struggle to topple the authority structure (and their places within it); regarding the latter response, they deny the existence of authority. In such
cases, people try to pull themselves and others out of the roles dictated by
hierarchy, explicitly or implicitly disparaging the structure and boundaries provided by authority relations and those who maintain them. The
ongoing undermining of authorityone's own and that of othersis
maintained at the expense of people's work connections and the organizational systems (of communication, accountability, responsibility, and
coordination) that support their tasks.
Interdependent Model of Authority

Finally, we define the interdependent model of authority in terms of


people's emphasis on both personal and role dimensions in working with
others who occupy different hierarchical positions. We suggest that people whose internal models are of interdependency tend to establish relationships in which there are aspects of both dependence on hierarchical
authority (one's own and others') and independence from that authority.
They assume that people occupy hierarchical roles and make valuable
contributions; as unique individuals, they can make such contributions
from the context of their roles. The interdependency is thus first between
person and role: Neither the person nor the role is suppressed in ways that
undermine how living, thinking, feeling people perform roles according
to the guiding structures and boundaries of hierarchical systems
(Hirschhom, 1990). This internal model assumes that people occupy given
roles and are neither subsumed by nor subsume those roles (Kahn, 1992).
The second interdependency is one across hierarchical levels of organizations: People seek to collaborate with others who occupy different
places for the inherently different perspectives they have on the perfor-

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mance of shared tasks (Gould, 1993; Hirschhorn, 1988, 1990). People with
this internal model trust in the value of both role and person, and they
believe in the usefulness of both authority and self-expression. Such people perceive hierarchical systems as offering different and complementary vantage points for perceiving, learning, and acting. It follows that
these people would seek to collaborate with others and value what they
offer from their own roles as subordinates and superiors. We believe the
two types of interdependencies are linked: As people seek to bring their
individual voices into the performance of their hierarchical roles, they
seek out the voices of others who are hierarchically linked to them.
Such interdependency is based partly on people's sense that they will
find their identities by being both inside and outside the context of hierarchical relationships. The premise is that people define themselves (i.e.,
construct their identities) partly in connection to established systems of
roles, boundaries, and authority, and partly in separation (even rebellion)
from those systems. Self-definition is achieved by both accepting and
resisting connections to authority (one's own and others'), just as people
define themselves partly in relation to and separate from others in close
relations (Smith & Berg, 1987). The image here is of actors who draw on
both given stage directions and their internal sense of the characters they
portray to enact their roles. This model echoes the secure pattern of attachment (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1980), in which infants feel confident
that parents or primary caregivers are consistently available and responsive to their needs while they maintain appropriate boundaries. These
infants are able to feel both self-sufficient and trusting in primary caregivers. The adults into which these children grow maintain the ability to
simultaneously connect with and remain separate from authority figures
and from authority itself.
People with interdependent models of authority act in ways, based on
their operating strategies, to emphasize the person-in-role. They do so by
using their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to help guide their task
performances and work interactions without discounting their roles or
those of others linked to them hierarchically (Kahn, 1990a). People's
voices and energies are employed in the context of roles and the service
of the tasks. In such cases, collaborations within and across levels of
responsibility and influence are sought. This means that people with
interdependent models of authority emphasize their simultaneous dependence on and independence from others. Such people acknowledge status
differences without making them so prominent that personal dimensions
(in self and others) are lost. Superiors and subordinates with interdependent models use the structure and boundaries provided by authority relations without letting themselves and their relations be dictated by those
systems.
It is clear from these descriptions that we conceive of the interdependent model of authority as containing the positive but not the negative
dimensions of the dependent and counterdependent models. Organiza-

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tion members with interdependent models of authority are able to emphasize both personal and role dimensions without sacrificing the integrity of either dimension in relations involving the use of authority. Organization members with either of the other two internal models will split
personal and role dimensions, emphasizing one at the cost of the other,
and they will not fully engage themselves in tasks and relationships at
work. We are making a clear normative statement here: People with interdependent models of authority are better able to authorize relevant
personal dimensions of themselves and others to work in roles of superior
and subordinate than people with either of the two other internal models
of authority we identify. Additionally, people with interdependent models
are better suited to the demands of the high involvement (Lawler, 1988)
and the postindustrial organization (Hirschhorn, 1988, 1990), which depend on the joint negotiation of duty and authority and the collaborations
that ensue.
LINKING INTERNAL MODELS OF AUTHORITY TO
BEHAVIORAL OUTCOMES

