Othello By William Shakespeare: The Aspects Of Leader-Member Exchange Theory And Political Framework

December 10, 2020 by Essay Writer


Shakespeare’s Othello provides insight into the potential negative aspects of the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory when the leader-follower relationship becomes an in-group or coalition of conflicting interests because of competing goals that can arise in a political framework. In Northouse’s Leadership Theory and Practice the Nahrang, Morgeson and Ilies 2009 LMX study “found that leaders look for followers who exhibit enthusiasm and participation” whereas “followers look for leaders who are trusting, cooperative and agreeable”. This relational dynamic can foster a high-quality relationship; however, if the in-group exists within a political frame the differing agendas as seen between the characters of Othello, the Venetian army general and his ensign, Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello can increase “political activity” that according to Bolman and Deal would “erode” organizational “credibility”. The overarching goal in a political frame is to ensure participation and collaboration; which allows for alliances of varying power to form coalitions, however, “power can also be volatile, rising and falling with changes in circumstances” as seen in the competing actions of Othello and Iago.

Bolman & Deal

Bolman and Deal’s political frame is a system of “interdependence, divergent interests and power relations that inevitably spawn political activity” and “goals and decisions emerge from bargaining, negotiation, and jockeying for position among competing stakeholders”. Furthermore, in Reframing Organizations authors Bolman and Deal suggest that in this framework members form groups called coalitions out of necessity rather than because of common interests and it is the nature of differing agendas and competing interests that “implies political activity”. This relationship of necessity is illustrated in Shakespeare’s Othello through Othello and Iago’s connection as they both serve in the Venetian army and are both considered outsiders within the societal hierarchy of Venice. Othello is a Moor, and Iago has a Spanish name which “also makes them to be strangers and outsiders” in Venetian society. It is these commonalities that potentially bond Othello and Iago together forming a leader-follower in-group relationship with Othello as leader and Iago as his follower; however, political transgressions on behalf of both create political conflict within their coalition. As a Moor, Othello disregards “implicit color lines” by marrying Desdemona a “white Venetian daughter of an aristocrat”; while Iago’s act of vengeance by manipulation convincing Othello to murder his own wife because he believes she may be adulterous “breeds discontent within the army and causes the death of innocent citizens”.


Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory focuses on the connections that occur between leaders and their followers through their relationship and more specifically identifies that these roles are interconnected through either in-groups or out-groups. Graen, pointed out that the “membership in one group or the other is based on how followers involve themselves in expanding their role responsibilities with the leader”. Participation in the in-group by both the follower and the leader creates an enhanced experience for both as this “high-quality relationship” has the potential “to engage more discretionary (positive “payback”) behaviors”. In Shakespeare’s Othello the characters Othello and Iago illustrate a negative LMX in-group between each other; through the appearance of trust and respect at the surface as seen throughout the play; for example when Othello references Iago’s character “Iago is most honest” as well as when Iago says “my lord, you know I love you”. Despite their bond or “coalition” as described in Bolman and Deal’s political frame, which they built through shared differences within Venetian society, Othello chooses another soldier, Cassio over Iago for a promotion and while in the in-group, Iago harbors resentment towards Othello. Iago confesses “though I do hate him as I do hell pains, yet for necessity of present life I must show out a flag and sign of love”. Some criticisms of LMX Theory as addressed in Northouse include; the “development of privileged groups in the workplace” which may be perceived as “unfair and discriminatory” and “perceptions of fairness of promotion opportunities”. Having been overlooked for advancement fosters feelings of jealousy within Iago against Cassio in addition to a desire to retaliate against Othello. Similarly, Othello desired to show integrity protecting Venetian society in his military leadership role and yet his “marriage to Desdemona” countered that creating doubt for him which may have been caused by the fear of racial miscegenation widely spread in the Venetian society at that time”.


In its successful form, LMX theory describes leaders and followers that share reciprocity of respect and trust within an in-group dynamic that ensures high-quality relationships. However, the conflicting personal political interests of the in-group or coalition members, Othello and Iago, as illustrated in Shakespeare’s Othello, negatively affect their leader-member exchange driving them to harm not only their relationship but the organization (Venetian society) overall due to competition within the political framework.

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