Regardless of leaders’ efforts to do the right thing and meet performance expectations, they make mistakes, with possible ramifications for followers’ and leaders’ well-being. Some leaders will apologize following transgressions, which may have positive implications for their followers’ and their own well-being, contingent upon the nature and severity of the transgressions. We examine these relationships in two separate studies. In Study 1, leader apologies had a positive relationship with followers’ psychological well-being and emotional health, and these relationships were moderated by the severity of the transgression. In Study 2, leader apologies had a positive relationship with their own psychological well-being, positive emotional health and authentic pride. In addition, the nature of transgressions moderated the relationship between leader apologies and leaders’ positive emotions and authentic pride, while the severity of transgressions moderated the relationship between leader apologies and their positive emotions, psychological health, and authentic pride. Implications and future research directions are discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aiken, L. W., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Aquino, K., Tripp, T. M., & Bies, R. J. (2001). How employees respond to personal offense: The effects of blame attribution, victim status, and offender status on revenge and reconciliation in the workplace. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 52–59.
Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3, 193–205.
Avey, J. B., Wernsing, T. A., & Palanski, M. E. (2012). Exploring the process of ethical leadership: The mediating role of employee voice and psychological ownership. Journal of Business Ethics, 107, 21–34.
Ayduk, O., Gyurak, A., Akinola, M., & Mendes, W.B. (2013). Consistency over flattery: Self-verification processes revealed in implicit and behavioral responses to feedback. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi:10.1177/1948550612471827.
Bachman, G. F., & Guerrero, L. K. (2006). Forgiveness, apology, and communicative responses to hurtful events. Communication Reports, 19, 45–56.
Banks, M. H., Clegg, C. W., Jackson, P. R., Kemp, N. J., Stafford, E. M., & Wall, T. W. (1980). The use of the general health questionnaire as an indicator of mental health in occupational studies. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 53, 187–194.
Bies, R. J., Shapiro, D. L., & Cummings, L. L. (1988). Causal accounts and managing organizational conflict: Is it enough to say it’s not my fault? Communication Research, 15, 381–399.
Bottom, W. P., Gibson, K., Daniels, S. E., & Murnighan, J. K. (2002). When talk is not cheap: Substantive penance and expressions of intent in rebuilding cooperation. Organization Science, 13, 497–513.
Bradfield, M., & Aquino, K. (1999). The effects of blame attributions and offender likableness on forgiveness and revenge in the workplace. Journal of Management, 25, 607–631.
Brown, M. E., Trevino, L. K., & Harrison, D. A. (2005). Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 97, 117–134.
Byrne, A., Dionisi, A., Barling, J., Bergenwall, A., Robertson, J., Dupré, K. E., Lys, R., & Wylie, J. (2013). The depleted leader: The influence of leaders’ diminished psychological resources on leadership behaviors. Revised manuscript submitted for publication.
Christie, A. M., & Barling, J. (2010). Beyond status: Relating status inequality to performance and health in teams. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 920–934.
Colquitt, J. A., Conlon, D. E., Wesson, M. J., Porter, C. O. L. H., & Ng, K. Y. (2001). Justice at the millennium: A meta-analytic review of 25 years of organizational justice research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 425–445.
Crossan, M., Mazutis, D., Seijts, G., & Gandz, J. (2013). Developing leadership character in business programs. Academy of Management Learning and Education. Early publication. Retrieved from http://amle.aom.org/content/early/2012/07/24/amle.2011.0024.short.
DeCremer, D., & Shouten, B. C. (2008). When apologies for injustice matter: The role of respect. European Psychologist, 13, 239–247.
Dirks, K. T., Kim, P. H., Ferrin, D. L., & Cooper, C. D. (2011). Understanding the effects of substantive responses on trust following a transgression. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 114, 87–103.
Exline, J. J., Baumeister, R. F., Bushman, B. J., Campbell, W. K., & Finkel, E. J. (2004). Too proud to let go: Narcissistic entitlement as a barrier to forgiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 894–912.
Fabrigar, L. R., & Wegener, D. T. (2012). Understanding statistics: Exploratory factor analysis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Fehr, R., & Gelfand, M. J. (2010). When apologies work: How matching apology components to victims’ self-construals facilitates forgiveness. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113, 37–50.
Fehr, R., Gelfand, M. J., & Nag, M. (2010). The road to forgiveness: A meta-analytic synthesis of its situational and dispositional correlates. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 894–914.
