Stress and Leadership Style

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Is your leadership style stressing you out?

Alberta School of Business researcher finds:

  • Leaders fall into four distinct style categories:
    • comprehensive (uses a wide range of behavioral styles);
    • optimal (combines transformational and transactional styles);
    • passive (uses management by exception and laissez-faire styles); and
    • completely disengaged.
  • Comprehensive leaders reported the highest level of burnout confirming his hypothesis that an active and engaged leadership style comes at a high personal cost.
  • Leaders in the optimal and disengaged categories were among the least affected by role demands.
  • Surprisingly, being too passive is also stressful for a leader! Evidently, neglecting issues and waiting for problems to emerge leads to negative outcomes, depletes personal resources, and increases burnout.

Research Summary:

Using a pattern‐oriented approach, we identified clusters of leaders who shared theoretically meaningful combinations of transformational, contingent reward, management by exception active, management by exception passive, and laissez‐faire leadership styles. Drawing upon conservation of resources theory, we examined whether leaders who shared a similar pattern of leadership styles differed from leaders who belonged to other profile groups, with respect to felt burnout and perceived role demands. Hypotheses were tested using a time‐lagged field study involving 183 leaders. Using latent profile analyses, we found four theoretically interpretable patterns. Leaders who belonged to the comprehensive cluster (elevated scores on the transformational, contingent reward, and the passive styles; 14.2%) experienced the highest levels of burnout and role demands, whereas those who were disengaged (low scores on all styles; 33.3%) reported the lowest levels. Leaders who exhibited a passive behavioral pattern (elevated scores on management by exception active, management by exception passive, and laissez‐faire relative to the other styles; 27.3%) experienced more burnout and role demands than did leaders who exhibited an optimal pattern (elevated scores on transformational and contingent reward styles relative to the passive styles; 25.1%). The theoretical and practical implications of a pattern‐oriented approach to leadership research were discussed.

The article, "Using a pattern-oriented approach to study leaders: Implications for burnout and perceived role demand" is co-authored by Ian R. Gellatly and is published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.


Ian Gellatly Ian Gellatly's research has contributed to several topics within the field of organizational behaviour, such as the three-component model of organizational commitment (individual components and profiles of components) employee motivation, leadership behaviours, knowledge exchange (sharing/hiding), and employee withdrawal (attendance and turnover). His research examines the interplay between person and situational factors in a variety of different contexts, such as virtual work, health-care organizations, the nursing profession, non-profit agencies, primary industries, and ride-sharing. He earned his BA (Hons), MA in Applied Psychology and PhD in Industrial / Organizational Psychology at Western University. Ian is currently the Department Chair and Professor of Strategic Management and Organization at the Alberta School of Business.