What is Bolman and Deal's Four Frame Model of Leadership?
Lee Bolman and Terry Deal outlined their Four-Frame model in their book, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (1991).
Bolman and Deal stated that leaders should look at and approach organizational issues from four perspectives, which they called 'Frames'.
In their view, if a leader works with only one habitual Frame (frame of reference), the leader risks being ineffective.
The Four Frames Outlined by Bolman and Deal
The Four Frames outlined by Bolman and Deal are:
- Human Resource
Here are descriptions of and differences between the Four Frames:
Implications of the Four Frame Model
Bolman and Deal proposed that a leader should see the organisation's challenges through these four Frames or 'lenses', to gain an overall view, and to decide which Frame or Frames to use.
- The leader may use one Frame (implying a behavioural approach) for a time, and then switch to another. Or instead, the leader might combine and use a number of Frames, or all four, at the same time.
A crucial aspect of Bolman and Deal's model seeks to avoid the temptation for leaders to become stuck, viewing and acting on conditions through one lens or Frame alone.
- Bolman and Deal assert that because no Frame works well in every circumstance, then a leader who sticks with one Frame is bound eventually to act inappropriately and ineffectively.
- Instead, it is the leader's responsibility to use the appropriate Frame of reference, and thereby behaviour, for each challenge.
- Central to this methodology is asking the right questions and diagnosing the vital issues.
- Where a leader ascertains that the biggest problem in a group is a lack of motivation and commitment, the leader should probably adopt a Symbolic and/or Human Resource (Frame) approach.
- If the main group challenge is instead confusion around priorities and responsibilities, then the leader will probably be more successful in adopting Structural and Political (Frames) orientation.
- If the group is experiencing uncertainty and anxiety about direction then Symbolic and Political (Frames) leadership behaviours are more likely to produce effective results.
Essentially, the leader should adopt a multi-Frame perspective before choosing how to act.
Organisations tend naturally to use the Structural Frame but pay less attention to the other three Frames.
According to the Four-Frame theory, this is due either to:
- Lack of awareness of the need for multi-Frame thinking and behaviour or
- Behavioural rigidity due to unconscious limiting beliefs (controlling the leader's perceived priorities or capabilities).
James Scouller Biography
We are grateful to James Scouller for his help, patience, and expert contribution to producing this leadership guide.
James Scouller is an expert coach and partner at The Scouller Partnership in the UK, which specialises in coaching leaders. He was chief executive of three international companies for eleven years before becoming a professional coach in 2004. He holds two postgraduate coaching qualifications and training in applied psychology at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London.
James Scouller's book is called "The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill" which was published in May 2011.