Ferrin, D. L., Kim, P. H., Cooper, C. D., & Dirks, K. T. (2007). Silence speaks volumes: The effectiveness of reticence in comparison to apology and denial for responding to integrity- and competence-based trust violations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 893–908.
Fincham, F. D., Jackson, J., & Beach, S. R. H. (2005). Transgression severity and forgiveness: Different moderators for objective and subjective severity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, 860–875.
Fineman, S., & Gabriel, Y. (2010). Chapter 6: Apologies and remorse in organizations—Saying sorry and meaning it? In C. Steyaert, B. V. Looy (Eds.), Relational practices, participative organizing advanced series in management, (Vol. 7, pp. 103–120). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Fritz, C., Lam, C. F., & Spreitzer, G. M. (2011). It’s the little things that matter: An examination of knowledge workers’ energy management. Academy of Management Perspectives, August, 28–39.
Gill, K. (2000). The moral functions of an apology. The Philosophical Forum, 31, 11–27.
Goffman, E. (1971). Relations in public: Microstudies of the public order. New York: Basic Books.
Graen, G. B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1995). Relationship-based approach to leadership: Development of leader–member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: Applying a multi-level, multi-domain perspective. Leadership Quarterly, 6, 219–247.
Guthrie, D. & Venkatesh, S. (2012). Creative leadership: Humility and being wrong. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/dougguthrie/2012/06/01/creative-leadership-humility-and-being-wrong/.
Harris, M. M., Anseel, F., & Lievens, F. (2008). Keeping up with the Joneses: A field study of the relationships among upward, lateral, and downward comparisons and pay level satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 665–673.
Horowitz, M., Wilner, N., & Alvarez, W. (1979). Impact of event scale: A measure of subjective stress. Psychosomatic Medicine, 41, 209–218.
Kalshoven, K., & Boon, C. T. (2012). Ethical leadership, employee well-being, and helping: The moderating role of human resource management. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 11, 60–68.
Katwyk, P. T., Fox, S., Spector, P. E., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000). Using the job-related affective well-being scale (JAWS) to investigate affective responses to work stressors. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 219–230.
Kellerman, B. (2006). When should a leader apologize and when not? Harvard Business Review, 84, 72–81.
Kelloway, E. K., Turner, N., Barling, J., & Loughlin, C. A. (2012). Transformational leadership, transactional leadership, and employee psychological well-being: The mediating role of trust. Work and Stress, 26, 39–55.
Kim, P. H., Cooper, C. D., Dirks, K. T., & Ferrin, D. L. (2013). Repairing trust with individuals vs. groups. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 120, 1–14.
Kim, P. T., Dirks, K. T., Cooper, C. D., & Ferrin, D. L. (2006). When more blame is better than less: The implications of internal vs. external attributions for the repair of trust after a competence vs. integrity based trust violation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 99, 49–65.
Kim, P. H., Ferrin, D. L., Cooper, C. D., & Dirks, K. T. (2004). Removing the shadow of suspicion: The effects of apology versus denial for repairing competence versus integrity based trust violations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 104–118.
Kirchoff, J., Wagner, U., & Strack, M. (2012). Apologies: Words of magic? The role of verbal components, anger reduction, and offense severity. Peach and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 18, 109–130.
Kornilaki, E. N., & Chlouverakis, G. (2004). The situational antecedents of pride and happiness: Developmental and domain differences. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 22, 605–619.
Lazare, A. (2004). On apology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Lewicki, R. J., & Polin, B. (2012). The art of the apology: The structure and effectiveness of apologies in trust repair. In R. M. Kramer & T. L. Pittinsky (Eds.), Restoring trust in organizations and leaders enduring challenges and emerging answers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lindell, M. K., & Whitney, D. J. (2001). Accounting for common method variance in cross-sectional research designs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 114–121.
Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, F. D. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of Management Journal, 20, 709–734.
McCornack, S. A., & Levine, T. R. (1990). When lies are uncovered: Emotional and relational outcomes of discovered deception. Communication Monographs, 57, 119–138.
McCullough, M. E., Fincham, F. D., & Tsang, J. (2003). Forgiveness, forbearance, and time: The temporal unfolding of transgression-related interpersonal motivations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 540–557.
