Image Filters: Effects of Emotion Displays on Followers' Perceptions of Principled Leaders.

AutorCavazotte, Flavia


The toxic outcomes provoked by unprincipled leaders and their damaging impacts on organizations and society have expanded the debate about virtue and vice for those in positions of power (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Fehr, Yam, & Dang, 2015). Nevertheless, we still know little about the intersections between leader affective displays and principled leadership, particularly the influence of emotion expression for leaders who endorse high moral standards or oppose them. Given the role of emotions in social interaction and influence (Van Knippenberg & Van Kleef, 2017), positive and negative emotion displays might interfere with how we process information regarding these leaders, even when they clearly approve moral or immoral standards in discourse. Despite its relevance, knowledge on how affective displays by principled and unprincipled leaders influence followers is scant, as the topic has been largely overlooked by scholars in the field.

In this study, we examine how positive and negative affective displays influence perceptions about principled and unprincipled leaders in the context of leader-follower distance. Leadership at a distance has long been of concern to scholars focused on the political arena (Burns, 1978; Gardner, 1990), while research among organizational leadership scholars has been rarer (Antonakis & Atwater, 2002). Nevertheless, although distant leaders have little interactions with followers, they still can have a strong impact on their attitudes and behaviors (Kunst, Dovidio, & Thomsen, 2019). Based on theories of emotion contagion (Barsade, 2002; Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1992) and emotion cognitive interpretation (Lewis, 2000; Tiedens & Linton, 2001), we argue that despite the strong moral convictions of principled leaders, when they are distant from followers their displays of negative affect will cast a shadow on them and on how they will be perceived, and therefore negatively affect followers' judgments about the leader, leading to less favorable outcomes. Conversely, displays of positive affect will brighten up perceptions about unprincipled leaders that are distant from followers, and therefore lead to more favorable follower judgments, including assessments of leader ethicality.

While researchers have investigated whether and how the expression of positive and negative affect influences follower perceptions of transformational and charismatic leadership (Bono & Ilies, 2006; Chi, Chung, & Tsai, 2011; Johnson, 2009), such leadership perspectives do not particularly address principled leadership (Bass, 1999). On the other hand, authentic leadership theory emerged based on the assumption that morality, balance, and positivity are central attributes of effective leaders (Avolio, Wernsing, & Gardner, 2017; Gardner, Cogliser, Davis, & Dickens, 2011; Luthans & Avolio, 2003). In this study, we focus on the moral principles that ground authentic leadership theory and examine if the expression of positive and negative emotions by authentic and inauthentic leaders influences three follower reactions: perception of leader efficacy, identification with the leader, and assessments of leader ethicality. Our findings contribute to broadening knowledge about the interplay between affective displays and principled leadership, based on a robust research design. Our observations also have important practical implications for leadership development and public relations.


Emotions and leadership

In the last decades, the study of affect in organizational settings has increasingly attracted the attention of scholars. While moods are diffuse and lasting affective states not explicitly attached to a particular object or cause, emotions are discrete feelings with a clear object or cause that last for short periods (Brief & Weiss, 2002; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). Positive emotions (e.g., happiness; enthusiasm; pride) and negative emotions (e.g., sadness; fear; anger) are unambiguous, whereas mood states are less specific, and tend to be treated more generally in empirical studies under the scope of positive and negative states (Watson & Clark, 1997). Besides valance, emotions are also differentiated by their level of physiological arousal: anger is considered an active negative emotion and sadness is considered a passive negative emotion.

In social interactions such as leadership processes, both leaders and followers are always feeling and expressing various emotions. While leaders can and at times will express how they feel verbally, they constantly display emotions through non-verbal communication, such as movements, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Such displays cue their affective states to followers and will also affect their affective reactions, behaviors, and judgments about the leaders (Chi et al., 2011; Erez, Misangyi, Johnson, LePine, & Halverson, 2008; Newcombe & Ashkanasy, 2002).