Internal models shape how individuals authorize and de-authorize


themselves and others as they take up organization roles, that is, to do the
work expected, to wield and be subject to influence, and to collaborate
with others within and outside hierarchical relationships. We focus here
on three specific areas in which such authorizing and de-authorizing occurs: task performance, hierarchical dyads, and teamwork. (Although
consideration of other outcomes is beyond the scope of this paper, they too
should be explored.) The first area focuses on individuals authorizing and
de-authorizing themselves to work; the second area focuses on authorizing and de-authorizing in both traditional superior-subordinate and mentoring relationships; and the third area focuses on authorizing and deauthorizing in traditional and self-managing work groups. For each area,
we offer propositions about how people's tendencies to act on the basis of
aspects of internal models of authority shape their behaviors.
Task performance. How hard organization members work on assigned tasks is traditionally understood in terms of work motivation: how
much people are compelled to perform capably by external (e.g., financial incentives) and internal (e.g., growth opportunities) rewards for doing so. Organizations traditionally seek to strengthen their employees'
motivations by enhancing reward systems (Steers & Porter, 1979) and job
characteristics (Hackman & Oldham, 1980) in order to encourage employees to work more productively. Underlying the work motivation approach
is a lingering assumption of Taylor's (1911) scientific management: Employers can find the correct motivaters that activate the employee's energies to perform standard, externally-directed laborsmuch as one
would activate a machine. The heightened pace of work and change in
modern organizations increasingly renders this assumption obsolete, as

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does the need for employees to simply release energies and effort in the
service of directed tasks. Increasingly, employees need to create new
methods and ideas, to direct themselves, to collaborate across roles and
hierarchical levels, and to think more critically and autonomously
(Handy, 1989; Hirschhorn, 1990; Lawler, 1988). To do so, organization members must be more psychologically present at work. They must feel and be
attentive and connected to their tasks and others, have various parts of
themselves accessible rather than split off and inaccessible to their work,
and focus on bringing those parts to the primary task. Most important,
they must be recognized and rewarded for being present in such ways.
The new language is of presence, which subsumes the vocabulary of
work motivation.
There are various influences on the extent to which organization
members are psychologically present at any moment in time. Kahn (1992)
described both systemic (or situational) and individual influences, the
latter including internal models that individuals have of themselves in
their roles (i.e., models of themselves as psychologically present or absent). He noted that individuals vary in terms of how much they authorize
themselves to bring their personal selves into their task performances,
and he suggested that such "self-authorizations" are based partly on internal models on which people consciously or unconsciously depend to
guide their work relations. We extend that argument here, first noting
that there are actually two authorizing dynamics involved: authorizing of
the role (i.e., supporting role-dictated behaviors) and authorizing of the
person (i.e., supporting the bringing to bear of personal dimensions
thoughts, feelings, creative impulses, values, and beliefsto tasks). We
suggest that each of the three internal models of authority has particular
implications for the extent to which organization members authorize the
presence of role and personal dimensions during task performances, for
themselves and others.
More specifically, we suggest that people with dependent models
will tend to authorize themselves and others to act from their roles during
task performances, and they will de-authorize themselves and others to
draw on personal dimensions in guiding those performances. These people will accept the parameters of given rolestheir own and others'
and will seek direction from existing norms of thought and action rather
than create new methods and ideas, direct themselves, and think critically and autonomously. People with counterdependent models, conversely, will tend to de-authorize work rolestheir own and others'by
directing behaviors away from the purposes of given roles. Such people
may do so through clear rebellion (e.g., simply doing or encouraging
things contrary to role purposes) or through more subtle underminings
(e.g., playing upon personal relationships to reshape expected role behaviors). These people are more likely to create new methods and ideas,
to direct themselves, and to think critically and autonomously (i.e., authorize personal dimensions of oneself and others), but often in the ser-

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vice of de-authorizing given roles. Finally, we suggest that people with


