Edgar H. Schein

The metaphor of social theater comes into play in that the leader has a choice of what role to play once he or she is thrust into a helping situation. There are three possible roles: 1) The leader can be an “expert” who provides information, actually does the job for the subordinate, or in other ways displays superior knowledge or skill; 2) The leader can be a “doctor” who diagnoses the situation and offers prescriptions (which may include “surgery,” by correcting something that the subordinate is doing wrong); 3) The leader can be what I have called a “process consultant,” by first inquiring about the nature of the help needed, why it might be needed, and how it might be gotten best.

A central principle of helping is that it should begin in the process consultant role in order to elicit appropriate information on what is actually needed and in order to equilibrate the relationship by showing respect for the client’s own understanding of his or her own situation. Once the leader understands what the subordinate actually needs, he or she can offer the appropriate help by shifting into an expert’s or doctor’s mode (or stay in the process consulting mode and adopt a coaching approach). There are two dangers in adopting the expert or doctor roles prematurely: The wrong problem will be worked on, because the subordinate was not encouraged to be clear about what he or she really needs, and secondly, the subordinate will become more dependent.

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