Research on leadership and emotion has addressed how leader affect influences follower affect, attitudes, and behaviors, such as citizenship and voluntary turnover (Gooty, Connelly, Griffith, & Gupta, 2010; Van Knippenberg & Van Kleef, 2017). Leaders can influence the emotions and moods of their teams (Sy, Cote, & Saavedra, 2005), which in turn can affect organizational outcomes, such as customer satisfaction (George, 1996). In addition, the expression of emotions by leaders seems to influence the way they are perceived and evaluated (Bono & Ilies, 2006; Madera & Smith, 2009; Johnson, 2009).

In particular, the impact of leader's emotion displays on followers and their assessments about the leader has been the focus of multiple studies (Bono & Ilies, 2006; Gaddis, Connelly, & Mumford, 2004; Lewis, 2000; Montepare & Dobish, 2003; Newcombe & Ashkanasy, 2002). Some researchers have observed that the expression of positive emotions by a leader is positively related to follower evaluations about the leader and their perceived attractiveness (Bono & Ilies, 2006; Newcombe & Ashkanasy, 2002). Studies have also suggested that the expression of negative emotions by leaders tends to hurt evaluations about them (Gaddis et al., 2004; Lewis, 2000).

'Cognitive interpretation' and 'emotion contagion' are psychosocial mechanisms that help explaining followers' reactions to leaders' affective displays. Research on the former indicates that affective displays convey information that can be used by observers to make attributions about a target (Lewis, 2000; Tiedens & Linton, 2001; Van Kleef, 2009). Followers tend to appraise leaders according to certain social norms--sadness, for instance, might be interpreted as lack of self-confidence (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; Sutton & Rafaeli, 2017), while anger might be associated with attributions of higher status by observers (Tiedens & Linton, 2001).

In addition, when someone displays an emotion, such affective state tends to awaken the same emotion on observers, a process known as 'emotional contagion' (Barsade, 2002; Hatfield et al., 1992). Such process can profoundly affect observers and influence their perceptions and judgments in ways that follow the valence of the affect expressed. Based on this principle, research suggests that affective states displayed by a leader would influence affective states of followers, and therefore tint their attitudes, including their assessments about the leader. In support to this idea, George (1996) stated that "when leaders feel excited, enthusiastic, and active, they may be more likely to energize their subordinates and convey a sense of efficacy, competence, optimism, and enjoyment" (George, 1996, p. 162).

Various authors have carefully examined the question of emotional contagion (Grossman, 2000; Ilies, Fulmer, Spitzmuller, & Johnson, 2009; Sy et al., 2005; Van Kleef, 2009). Sy, Cote, and Saavedra (2005) observed that members of a group show more positive mood when leaders also display that affective state, suggesting the contagion of emotions between agents. Furthermore, the studies of Ilies, Fulmer, Spitzmuller, and Johnson (2009) highlighted that the positive affectivity of leaders creates a more positive working environment, thus promoting better productivity. In addition, the expression of emotions viewed as appropriate by followers should enhance the legitimacy of leaders, who are perceived as more effective through emotional contagion (Rajah, Song, & Arvey, 2011).

Although several studies investigated positive emotion displays of leaders, only a few have examined effects of negative affective displays (Gooty et al., 2010; Johnson, 2009; Van Kleef, 2009). Overall, these studies tend to conclude that negative affective displays disfavors leaders when compared to positive displays, although some studies suggest that this influence may vary as a function of the affective state of followers and other characteristics (Damen, Van Knippenberg, & Van Knippenberg, 2008).

Visser, Van Knippenberg, Van Kleef, and Wisse (2013) observed that when distant leaders express emotions of happiness and sadness at work, their subordinates tend to favor those who display happiness in performance ratings, rather than those who show sadness. In another study, it was observed that positive emotions, such as happiness expressed through smiling and attentive visual contact, were associated with a more favorable assessment of leader effectiveness, in contrast with negative emotions, such as sadness and expressions of resignation through a downcast visual posture and grim visage (Bono & Ilies, 2006).

Although such studies have observed the role of affective displays on assessments of leaders, they largely focused on such effects on perceptions about transformational and charismatic leaders (Bono & Ilies, 2006; Chi et al., 2011; Johnson, 2009). To that effect, findings have primarily confirmed that displays of positive affect benefit leaders and assessments about them. Nevertheless, studies on the interplay between...

Para continuar a ler


VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT