What is the influence of an angry leader on its subordinates? Can he influence the emotional state of his followers with the display of own emotions and does this have an influence on their creative performance?
This study focuses on the effect of negative emotions and emotional regulation by leaders on the creativity of their followers. It was expected that anger expressions by leaders led to increased creativity on the side of followers mediated by emotional contagion, based on the Dual Pathway to Creativity Model by De Dreu, Baas, and Nijstad. Furthermore, the perceived suppression of these anger expressions was expected to result in low follower creativity due to the fact that supressed anger would not lead to anger on the followers side (no emotional contagion) and therefore there would be no activation leading to higher creativity. The data, collected by means of a laboratory experiment, was gathered from 119 business students.
The results revealed that followers indeed reported more anger after watching an angry leader, so we could show emotional contagion between leader and follower. However, this emotional contagion did not result in the hypothesized increase of creativity on the side of followers.
Although not all hypotheses were confirmed in this study, some implications for organizations and management practitioners can still be offered. This study adds to the existing literature by stating that it is important for leaders and managers to realize that their negative emotions have negative effects on the emotions of their subordinates. Although some negative emotion, as long as it can be justified by the right motives, expressed by a leader can draw the attention to unfair situations and injustice in organizations, it can also negatively influence the perception of leaders and can even lead to aggression or violence. This negative perception of a leader can have serious effects on the leader-follower relationship, which can lead to a dissociation of employees from their leader and even from the entire organization, with all the consequences that might entail. Therefore, leaders need to be aware of the signal that their negative emotions might send and the influence that can have on their followers.
As this study points out, the final and decisive word on leader emotion and creativity of their employees has not yet been spoken, but activating effects of displayed anger on performance could yet again not be shown. Further research might be able to combine findings of earlier work and the current study in order to create a stronger conclusion. Therefore, this study can be seen as a starting point for the further research on the influence of suppressed or displayed leader emotions on follower creativity.