We consider the utility of two contrasting theoretical perspectives in explaining how laissez-faire formal leaders and team member motivation to lead (MTL) influences informal leadership and team task performance. The first perspective, functional leadership theory, is the dominant lens used currently to understand informal leadership. However, we suggest that social learning theory offers a compelling alternative account. In a multiwave survey study of 344 members of 72 work teams, we find support for the social learning theory predictions that laissez-faire formal leaders are perceived by team members to engage in less modeling of effective leadership and as a result are negatively associated with informal leadership and team task performance. We do not find support for the functional leadership theory predictions that laissez-faire formal leaders are positively associated with team members’ informal leadership and team task performance, which would be due to an increased perceived need for leadership. The social learning effects are stronger for teams that are lower in member MTL and weaker for teams that are higher in member MTL. These results suggest social learning theory may be preferable to functional leadership theory for understanding informal leadership in teams.
- teams/group processes
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Psychology
- Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management