interdependent models will tend to authorize both role and personal dimensions of themselves and others. These people are most likely to create
new methods and ideas, to direct themselves, and to think critically and
autonomously in the service of meeting (and exceeding) expectations
about role-dictated behaviors. These people will resist impulsestheir
own and others'to emphasize either role or personal dictates, such that
one inappropriately eclipses the other.
Proposition 1: People with dependent internal models of
authority will authorize role-dictated behaviors and deauthorize personal dimensions of themselves and others
during task performances.
Proposition 2: People with counterdependent internal
models of authority will de-authorize role-dictated behaviors (and may authorize personal dimensions) of
themselves and others during task performances.
Proposition 3: People with interdependent internal models of authority will authorize both role-dictated behaviors and personal dimensions to coexist during task performances, so neither one is emphasized at the expense
of the other.
These three propositions form the basis for the propositions that follow.
Hierarchical dyads. The majority of hierarchical dyads generally take
one of two forms in organizations: those that are formally prescribed by
the organization to support task performance (e.g., boss-subordinate relationships), or those that evolve naturally to support the junior member's
learning and development (e.g., mentor relationship). Though the latter
may be formally assigned through a human resource initiative, more
often such relationships occur through the voluntary involvement of both
parties. Although some formally prescribed boss-subordinate relationships also may evolve into a mentor relationship, they are discussed
separately here.
In formal hierarchical relationships, the internal models of authority
that one individual brings to the dyad may converge or diverge from that
of the other, with differing implications. We suggest that when both boss
and subordinate have dependent models of authority, for example, they
each invest energy into suppressing personal dimensions of themselves
that are relevant to their work together. This may include suppressing
creative ideas, ethical questions, or feelings whose absence may impede
communication or undermine work effectiveness. If both boss and subordinate have counterdependent models of authority, they may collude in
dismissing the importance of hierarchical relationships and, in doing so,
undermine the extent to which the boss assumes real responsibility for

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the completion of assigned tasks. When both members of the dyad have
interdependent models of authority, they are able to construct a relationship that guards against these dangers. In these relationships, each person is able to engage the relevant personal dimensions of himself or
herself and the other within the context of their respective roles.
Proposition 4: When both dyad membeis hold either dependent or counferdependenf internal models of authority, the relationship will undermine task performance
through the joint suppression of persona] dimensions of
selves or denial of responsibiiity and expertise.
Even though hierarchical dyads will be limited in their effectiveness
when either dependent or counterdependent models are imported by both
members, there is a degree of fit because both parties' assumptions, expectations, and strategies are complementary. When dyad members
bring different models of authority to the relationship (i.e., a poor fit), we
can anticipate quite different results (Gabarro & Kotter, 1980). For example, if an organization member wishes to undermine authority and his or
her superior wishes to emphasize authority, the two will construct a relationship in which each is at odds with the other; a play will commence
whose plot is insubordination and whose resolution will involve the undermining of participants, the relationship, and the work itself. Similarly,
if a subordinate wishes to cling to a superior who eschews his or her own
authority and those who demand it, the effectiveness of each is again
undermined along with their relationship and their work. In each of these
cases (and in the other possible combinations of the three internal models
previously described) the operating principle is the same: The lack of fit
between the superior's internal model and that of the subordinate creates
actual relationships that undermine rather than support their work.
Proposition 5: Dyad members will experience inteipeisonal conflict, dissatisfaction, and difficulties with task
performance when membeis biing different internai
models of authority to the ielationship.
The internal models that organization members hold also influence
the extent to which they seek out and maintain mentoring relationships,
which hold the promise of substantial task and personal learning (Hall &
Kram, 1981; Kram, 1988; Kram & Bragar, 1992; McCall et al., 1988; Schein,
1978). In the early career years, novices face the challenges of establishing a work identity and niche, developing self-confidence, acquiring relevant competencies and knowledge, and preparing for advancement and
growth (Hall, 1976; Schein, 1978). Dependent individuals will readily seek
mentors' advice and counsel, whereas counterdependent individuals are
more likely to attempt to master these same challenges alone. It may also
be that those with dependent stances are resistant to entering the separation phase of the relationship, holding on to a dependency that thwarts
independence and growth over time. Alternatively, whereas counterde-

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pendent individuals may overcome resistance to seeking help, they may


be relatively unwilling to risk the self-disclosure that fosters the cultivation of deep mentoring alliances.
Similarly, those in the middle and late career years will face the
predictable tasks of reassessment and redirection, the threats of obsolescence and aging, and the opportunities to become generative through
assuming the mentor role (Kram, 1988; Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson,
& McKee, 1979; Schein, 1978). Again, it will be difficult, we suspect, for
those with a counterdependent stance to develop deepened relationships
with fledgling (and dependent) proteges. Similarly, it will be difficult for
these same individuals to ask for help in addressing the critical challenges of midlife and increasing organizational turbulence.
Proposition 6; /ndividuais with dependent models of authority will more actively seek mentoring relationships
than those with counterdependent models of authority.
Proposition 7: Both dependent and counterdependent
models undermine the potential value of mentoring relationshipsthe former thwarts movement through the
separation and redefinition phases, and the latter
thwarts the degree of intimacy and personal learning
that can occur.
It appears ultimately that an interdependent stance holds the greatest potential for deepening mentoring alliances in which mutual benefits
of such developmental alliances are maximized. In this case, both parties
are willing to share relevant personal dimensions, to acknowledge and
work with hierarchical/status differences created by the formal roles they
occupy, and to collaborate regarding both task accomplishment and personal learning.
Teamwork. Teamwork has become increasingly important in contemporary organizations, and task forces and self-managing groups are commonplace (Hackman, 1987). Thus, in addition to traditional work groups,
effective teamwork (group members jointly applying knowledge and
skills to accomplish objectives that are acceptable to those who receive or
review task output) (Hackman, 1987) is now essential to interdepartmental
coordination, product innovation, and a variety of other critical organizational tasks. We suggest that individuals' internal models of authority
will shape their participationtype and amount of effort, roles, strategies for participatingacross various types of groups.
For example, in the traditional work group, we can expect that the
dependent individuals will welcome direction from a formal group leader
(e.g., the boss) and also will have the tendency to de-authorize themselves and their peers. As a consequence, members' creative contributions to task performance will be thwarted. We can anticipate that these
same individuals will have more difficulty with self-managing groups

