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Robert L. Kahn

American psychologist
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Robert Louis Kahn (born 1918, in Detroit, Michigan) is an American psychologist and social scientist, specializing in organizational theory and survey research.



  • The concept of leadership has an ambiguous status in organizational practice, as it does in organizational theory. In practice, management appears to be of two minds about the exercise of leadership. Many jobs are so specified in content and method that within very broad limits differences among individuals become irrelevant, and acts of leadership are regarded as gratuitous at best, and at worst insubordinate
    • Daniel Katz & Robert L. Kahn (1966) The Social Psychology of Organizations, p. 300
  • We define successful aging as including three main components: low probability of disease and disease-related disability, high cognitive and physical functional capacity, and active engagement with life.
    • Rowe, John W., and Robert L. Kahn. "Successful aging." The gerontologist 37.4 (1997): 433-440.
  • When you’re 90 years old, you are somewhere near the end of your life; got to be... It doesn’t feel like the end yet, but statistically, demographically, there can’t be much left. But that’s not part of my daily baggage.
    • In: "Robert Kahn," by Susan Rosegrant at, March 2009.

Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity, 1964Edit

Kahn, R. L., Wolfe, D. M., Quinn, R. P., Snoek, J. D., & Rosenthal, R. A. (1964). Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity.

  • Associated with each office is a set of activities, which are defined as potential behaviors. These activities constitute the role to be performed, at least approximately, by any person who occupies that office.
    • p. 13: Definition of the term role.
  • The prescriptions and proscriptions held by members of a role set are designated as role expectations. ... The role expectations held for a certain person by some member of his or her role set will reflect that member's conception of the person's office and his or her abilities. The content of these expectations may include preferences with respect to specific acts and personal characteristics or styles; they may deal with what the person should do, what kind of person he should be, what he should think, or believe, and how he should relate to others.
    • p. 14
  • Each sent pressure can be regarded as arousing in the focal person a psychological force of some magnitude and direction. Such forces will be called role forces. This is not to say that these motivational role forces are identical in magnitude and direction with the role pressures which evoked them. Especially when role pressures are seen as illegitimate or coercive, they may arouse strong resistance forces which lead to outcomes different from or even opposite to the expected behavior. Pressures to increase production rates sometimes result in slowdowns. Moreover, every person is subject to a variety of psychological forces in addition to those stimulated by pressures from his role set in the work situation. Role pressures are thus only a partial determinant of behavior on the job. In addition, to the motivational forces aroused by role pressures, there are important internal sources of motivation for role performance. One of these stems from the intrinsic satisfaction derived from the content of the role.
    • p. 16-17
  • [A role conflict is] ... the simultaneous occurrence of two (or more) sets of pressures such that compliance with one would make more difficult compliance with the other.
    • p. 19
  • Overload could be regarded as a kind of inter-sender conflict in which various role senders may hold quite legitimate expectations that a person perform a wide variety of tasks, all of which are mutually compatible in the abstract. But it may be virtually impossible for the focal person to complete all of them within given time limits. He [sic] is likely to experience overload as a conflict of priorities; he must decide which pressures to comply with and which to hold off. If it is impossible to deny any of the pressures, he may be taxed beyond the limits of his abilities. Thus overload involves a kind of person-role conflict and is perhaps best regarded as a complex, emergent type combining aspects of inter-sender and person-role conflicts.
    • p. 20
  • Certain information is required for adequate role performance, that is, in order for a person to conform to the role expectations held by members of his role set.
    • p. 22-23
  • Social relations with one's work associates tend to deteriorate under the stress of conflict. In part, this reaction reflects the person's general dissatisfaction with the work situation. Attitudes toward those role senders who create the conflict become worse, just as do those toward the job and the organization in general.
    • p. 67
  • Innovative roles represent patterned organizational deviance... The intra-role conflicts of the innovator stem from his engagement and commitment to the creative, non-routine aspects of his job and his corresponding disinterest and disdain for the routine or uncreative demands placed upon him.
    • p. 388, as cited in: Eugene E. Szymaszek (1996). Changing Role of Leadership for Vocational Education in... p. 41

The Social Psychology of Organizations (1966)Edit

Daniel Katz & Robert L. Kahn (1966), The Social Psychology of Organizations.

See : Daniel Katz#The Social Psychology of Organizations (1966)

Quotes about Robert L. KahnEdit

  • Katz and Kahn's (1966) The Social Psychology of Organizations has been the most influential. It remains one of the most widely read texts on organizational behaviour. Katz and Kahn develop a perspective in which the systems metaphor is used to mediate approaches as diverse as Marxism, human relations and event-structure theory.... In the synthesizing of structural-functionalism with the principles of general systems theory, Katz and Kahn develop a process model for interpreting organizational actions in terms of input, throughput and output. Their thesis revolves around the notion that formal social systems are homoeos- tatic, possessing qualities of negative entropy, feedback, differentiation and equifinality.
    • John Hassard (1995) Sociology and Organization Theory: Positivism, Paradigms and Postmodernity. p. 45-46
  • In the most general sense, organizational psychology is the scientific study of individual and group behavior in formal organizational settings. Katz and Kahn, in their classic work, The Social Psychology of Organizations (1978), stated that the essence of an organization is “patterned” human behavior. When behavior is patterned, some structure is imposed on individuals. This structure typically comes in the form of roles (normative standards governing behavior) as well as a guiding set of values. An organization cannot exist when people just “do their own thing” without any awareness of the behavior of others.
    • Steve M. Jex, ‎Thomas W. Britt (2002). Organizational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach. John Wiley & Sons, p. 2

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