Satisfied with the Job, But Not with the Boss: Leaders’ Expressions of Gratitude and Pride Differentially Signal Leader Selfishness, Resulting in Differing Levels of Followers’ Satisfaction

  • Lisa RitzenhöferEmail author
  • Prisca Brosi
  • Matthias Spörrle
  • Isabell M. Welpe
Original Paper


Setting out to understand the effects of positive moral emotions in leadership, this research examines the consequences of leaders’ expressions of gratitude and pride for their followers. In two experimental vignette studies (N = 261; N = 168) and a field study (N = 294), leaders’ gratitude expressions showed a positive effect and leaders’ pride expressions showed a negative effect on followers’ ascriptions of leader selfishness. Thereby, leaders’ gratitude expression indirectly led to higher follower satisfaction with and OCB towards the leader, while leaders’ pride expressions indirectly reduced satisfaction with and OCB towards the leader. Furthermore, leaders’ expressions of gratitude indirectly reduced followers’ intentions to leave the leader, while leaders’ expressions of pride indirectly fuelled them. Although ascriptions of selfishness consistently influenced these leader outcomes more strongly than comparable organizational outcomes, results on organizational outcomes were mixed. While leaders’ expressions of gratitude led, as expected, to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover intentions, leaders’ expressions of pride showed positive relations with both OCB towards the organization and intentions to leave the organization. We discuss the theoretical implications of leaders’ expressions of positive moral emotions as signals of outcome attributions, as well as leaders’ selfishness and practical implications that help leaders build followers’ satisfaction and positive leader–follower relationships.


Emotion expression Gratitude Job satisfaction Leadership Pride Satisfaction with the leader Selfishness 



This work was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and by the European Social Fund of the European Union in the research project “Selection and Assessment of Leaders in Academia and Business” under Grant FKZ 01FP1072/73.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All the authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Ritzenhöfer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Prisca Brosi
    • 1
  • Matthias Spörrle
    • 2
  • Isabell M. Welpe
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.TUM School of ManagementTechnical University of MunichMunichGermany
  2. 2.Private University Seeburg CastleSeekirchen am WallerseeAustria
  3. 3.Bavarian State Institute for Higher Education Research and Planning (IHF)MunichGermany

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