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and task forces, where formal authority is not prescribed, and, instead,
group members must coUaboratively work toward accomplishing tasks
while authority is shared among members. In order for such individuals
to effectively contribute in this context and also facilitate other members'
contributions, they will have to contend with considerable discomfort and
move beyond the dependent stance.
Proposition 8; Group members with dependent models
of authority will simultaneously desire direction and
support from the boss (and other formal authority), and
they will discount their own authority and that of their
peers.
In contrast to dependent individuals, the group member who holds a
counterdependent model of authority will welcome the opportunity to participate in a self-managing group where members are expected to operate
autonomously. However, it is also likely that while embracing their own
skills, voice, and authority, such members will resist other members'
attempts to provide leadership for the group. Also, if most members hold
this stance, there is a good likelihood that the group will distance itself
from its formal leaders and sever lines of support and communication that
are important to its task effectiveness.
Proposition 9: Group members with counterdependent
models of authority will distance themselves from their
formal leaders, resist the authority of other group members, and may. to varying extents, embrace their own
voices and creative energies.
This analysis suggests that group members with either internaJ
model of authoritydependence or counterdependenceare likely to
undermine (to some degree) the potential of traditional work groups, task
forces, and self-managing work groups. The implication here is that
members who hold an interdependent model of authority will be most
effective in maximizing effective task performance in groups. Such individuals seek collaborative relations between hierarchical levels: They
are able to draw upon formal systems of authority, communication, and
control for support, guidance, structure, and resources. At the same time,
they also are able to assume ownership for task processes and outputs,
and they will encourage their peers to do the same. This sense of ownership seems particularly important to the success of self-managing
groups, whose members must take personal responsibility for work outcomes, monitor their own performances, take corrective actions when
necessary, actively seek guidance from their organizations when necessary, and help other people in other areas to improve their performances
(Hackman, 1986). Self-managing groups need members who are willing
and able to take ownership of their own processes, and in doing so authorize both themselves and others. As organizations necessarily rely

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more and more on self-managing teams for innovation, quality, and productivity, they will need members who bring an interdependent stance to
teamwork.
Proposition 10: Group members who hold an interdependent model of authority are most capable of utilizing
resources within and outside the group toward achieving teamwork and organizational objectives.
This set of propositions offers a way to begin mapping the influence
that organization members' internal models of authority have on their
work and work relationships.
TRIGGERING AND CHANGING INTERNAL MODELS OF AUTHORITY

In explicating the nature and influence of internal models of authority, we have simplified the three models, treating them as though they are
constant and enduring (i.e., always operating and impervious to modification from birth). Neither point is accurate; the reality is more subtle and
complex. Next, we offer propositions about how internal models of authority might be triggered and how they might change at work.
Triggering Internal Models of Authority

It is likely that there are real individual differences in terms of how


dominant an internal model of authority is over a particular person's
behavior. Some individuals, for example, may be influenced a great deal
by their internal models, across various situations, whereas others may
be influenced to lesser extents, in particular and discrete situations. That
is, some people will automatically respond to many situations with the
strategies dictated by their internal models, whereas other people will
automatically respond to just a few situations and in the other situations
they will have a wider range of choices about how to behave. We understand these differences in terms of how often an individual's internal
model is triggered. People will vary along this dimension, from those
whose models are triggered so often that they seem to react to all situations with the automatic application of their models, to those whose models are triggered so infrequently that it seems a behavioral aberration
when they are. We use the concept of triggering as a way of exploring
more deeply why internal models are activated, in terms of the functions
they serve for individuals.
Our premise is that it is when individuals experience enough anxiety
to make them feel insecure in their immediate situations that their internal model of authority is triggered. This idea reflects two principles from
research and theory on attachment. First, infants (Bowlby, 1973), youths
(Cicchetti, Cummings, Greenberg, & Marvin, 1990), and adults (Weiss,
1982) selectively enact their models of attachment in situations in which