Mäkikangas, A., Feldt, T., Kinnunen, U., Tolvanen, A., Kinnunen, M. L., & Pulkkinen, L. (2006). The factor structure and factorial invariance of the 12-item general health questionnaire (GHQ-12) across time: Evidence from two community-based samples. Psychological Assessment, 18, 444–451.
Nahum-Shani, I., & Bamberger, P. A. (2011). Explaining the variable effects of social support on work-based stressor–strain relations: The role of perceived pattern of support exchange. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113, 49–63.
Nunnally, J. C., & Bernstein, I. H. (1994). Psychometric theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Ohbuchi, K. I., Kameda, M., & Agarie, N. (1989). Apology as aggression control: Its role in mediating appraisal and response to harm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 219–227.
Piccolo, R. F., & Colquitt, J. A. (2006). Transformational leadership and job behaviors: The mediating role of core job characteristics. Academy of Management Journal, 49, 327–340.
Pronk, T. M., Karremans, J. C., Overbeek, G., Vermulst, A. A., & Wigboldus, D. H. J. (2010). What it takes to forgive: When and why executive functioning facilitates forgiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 119–131.
Reeder, G. D., & Brewer, M. B. (1979). A schematic model of dispositional attribution in interpersonal perception. Psychological Review, 86, 61–79.
Ruiz, P., Ruiz, C., & Martinez, R. (2011). Improving the “leader-follower” relationship: Top manager or supervisor? The ethical leadership trickle-down effect on follower job response. Journal of Business Ethics, 99, 587–608.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.
Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (2002). From social structure to biology: Integrative science in the pursuit of human health and well-being. In C. R. Snyder & E. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 541–556). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Schmitt, M., Gollwitzner, M., Forster, N., & Montado, L. (2004). Effects of objective and subjective account components on forgiving. Journal of Social Psychology, 144, 465–485.
Spector, P. E. (1992). A consideration of the validity and meaning of self-report measures of job conditions. In C. L. Cooper & I. T. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology. West Sussex: Wiley.
Stanculescu, E. (2012). The self-conscious emotion of pride as mediator between self esteem and positive affect. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 33, 263–267.
Swann, W. B., Jr. (1983). Self-verification: Bringing social reality into harmony with the self. In J. Suls & A. G. Greenwald (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on the self (Vol. 2, pp. 33–66). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Swann, W. B. (2012). Self-verification theory. In P. Van Lang, A. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (pp. 23–42). London: Sage.
Tepper, B. J. (2000). Consequences of abusive supervision. Academy of Management Journal, 43, 178–190.
Tepper, B. J., & Lockhart, D. (2005). Abused subordinates’ upward maintenance communication: A coping perspective. In E. Weatherly (Ed.), Proceedings of the annual meeting of the Southern Management Association. Charleston, SC; Clearwater, FL: Southern Management Association.
Tomlinson, E. C., Dineen, B., & Lewicki, R. J. (2004). The road to reconciliation: Antecedents of victim willingness to reconcile following a broken promise. Journal of Management, 30, 165–187.
Tracy, J. L., Cheng, J. T., Robins, R. W., & Trzesniewski, K. (2009). Authentic and hubristic pride: The affective core of self-esteem and narcissism. Self and Identity, 8, 196–213.
Tracy, J. L., & Robins, R. W. (2007). The psychological structure of pride: A tale of two facets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 506–525.
Tucker, S., Turner, N., Barling, J., Reid, E. M., & Elving, C. (2006). Apologies and transformational leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 63, 195–207.
Tumasjan, A., Strobel, M., & Welpe, I. (2011). Ethical leadership evaluations after moral transgressions: Social distance makes the difference. Journal of Business Ethics, 99, 609–622.
Van Dierondonck, D., Haynes, C., Borrill, C., & Stride, C. (2004). Leadership behavior and subordinate well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 9, 165–175.
Walumbwa, F. O., Mayer, D. M., Wang, P., Wang, H., Workman, K., & Christensen, A. L. (2011). Linking ethical leadership to employee performance: The roles of leader–member exchange, self-efficacy, and organizational identification. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115, 204–213.
Wood, J. V., Heimpel, S. A., Newby-Clark, I., & Ross, M. (2005). Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory: Self-esteem differences in the experience and anticipation of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 764–780.
Portions of this research were supported by a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to Julian Barling.
About this article
Cite this article
Byrne, A., Barling, J. & Dupré, K.E. Leader Apologies and Employee and Leader Well-Being. J Bus Ethics 121, 91–106 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1685-3
- Authentic pride