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It’s the Base: Why Displaying Anger Instead of Sadness Might Increase Leaders’ Perceived Power but Worsen Their Leadership Outcomes

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Abstract

Purpose

Although research has shown that anger displays lead to more perceived power than sadness displays, sadness displays often result in more positive leadership outcomes than anger displays. Aiming to explain this discrepancy, we examine the specific power bases that are inferred from leaders’ anger versus sadness displays as potential explanatory mechanisms.

Design/Methodology/Approach

We conducted three experimental studies, replicating results with students and working adults and with different induction methods.

Findings

Our results indicate that the discrepancy between the effects of anger and sadness displays on power ascriptions and leadership outcomes can be explained by divergent power bases ascribed to angry versus sad leaders. Whereas more position (i.e., legitimate, reward and coercive) power was ascribed to angry leaders than to sad leaders, sad leaders were viewed as possessing more personal (i.e., referent) power than angry leaders. Moreover, while angry leaders’ higher legitimate power was positively related to leaders’ perceived effectiveness and follower loyalty, both enhanced coercive and reduced referent power were negatively related to these outcomes and positively related to leader-directed deviance.

Implications

Although previous literature suggests that displaying anger instead of sadness might be functional for leaders’ power, our findings aim to make leaders aware of the specific types of power they gain in followers’ eyes when displaying anger versus sadness.

Originality/Value

By examining the power bases ascribed to angry versus sad leaders, our study reconciles inconsistent findings and elucidates the foundation on which angry versus sad leaders’ capacity to influence followers is built.

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Notes

  1. The results remained comparable in size and direction when including these participants in the analyses.

  2. The results remained comparable in size and direction when including these participants in the analyses.

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Correspondence to Tanja Schwarzmüller.

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Preparation of this article was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and by the European Social Fund of the European Union (FKZ 01FP1072/73, research project “Selection and Assessment of Leaders in Academia and Business”).

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Schwarzmüller, T., Brosi, P., Spörrle, M. et al. It’s the Base: Why Displaying Anger Instead of Sadness Might Increase Leaders’ Perceived Power but Worsen Their Leadership Outcomes. J Bus Psychol 32, 691–709 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-016-9467-4

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