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they experience anxiety. Those situations invariably occur when people


feel that their sense of security is threatened, that is, when the world does
not seem predictable and familiar and the person's way of navigating
through emotions and situations is threatened. Second, internal models
function to provide security. When individuals feel threatened, they enact
behaviors whose aim is to re-create the sense of security (Ainsworth,
1973); that is, they cling to, withdraw from, or reestablish connection and
then move away from attachment figures so as to create a relationship
that is familiar and comfortable. This notion leads to the following proposition:
Proposition i i : Organization membeis operate from
tiieir internal models of aufiiority when they experience
work situations as insecure: They cling to (dependent),
push away from (counterdependent). or establish ties
while remaining independent of (interdependent) given
roles and authority relations until they again feel secure.
When do organization members experience the threat and anxiety
that triggers their internal models? There are many sources of stress in
organizational life, ranging from traditional sources such as task and
interpersonal demands (Cooper & Payne, 1978) to postindustrial sources
such as increasing competition, cost-reduction initiatives, the speed and
complexity of tasks, and the demands of collaboration (Handy, 1989; Hirschhom, 1990). The ambiguous structure of high-involvement systems
(Lawler, 1988) itself creates stress, as individuals experience the absence
of the traditional hierarchical structure and the relative sense of security
it offered. Such stressors do not automatically lead to experienced threat
and anxiety nor to individuals' searches for security. Rather it is when
individuals perceive events and situations as threatening to their sense of
security that they will feel threatened and anxious and behave accordingly (Lazarus, 1966). Such perceptions are based both on how others
perceive and react to situations and on individuals' tendencies to perceive their situations in particular ways.
Norms. Group and organizational norms exert pressures on how
members "ought" to respond to situations (Hackman, 1976). They also
shape how system members frame or interpret situations, in terms of how
familiar or threatening the situations are and what sorts of responses they
should call forth. When the prevailing norms dictate that certain situations (e.g., CEO succession) be treated as nonthreatening, it is less likely
that system members' internal models will be triggered. When norms
dictate that other situations (e.g., union-management impasse) be treated
as threatening, it is more likely that members' internal models will be
triggered.
In these latter situations, there are also norms about the "appropri-

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ate" ways to respond to threat, which presumably serve to create a sense


of security in threatening situations. Appropriate responses may include
members clinging to, pushing away from, or acting within while remaining partly independent of given roles and authority relations. For example, one organization's norms may encourage members to withdraw or
undermine their roles in expressions of resentment (counterdependent),
whereas another organization's norms may encourage members to put in
more hours on their tasks but not to expend energies in thinking critically
and autonomously about those tasks (dependent). Though such norms
function (from the organization's perspective) to enable members to experience solidarity and comfort with one another, they also may produce the
opposite effect: Individuals' own internal models of authority fit or do not
fit with the strategies required by the norms of their units, which presumably leads to implications for members' experiences of security within
those units. This idea suggests the following proposition:
Proposition 12: Individuals with internal models of authority that fit with normative responses will have a diminished sense of anxiety, threat, and insecurity: individuals with counternormative internal models and who
are unable to adapt their behaviors will continue to feel
threatened and insecure.
Personal insecurity. Individuals also differ in terms of how secure or
insecure they tend to feel, across various types of situations and relationships. That is, people differ in terms of how often they frame situations
and events as threatening and, therefore, how often they feel anxious and
insecure (Greenspan & Lieberman, 1988). Individuals who experience insecurity often, across situations, are likely to activate their particular
internal models of authority often in order to try and create familiar relationships by which to feel secure (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1980). Thus,
these people will approach a great many situations by automatically
clinging to, pushing away from, or acting within while remaining independent of given roles and authority relations. Because their models are
triggered by "clues" that are generated internally rather than perceived
externally, their actions may be completely inappropriate to the actual
dictates of the situation, such as when an insecure person attempts to
cling to the rules of hierarchical relations in an explicitly collaborative
context (e.g., self-managing team). This notion leads to the following
proposition:
Proposition 13: Insecure individuals may project rather
than perceive actual threats to their personal security
and thus activate behaviors that are unproductive for
their work and work relationships.

