Upward Emotional Contagion and Implications for Leadership

Tee Yu Jin (2010). Upward Emotional Contagion and Implications for Leadership PhD Thesis, School of Business, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Tee Yu Jin
Thesis Title Upward Emotional Contagion and Implications for Leadership
School, Centre or Institute School of Business
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Neal M. Ashkanasy
Dr. Neil Paulsen
Total pages 232
Total colour pages 2
Total black and white pages 230
Subjects 15 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
Abstract/Summary Leadership continues to be an extensively-researched topic in the scholarly study of organisational behaviour. Extant leadership research, however, often frames leadership as a leader-centric process, and assumes that followers are essentially compliant and manipulable parties in the leader-follower relationship. Further, there has been less attention on how affective processes influence both the leader-follower relationship, and subsequently, overall leadership effectiveness. In this thesis, I outline four studies designed to meet this imperative. Specifically, the studies tested the hypothesis that followers’ expressions of affect can impact leader affect and performance. Drawing on emotional contagion theory, it was hypothesised that followers’ portrayal of verbal and non-verbal affective cues can be ‘caught on’ by their leader, and that the leader will adopt a similar affective state to those expressed by their followers. Through these studies, I suggest that emotional contagion processes can transcend formal power and hierarchical differences and test the idea that organisational leaders can be influenced by their followers’ affect. Consequently, the findings from the four studies confirmed that emotional contagion can indeed occur in an upward direction of influence, and suggest some important implications for leadership processes and outcomes. In Study 1, a laboratory experiment was conducted to establish causal evidence that emotional contagion may occur upwards. In a laboratory study involving 288 undergraduate students in 48 groups, evidence was found to indicate that leaders did catch followers’ mood, and that this had implications for the leaders’ task effectiveness. Leader positive mood was found to mediate fully the relationship between followers’ mood and leader task effectiveness. A further experimental study was conducted for Study 2 to examine individual-level factors that may potentially influence leader susceptibility to emotional contagion effects. Results from this study of 28 groups showed that highly neurotic leaders were more susceptible to catching followers’ negative mood. Studies 1 and 2 collectively provide evidence of the different mechanisms in which upward emotional contagion occurs. Study 3 comprised a series of interviews and focus groups with organisational members from a building and housing organisation. Through this qualitative study, I sought to enhance the representativeness of the findings from the laboratory studies and provide evidence of upward emotional contagion occurring in actual leader-follower relationships. Accounts from 7 team leaders and 13 team members provide evidence that followers’ expressed affect does impact their leaders’ experience of affect and performance in the workplace. Additionally, participants’ accounts also suggested that leader perceptions and empathy moderated the extent to which they caught their followers’ affect. Study 4 was an examination of upward emotional contagion processes and its relationship with followers’ perceptions. This study drew on social identity theory and was built on the premise that followers’ expressions of affect represents a form of collective action in which followers indicate support, or disapproval, of leader influence attempts based on their perceptions of leader prototypicality and self-sacrificial behaviours. Results from a cross-sectional survey study of 47 teams from a large financial institution showed that followers’ perceptions of their leader were significantly linked with their perceptions of leader prototypicality and self-sacrifice. Additionally, team affective climate was found to moderate the relationship between followers’ perceptions and their expressions of affect towards their leader. Collectively, these studies provide evidence that emotional contagion can occur upwards, from followers to their leaders. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed in light of these findings.
Keyword leadership
emotional contagion
leader-follower relationship
mixed-methods study
Additional Notes Landscape pages: 33, 47, 73, 140, 157, 204-216 Colour pages: 187, 188.

 
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