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Observational learning: Superleadership

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Executives are a popular target group, which is always given attention in the literature because corporate hierarchies are becoming increasingly flattened. Due to this flattening of corporate hierarchies, more employees also take on management tasks. Concepts such as the transformational leadership style are already familiar to some through literature or hearsay. With Superleadership, you will learn in this article about a leadership concept that has many positive consequences (such as increased knowledge sharing in teams and higher job satisfaction). Enable rather than impose is the motto here!

Observational learning

Observational learning (according to Albert Bandura) answers one of the essential questions of human learning: What influence has the mere observation of our role models and their behavior on our learning process?

Bandura shows us that we can also actively reflect on ourselves and our fellow human beings' actions in the observer's role. Reflection in the observer's role is the basis for drawing our conclusions and initiating an internal learning process. For example, I can observe that my manager discusses with a work colleague in a consistently objective manner and what effect this has on the situation. Depending on the conclusion different findings can be derived ("If one always remains objective towards this person, the measures are reliably implemented and both are satisfied with both the communication and the result. In the future I will behave in the same way").

Therefore, observational learning can also be equated with the term "learning by imitation".

Suppose my supervisor lives according to a specific code of conduct and thus produces a positive result (e.g., good teamwork). In that case, the probability is higher to follow this code of conduct. If, on the other hand, my manager only informs me that these behaviors are desirable instead of actively living them, the probability that I will follow them is lower.

The effects of observational learning include adopting behaviors and attitudes (e.g., parents in early childhood, teachers or peers in school, and by my manager in adulthood, for example). If I see that my fellow human beings and role models behave prosocially, this observation often triggers me to be more willing to help.

The manager as process moderator

The Superleadership concept goes back to Charles Mainz and Henry Sims and is one of the transformational leadership styles.

The goal of Superleadership is to enable employees to find tasks and the corresponding information independently and make decisions autonomously.

Faced with the challenges of a decentralized working environment, Superleadership focuses on less rigid forms of work organization. That means that old approaches to work processes are discarded to make room for new ideas and suggestions. Therefore, this concept calls for greater autonomy on the part of employees since a central question of Superleadership is how managers can motivate employees to organize/lead more independently.

In theory, the task of a superleader is, therefore, to create more flexible conditions for goal-oriented self-management. You notice at the latest now: this leadership concept is very different from classical leadership styles because the leader does not dictate (and thus limit) the employee's scope of action but instead expands it and shows him/her new perspectives.

Core concepts of the superleadership model

The concept of the superleader is holistic and includes self-management, role models, and the use of positive psychology.


Leading by example! If you want your employees or colleagues to treat each other with respect, support each other, and actively listen in discussions, then set a good example. You will soon notice that your environment reacts positively to this and will learn to copy your behavior.


A positive attitude helps employees to increase their motivation and to work more productively on challenges. It is easier to work in a warm and appreciative environment. Another benefit of a positive atmosphere is that it promotes your colleagues and employees' self-esteem, makes them more open to problems, and allows them to suggest more creative solutions.


Promoting intrinsic motivation (i.e., a motivation that is not reinforced by external influences, such as a monetary reward) is difficult but possible. An environment in which one feels comfortable, work tasks that challenge but do not overtax one, and an environment in which one's performance can be tested without fear of punishment for mistakes are good conditions for intrinsic motivation to develop. Intrinsically motivated employees are happier and enjoy coming to work because the work itself is rewarding.


A superleader conveys appreciation and support to his or her employees and sets a good example to others, allowing the employees to develop freely within their work area and take on project tasks independently. Job satisfaction and commitment to the company increase because employees are trusted to tackle things independently. The manager now takes on the role of process moderator or coordinator instead of keeping the employees small with controls and sanctions. The good thing is: Superleadership can be learned. Superleadership skills can be practiced and consolidated in management coaching sessions so that you, as a manager, can be the initiator for the development of the employee's self-management.


If you give a man a fish, he will have a single meal. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat all his life.

by Kuan-tzu (chinesischer Philosoph)

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Portrait Katharina Raichle


Katharina Raichle
Marketing / Consulting

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