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Changing Internal Models of Authority

We have suggested that when internal models of authority are triggered, individuals act automatically. The point of changing these models, then, is to offer individuals a more conscious choice about how they
wish to behave in particular situations (i.e., to expand the range of behaviors they may apply to different situations). We assume that each of
the three internal models is adaptive in certain situations and maladaptive in others. For example, for newcomers to organizations, it is adaptive
to initially adopt a dependent stance; for members who are placed in
situations that call for them to be whistle-blowers on unethical behaviors
(and will penalize them if they do not), it is adaptive to adopt a counterdependent stance; and for members of self-managing teams, it is adaptive to adopt an interdependent stance. Changing internal models of authority thus means learning how to escape the automatic application of
any single set of operating strategies and learning to act in ways that
meet one's needs and situational demands.
Attachment theorists (Bowlby, 1980; Main et al., 1985; Sroufe & Fleeson, 1986) emphasize that changing early models of attachment is difficult
because such models operate out of immediate awareness, resist change,
and defend against emotional pain. This idea is underscored by the work
of Chris Argyris (1982, 1990; Argyris & Schon, 1978), who developed theory
and interventions to enable organization members to become aware of
their theories-in-practice and the defenses they establish to maintain
those implicit theories. Both streams of research suggest the following
proposition, the components of which are elaborated in the following
paragraphs.
Proposition 14: Changing internal models is a two-stage
process consisting of developing awareness of one's patterns of thought and behavior (and to varying extents
the psychological defenses used to maintain them) and
developing new ways of relating with others.
The less that people are aware of their internal models, the less they
are able to alter actions that derive from these models. Individuals generally develop such self-awareness in the context of relationships, in
which they receive direct or indirect feedback about how the ways they
consistently frame authority relations may be inappropriate to or ineffective in current situations. Such feedback informs people who are able to
understand that they are acting in ways that served them in the past but
are no longer always relevant. As noted previously, the internal models
that people developed to guide their reactions to primary caregivers were
accurate responses to previous contexts (cf. Bowlby, 1980; Main et al.,
1985). When people leave those early environments behind, they must
change internal models that guided their behavior and they must adapt to
new environments to ensure realistic and effective authority relations.

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This process occurs when people receive feedback about the effectiveness
and lack thereof of their behaviors in relations of authority, in the context
of therapeutic or otherwise significant personal and professional relations (see Egeland et al., 1988; Greenspan & Lieberman, 1988) and work
relationships involving significant feedback and challenging assignments (McCall et al., 1988).
People change internal models not simply through feedback and selfawareness but through the different ways they experience being in authority relations. For example, an individual with a counterdependent
model of authority relations may experience interdependence when joining a boss, group, and organization that values, reinforces, and promotes
(literally and symbolically) such interdependence. Through that experience, the individual may feel what it is like to engage both self and role
in the exercise of formal authority and have those feelings validated
externally by other group and organization members. Slowly the individual may transform the counterdependent model into an interdependent
model as previous perceptions and behaviors become unusable and current perceptions and behaviors are reinforced in the context of supportive
relationships. Indeed, this kind of transformation frequently occurs in the
context of some mentor relationships; over time a dependent or counterdependent stance may evolve into interdependence as the relationship
becomes more peerlike or mutual (Kram, 1988). This movement also is
partly a function of adult development because people often progress
through both dependent and counterdependent phases in their relations
with authority figures (i.e., parents and other transferential figures) while
they move toward interdependence (see Erikson, 1980; Kegan, 1982; Levinson et al., 1978). Such a progression occurs in the context of meaningful
relations of hierarchical and negotiated authority with others.
RESEARCH STRATEGY

For researchers to empirically examine the propositions described in


this article will depend on their development of research methods that
reveal the three internal models of authority and measure the influences
that these models have on organization members' behaviors. The research strategy should link people's internal models to how they act during task performances, within hierarchical dyads, and on teams. This
means using an array of qualitative methodologies which are described
in the following sections.
Internal Models

Attachment researchers offer clues for studying internal models. The


methods are inferential, given that internal models cannot be seen directly but must be reconstructed from verbal or nonverbal behaviors. For
children who do not have access to language, methods include scoring
behaviors in laboratory settings that are linked to particular internal

