There is an old quotes that says, "the behavior that is rewarded gets repeated".
Proposed by C. Montgomery, the Social Learning Theory is the concept that people learn their behaviors through the influences of rewards and or punishments. In other words, through positive feedback, praise, or monetary rewards, people are almost compulsively inclined to repeat the rewarded behaviors. In contrast, negative responses to behaviors such as punishments, pains, penalization, etc. encourage non-repeated actions.
On the surface this sounds like a an almost childlike concept. However, there is a fundamental point to be made here about leadership. The social learning theory links behavior to social environments. Therefore, it is fitting of every leader to consider the environment that they set for those around them. Questions to be considered might include:
* What type of leadership is being used (dictator vs. servant)?
* Is leadership approachable?
The power of social learning theory is in the ability to shape behaviors by the exposure to people, circumstances, responses, policies, organizational cultures, etc. Therefore, it is imperative that leadership is regularly considerate of what messages are being sent to people within their influence. Here are a few example scenarios:
Negative example 1: A pastor uses an authoritarian leadership style. A parishioner approaches him one day after church and offers to clean up the church grounds next weekend. He replies saying that they must get that approved by the maintenance department. The parishioner walks away believing that their help was unwanted. The parishioner has "socially learned" not to ever offer to help the church again.
Positive response: How could the pastor handled the situation differently? He could have considered beforehand how his response may be received. Then he could have considered what about the conversation he wanted to "punish" or "praise". In this case there is noting to punish; however, he could praise the parishioner’s desire to help the church. Instead of telling them that they must get approval from maintenance, he might have said: "Thank you so much for your desire to help, we really need people with a willing attitude like you have. I will let the maintenance department know that you will be out here cleaning up next weekend. I am sure they will enjoy the help".
Negative example 2: An employee contacts her manager and requests help because it seems like all that the company is expecting of her is impossible without more employees to help her. Her reasoning is that she is only one person and one person cannot answer phones, help customers, stock inventory, and handle the books. Management responds by calling a meeting with her and several other managers. The employee only asked for advice/help and now has to attend this meeting that she perceives is an intimidation session. At the meeting she is told that she needs to become more organized and a better handler of resources, and asked if she is interested in her job. yet none of the manager offer to help her understand how to improve on any of these things. The employee walks away having "socially learned" to never ask management for help because they will force her to attend intimation sessions and question her competence.