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models (Ainsworth, 1973) and Q-sort techniques for sorting behavioral


observations into concepts and categories (Waters & Deane, 1985). For
adults, there are projective tests (Main et al., 1985) and a recently developed Adult Attachment Interview (Main, In press) whose elaborate coding
scheme offers the means by which to classify adults' internal models of
attachment according to how they remember and frame their own early
attachments to caregivers. These latter methods, focusing on verbal behavior, may be adapted to study organization members' internal models
of authority.
Projective tests. Like the Thematic Apperception Test used to measure achievement motive (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953), a
projective test could be developed to excavate people's internal models of
authority. Individuals would be instructed to tell stories about the workrelated task performances and interactions of people depicted (single, in
pairs, or in groups) in relatively ambiguous pictures. These subjects
would also respond to a series of questions about each picture that probed
for their perceptions about whether the characters in their stories were,
for example, expressing what they really thought and felt; creating new
methods and ideas, directing themselves, and thinking critically and autonomously about their work; working within or rebelling against systems
of control and communication; and clinging to, undermining, or collaborating across hierarchical roles and status differences. The stories, and
responses to such probes, would then be coded along the dimensions of
internal models (i.e., stance toward nature of authority, assumptions
about authority, sense of self in relation to authority, corresponding pattern of attachment, and operating strategies) and categorized into the
model with which they best fit. Inter-rater reliability would be established
by comparing the codings of independent raters.
Interviews. Researchers would also examine internal models by interviewing people about their current and previous relations of authority.
They could ask organization members to talk generally about their relationships with current subordinates, superiors, and (in the context of collaborative work arrangements) co-workers. Researchers would ask members for illustrative examples of how they worked together, and, in the
context of those examples, they would be questioned about increasingly
specific types of behaviors similar to those described in the projective
test. Members' previous relations with authoritywith parents or other
primary caregivers as well in previous jobswould be similarly asked
about and, insofar as possible given the strength of memory and the
research relationship (Berg & Smith, 1985), probed in detail. The resulting
set of illustrative examples and responses to follow-up probes would be
analyzed in the same way as stories from the projective test (i.e., coded in
terms of the dimensions of internal models, checked for inter-rater reliability, and categorized into the model with which they best fit). Researchers also, given this methodology, would chart the changes in individuals' internal models across time and the extent to which they are

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aware of their models and the situations in which the models are triggered.
Behavioral Outcomes

Linking organizational members' internal models of authority to their


work behaviors necessitates measuring their authorizing and deauthorizing of themselves and others in the context of their work. An
assortment of research methods, including observations, interviews, and
questionnaires, is useful for triangulating measurements of behavioral
outcomes. We focus here on how data could be gathered in the context of
task performances, hierarchical dyads, and teamwork.
Task performance. The focus in this case is on the extent to which
organization members authorize themselves and others to act from their
roles and/or draw on personal dimensions during task performances. The
first step is to operationally define such authorizations (and deauthorizations) in the following ways.
Authorizing people to act from their roles means encouraging, supporting, joining in, and reinforcing behaviors that conform to norms and
expectations about what people inhabiting particular roles ought to be
doing in their performance of those roles (i.e., accepting the parameters of
given roles and seeking direction from existing norms of thought and
action). De-authorizing means withholding such encouragement, support,
and reinforcement for role-dictated behaviors. Authorizing people to draw
on personal dimensions during task performances means encouraging,
supporting, joining in, and reinforcing their ability to use their thoughts
and feelings to create new methods and ideas, to direct themselves, and
to think critically and autonomously. In this case, de-authorizing means
withholding such encouragement, support, and reinforcement for people's self-expressions.
These operational definitions of authorizing and de-authorizing behaviors become the focus of data collection. Using an assortment of methodologies, researchers would gather data about the extent to which organization members authorized and de-authorized themselves and others
to act from their roles and to draw on personal dimensions across situations. For example, researchers would begin by performing open-ended
observations of members going about their tasks, noting what behaviors
seem to be used regarding authorizing or de-authorizing role and personal dimensions and when those behaviors occur. Then, they would
conduct interviews with those members to elicit their experiences of receiving "messages," internally or externally, that led to their feeling encouraged, supported, joined, and reinforced in acting from their role or
drawing on personal dimensions, using probes that focus specifically on
observable behaviors connected to their experiences of feeling so authorized or de-authorized (see Kahn, 1990a). Researchers would then develop
and use a more specific observation guide to chart the behaviors by which
organization members are authorized or de-authorized during task per-

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formances, when the tasks are triggered, and the resulting implications
for their work. The concluding step would be to develop an overall rating
for individuals that summarized their general tendencies in relation to the
authorizing and de-authorizing of role and personal dimensions. Testing
the propositions is a matter of comparing those general tendencies to
those predicted by each person's internal model of authority.
Hierarchical dyads. The empirical examination of our propositions
about how organization members' internal models of authority influence
hierarchical and mentoring relationships builds on the methods described in the previous section. The focus is on how members authorize
and de-authorize role and personal dimensions in patterned ways in their
dyadic relationships and the resulting implications for those relationships. Given that focus, sequences of observations (open-ended and directed) and interviews would be used to generate data about authorizing
and de-authorizing behaviors across situations in which members of dyads interact (i.e., the presence or absence of behaviors that show the
encouraging, supporting, joining in, and reinforcing of role and/or personal dimensions). Researchers would also collect data about the quality
of the dyadic relationship (i.e., the extent to which each member receives
useful feedback, grows personally, professionally and so on [see Kram,
1988]). Finally, researchers would look at the implications of the relationship for task performances (i.e., how well the internal and external constituencies receive the members' work, singly and jointly). Combined
with data about each member's internal model of authority, researchers
would link these data to offer empirical testing of the propositions articulated in this article, namely, what occurs when members of hierarchical
dyads hold the same or different internal models and the effects that
internal models have on the development and growth of people within
mentoring relationships.
Teamwork. Testing our propositions about the influence that people's
internal models of authority have on their interactions in teams is a matter of linking data about their authorizing and deauthorizing of themselves and others (on role and personal dimensions) with their participation as group members. More specifically, researchers would focus on the
extent to which members of groups (e.g., from standing departments to
task forces to self-managing teams) invest in and divest from the encouraging, supporting, joining in, and reinforcing of role and/or personal dimensions as group members. More specifically, this means gathering
data about the extent to which individuals (a) authorize themselves and
other group members to use their thoughts and feelings to create new
methods and ideas, (b) direct themselves and think critically and autonomously, (c) authorize themselves and other members to remain connected to existing parameters, methods, and systems of communication
and control related to system leaders. Researchers would also collect
data about the quality of the group's process (i.e., the extent to which each
member receives useful feedback personally, grows professionally, and

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SO on (see Hackman, 1987). Additionally, researchers would look at the


quality of team products (i.e., how well the internal and external constituencies receive group work). All of these data may be collected using the
same assortment of methods and instruments described previously,
namely, observations (open-ended and directed) and interviews of group
members relating to both their and others' perceptions and experiences.
Combined with data about each member's internal model of authority,
these data would be linked to offer empirical testing of the propositions
articulated in this article, namely, what occurs when group members hold
particular internal models of authority.
Triggering/Changing internal models. Empirically examining our
propositions about the triggering and changing of internal models of authority means adding a temporal focus to data collection and analysis.
Linking the data collected across situations, researchers would be able to
note when individuals act according to their internal models and when
they do not, creating a longitudinal data set. To explore our propositions
about triggering internal models, researchers would conduct interviews
in which they probed how individuals experienced their situations (i.e.,
whether they felt threatened and insecure), and they would correlate
those experiences with observations about whether members' particular
internal models were operative. Researchers would also explore two
sources of such insecurity: (a) the extent to which individuals' internal
models suggested behaviors (e.g., clinging to or eschewing hierarchy)
that were normative for their situations (based on interviews with system
members), and (b) the extent to which individuals are personally insecure
(based on clinical interviews and psychometric tests). In addition, the
longitudinal database would be useful for exploring our proposition
about changing internal models. Researchers would conduct interviews
in which they focused on the extent to which individuals (a) received
feedback about themselves in formal and collaborative authority relations, (b) were aware of any patterns in how they framed and enacted
those relations, and (c) were aware of any changes in such patterns. The
longitudinal set of observations would be a useful base from which to
independently note any such changes.
CONCLUSION

Our purpose in this article has been to develop a conceptual framework that links theory and research about authority in traditionally hierarchical organizations to that in increasingly collaborative work arrangements. In both types of systems, organization members authorize and
de-authorize themselves and others to perform roles and to bring personal
dimensions into their work. We chose to focus on what it is about organization members, psychologically, that shapes the patterned ways in
which they each authorize and de-authorize themselves and others.
Hence, the concept of internal models of authority, which speaks directly

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47

to how and why individuals consistently frame and enact formal and
negotiated relations of authority (in hierarchical and collaborative work
settings). We believe that, in conjunction with existing literatures on the
situational and structural dimensions of authority in organizations, this
concept has a great deal of potential for explaining individual behavior in
organizations. Ultimately, systematic study of the propositions outlined
in this article should enhance the understanding of how authority dynamics shape innovation and teamwork, which are increasingly becoming
central to the success of postindustrial organizations.
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William A. Kahn received his Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University and is currently an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Boston University. His
current research focuses on the nature of attachments at work and the dynamics of
care giving within social service organizations.
Kathy E. Kram received her Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale University.
She is currently an associate professor of organizational behavior at Boston University. Her primary interests are in the areas of adult development and career dynamics, values and ethics in corporate decision making, gender dynamics in organizations, and workforce diversity.